Tone Glow 032.6: Carl Stone
An interview with Carl Stone for a special midweek issue + one of his personal recipes
Carl Stone is an American composer currently based in both Japan and Los Angeles who is a pioneer of live computer music, having used computers in live performance since 1986. Stone studied composition at the California Institute of the Arts with Morton Subotnick and James Tenney. Stone’s newest album, Stolen Car, is out via Unseen Worlds. Joshua Minsoo Kim and Stone talked on the phone on September 9th, 2020 to discuss studying under Subotnick and Tenney, how his approach to music has changed over time, and more.
Joshua Minsoo Kim: Hello! This is Joshua, is this Carl?
Carl Stone: It is! Hi Joshua, how’re you doing?
I’m good, how are you?
Pretty good, thanks.
How has your day been? Are you okay out there in California?
Yeah, we had a big heat wave over the weekend. It’s cooler now. I was just looking at—I’m down in the south so we have some fires going, but it’s nothing like up north. I’ve been looking at some photos of the sky in the Bay Area. It’s like nothing anyone has ever seen before. Where are you?
I’m a little bit outside of Chicago. It’s definitely nothing like what’s happening in the Bay Area right now.
It’s pretty wild! Anyway, how’re you doing?
I’m good, I just had a busy day. I’m a school teacher, on Wednesdays we have meetings all day long. I’m a little tired, but it’s 6pm now so it’s been a few hours. It can be draining just being on Zoom for an entire day.
Well thank you for making time for me!
Of course! I wanted to ask you, do you make your own hot sauce? Have you ever made your own hot sauce?
My own hot sauce? Well, I make different salsas. I guess they’re kind of like hot sauce.
What’s your favorite type of salsa to make? What are your salsas usually like?
I kind of make it Mexican style. A lot of cilantro, onion, garlic, tomato. This time of year I use hatch chiles, which are in season right now. I like chipotle [peppers] very much.
I’ve been trying to get into hot sauce. I like spicy food in general but do you have any recommendations for hot sauces that I would be able to buy online? I’m just curious if you have any recommendations, because I know you’re into hot sauces, or at least were.
It kind of depends what you’re shooting for. Are you looking for something with a vinegar base, like Tabasco-style?
I’m definitely a huge fan of all things vinegar.
Oh, you are! Well there was this one really good chili lime… let’s see if I still have the bottle… there’s a chili lime hot sauce that I found somewhere… (looking through cabinets). No, I guess I used it all up. It was really awesome. I could try to find the brand and send you a link or something [Editor’s note: Stone later emailed me a link to Frank’s RedHot sauce, of which there is a Chili ‘n Lime version].
I would definitely be interested. I’m kind of in a hot sauce phase—or, at least, I want to be in one. The thing I was always enamored by is that you name so many of your compositions after restaurants or things related to food. Even with this new album, and this was released as a single earlier this year, you had “The Jugged Hare”—which I’m assuming is named after the restaurant in London?
With all the restaurants that are utilized as names for your pieces, are these things that you recommend? Are there any restaurants that you actually don’t like that you put as the names of your pieces?
I’ll put it to you this way: I keep a database of restaurant names, and then I’ll pick almost randomly from that list to make it a title for a piece. In order for a restaurant to get on the list, it has to be somewhere that I’ve eaten and that I like. You know what happens: restaurants get sold, they change hands, the cook dies and they bring in somebody else and they’re just no good anymore. That happens, so it’s not exactly a recommendation because you never know. I can think of a couple places that used to be good that I named pieces after and then they became lousy. And then people go there and say, “Carl, what the fuck?” (laughter).
Do you want to name a couple of examples?
They’re all out of business now. Most of them were restaurants when I lived full time in L.A. These would be some of the early generation Thai restaurants that were good when they started, but then they changed hands or whatever. Most of them are closed now actually. Most of the ones that I titled my pieces after in the ’70s and ’80s—a lot of them are gone now.
Even the album from last year, Baroo, that one’s gone!
Baroo is gone! That place was good. I think they struggled. They had another place going for a while and I’m not sure if it—so many places now are in trouble because they can’t open. Baroo sadly decided to close or relocate, it was a very small place in a strip mall so I think they probably wanted to move on, but it didn’t quite work out. So you’re quite informed! Have you ever eaten at Baroo? Have you ever been to Los Angeles to eat?
I have been to Los Angeles—I have family in the area. I haven’t been to Los Angeles in a while, though, so I haven’t been to Baroo.
Baroo was good! Their chef was actually a Korean-American that did a lot of self-fermented concoctions, coming up from a kimchi tradition of fermentation.
Do you personally cook a lot then? Do you enjoy cooking, or is it mainly that you like going to restaurants and eating the food they can make?
I like cooking, I’m doing a lot of cooking now of course because of the pandemic situation, and have been cooking all the time since things started in March. From March 10th to now I’ve eaten out twice. In normal conditions I might cook four days a week and eat out three, or something like that. Especially in Japan, eating and drinking is a part of the whole social situation. I did a lot more of that, but yeah I do like to cook.
What dish are you most proud of that you can cook? Is there anything that whenever you cook it you’re like, “Okay, (slams table) this is great, this is phenomenal, I can make this and this is good.”
I don’t know, I think there is always—I’m kind of a perfectionist, and I always think there is room for improvement every time. I do a lot of curries, South Indian curries, various pastas and roasts [Editor’s note: a recipe for one of Stone’s curries appears at the end of this interview]. I just got through a killer three-day recipe. It takes three days to roast a chicken in my world because you have to brine it, then you have to marinate it, and then you have to cook it. That’s kind of my signature dish for parties.
I’ve been trying to make sure to learn more recipes from my mother throughout the past few years. I’ve gotten really good at nailing Korean BBQ—galbi, especially—and that takes a long time. We actually have a two-step marination process that’ll occur throughout the span of a week, and that’s always exciting. The process of making it, getting your hands in there, and then waiting for days to get to cook and eat it—the fact that it takes a while is something that I think is nice for me, especially in this day and age where everything can be very immediate. There is something about the patience required that I appreciate.
I understand that, completely. It builds anticipation. It’s kind of like composing—some people can just sit down and whip something out and hit the record button and next thing you know it’s out on SoundCloud or whatever. For me, the process is similar to cooking in that there’s definitely a period of prep, or marination, and maybe a long stewing process while you get things right.
You said you were a perfectionist. I’m assuming that plays out in a lot of different facets of your life. With your piece in general, and throughout the course of your career as a musician, has that process become easier at all. If so, what has made it easier, or smoother?
I think as a function of experience, having worked as a composer for several decades you start to learn how to spot problems and attack them and fix them. On the other hand, you don’t want to get into a situation where you’re applying the same solution to the same problems all the time. That becomes a kind of formula that can lead to uninteresting things. Finding different solutions to problems is also part of the challenge. As time goes on, we gather more experience, and also as time moves on the tools become more accessible. That’s another way that the process can be sped along sometimes.
Your early pieces in the ’70s and ’80s, I know you’ve talked about working with the Publison, feeding recordings into that, creating loops. Walk me through the process of composing one of your early pieces, and walk me through the process now, when you created, for example, something that may ended up on your new album, Stolen Car.
Fundamentally, the processes are pretty similar in that I start with an idea of experimentation and play without a particular goal in mind. I’m not sitting down to say, “Okay, now I’m going to write my piece.” (laughter). I’m simply experimenting with new materials or processes or tools or something like that and seeing what happens. When you start to get the sense of the possibilities, you start to think of ways to organize them into a final piece. Part of the whole thing is about structure, right? Which I think that composers need to pay attention to.
I’m a formalist in that I like to structure, I like to think in terms of architectural framework for a piece of music. In the music that I do now, and even with the Publison pieces, you go through this process of experimentation and play, and that leads to some suggestions about how to structure and then you actually fill in the structures with details, and refine, and so on.
Actually, with your question I come to understand that I have come to work the same way. My music has evolved, my aesthetic has evolved, the materials have changed and the tools have changed but the basic approach is still the same. It’s kind of innate to my nature, perhaps. It might just be the way I’ve been trained when I was studying music.
In other interviews you’ve talked about having worked with Morton [Subotnick]. Something that stuck out to me in an interview you had with Todd Burns was how Morton would spot specific proclivities as well as deficiencies that you had. For me, that’s an interesting thing for an artist to say because perhaps those proclivities and deficiencies are these innate things, or these things that we tend towards that inform our work for better or worse. And maybe those deficiencies aren’t actually deficiencies. What I’m trying to say is, what would you identify as being your deficiencies, and are they the same back then as they are now? Do you see any deficiencies in the way you go about doing your music?
I don’t know, I haven’t really dwelled on my deficiencies. Although I suppose I should in the interest of self help and growth… (thinking).
Do you remember anything Morton said about how you approach your compositions?
You’re talking about Subotnick, my teacher?
First of all, his first impression of me was that I was very green, that I hadn’t had any exposure to music other than what I had been listening to on the radio, like the top 40. That wasn’t entirely true, but it was true that there was a lot of music that I hadn’t encountered. My worldview was kind of constrained. He found a number of clever ways for me to come to music and experience a very broad swathe of musical creativity both in Western music and non-Western music. He helped me get a job at the library at CalArts, and also recording all the stuff that took place at CalArts as a way to expose myself to a lot of music that I hadn’t heard before.
It solved—well, it didn’t solve, but it helped to ameliorate deficiencies that he helped identify in my own musical knowledge, or the database of my brain of what music was. What happened then, was, because I became so fascinated with all this music that I hadn’t heard before—20th century classical, modern music, music from all over the world, etc.—that I tuned out pop culture for 30 years. The ’80s and ’90s, pretty much up to the present day, I just don’t listen to any of that. The music that means a lot to friends of mine, people that grew up in the ’70s or ’80s, or even a little bit later, it’s just a total blank to me.
So, is that good or bad? To call it a deficiency in one way I mean, yes, it’s a sort of gap in my knowledge. But I think that actually I don’t see it as a negative per se because it allowed me to chart my own path independent from the path that other people—my peers and friends and everyone around me—were going. In this way you can say that yeah, a musical deficiency was actually a positive.
Photo by Julia Dratel
I think that’s an important and really valuable way to approach any sort of deficiency of knowledge because ultimately you’re making the music based on what you know. Each individual person is going to be making the music that they do in a unique way because of that. I think it’s impossible not to be envious of other people who can do things that you can’t do, whether it’s music or otherwise. But the goal isn’t to be able to do every single thing that every other person can do, you have to do the thing that you can do and make it honest.
I know you were also taught by Jim Tenney. Can you speak to me about your experiences with him? What do you feel were the most important things you gained from your time with him?
I didn’t study composition one-on-one with Jim, but I did his composition seminars. They were very much about analysis. Both Tenney and Subotnick were into analysis and both had their own very particular ways of looking at life and art, and music in particular and analyzing it in key ways. To me, it was writing his thesis called Meta (+) Hodos. Later he wrote a treatise about that called Meta Meta (+) Hodos. These are about the structure in music and about perception, and keeping a clear and analytical mind when thinking about and processing music. That’s what I learned from Tenney, as well as from Subotnick.
How do you think that informed the way you make music? Could you see what your music would look like without having been with Tenney or Subotnick, and how would that differ from the music you create, and have created?
That’s a kind of hypothetical question based on so many variables, and the butterfly effect and everything else (laughter). It’s very hard to say. I’ve never really thought about that. I just thought about, “Who am I, and where did I come from?” Yes, but there are so many intangibles. What if I was born on a different day, or had different parents, or was a different race, what would have all that meant? It’s very hard to ponder. “I am that I am, and that’s all that I am.” (laughter). As Popeye the sailor made out.
How about this, can you share a story for me—it doesn’t have to be related to anything music specifically—of a time that involves you and Jim together? Does anything stick out in your mind?
Aside from the fact that my girlfriend at the time was madly in love with him and ended up skinny dipping with him at a graduation pool party at CalArts? That’s probably the thing I remember the most.
Oh my goodness!
That’s a non-musical memory.
I’m sorry about that! (laughter).
I remember attending classes of his where we would… he would slug it out with the students sometimes. He used the Socratic method. He was a very smart-witted teacher because he would draw students out, challenging them in ways—I don’t remember any specific details, like I don’t have any anecdotes at my fingers. That was 50 years ago, and I’ve got brain problems anyway. I could barely remember where I parked my car yesterday.
But I do remember going through stuff where… I may be mixing this up with something with Subotnick did, but anywho, we would listen to a Mozart concerto, he would sit down at the piano and plunk it out. The theme would be (imitates Mozart piano concerto) and he would say, “Okay, so now why does it go (imitates same concerto), when it could have gone (imitates concerto ending on a note five steps higher)? Or it could have gone (imitates concerto ending on a very low note). But he chose that, and why?” So we would have to think about why—was it really a decision that he made, was it a conscious decision, was it an unconscious decision? What were the implications of that decision for the entire piece?
With Beethoven, something like pointing out that (imitates theme of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony) is what he would call an identity. It’s kind of like a theme, but it’s different from a theme because it’s kind of an encapsulated concept that would assert itself throughout the composition in every movement, but in radically different forms. So like (imitates theme of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony) a few seconds later becomes (imitates the symphony’s variation on the theme), which is the same thing, right? But later, in another movement, it becomes (imitates the progression of the theme). It’s sort of taking this rhythm, and using a rhythmic model as a schematic element and basically creating a structure and a composition from that idea and numerous sub-ideas. These kinds of keys to analyzing are the things I remember the most.
You mentioned you were a perfectionist with your own work, are you frequently analyzing? When you make a piece, and you’re listening to it again, are you in this analytical mode deciding if you’re happy with it?
Yes, I am. Also, after the piece is done, or I declare it’s done and ship it off to the record company, that’s the point where it becomes fixed. I’ll revisit it ten years later and ask myself, “Gee, why did I decide that, wouldn’t it have been better if I did it this way instead of that way?” I’m never completely satisfied.
One thing I’ve noticed is that my sense of time has evolved. It’s actually getting faster and faster, I would have thought that things would slow down as I got older, but the opposite seems to be true. Maybe it’s because I see the light at the end of the tunnel now that I’m probably in the final third of my life. I want to get all those notes in as much as possible and stop dwelling on repeating things and so on. Just keep moving forward instead of repeating. That could be what’s going on, I’m not sure.
A lot of times I’ll listen to my older pieces that tend to be very repetitious, I’d take a fragment of music and basically beat the shit out of it. Now I say, “Did I really have to repeat that eight times when four would have been enough?” (laughs). I didn’t need to repeat it at all! But it is what it is, and I would not go back and change those pieces because you gotta keep moving forward.
You say that you can’t be completely satisfied with a piece of work that you make, but is there a piece that you’ve made that comes close, at least in this exact point in time where you feel like you captured exactly what you wanted to happen, or maybe a favorite piece? Are there any pieces that come to mind that you’re very satisfied with? Or the most satisfied with?
I’m pretty satisfied with “Shing Kee”, because it’s very worked out on a formal level. “Shing Kee” is probably one of the pieces that I have no feeling that I would never want to go back [and edit]. I don’t listen to my own music all that much, I will from time to time if I’m doing a talk or whatever. Some of the other pieces from that same era I would feel a little dissatisfaction with, or I feel like I would do them differently if I was doing them now. With “Shing Kee,” I don’t have those feelings. I feel like I got it right, and that I wouldn’t change a thing.
“Shing Kee” is a fun song for me to hear. I’m thinking about your old work and your new work—“Shing Kee” samples Akiko Yano, who I’m into. Last year you did “Panchita” on Baroo, and that samples Ayumi Hamasaki’s “Moments”, which I—
(elated) Yes! Good catch! (laughs). My Japanese friends are usually able to catch that—are you into J-pop? Is that how you knew that?
I am into J-pop, but I couldn’t identify that sample, so I had to ask one of my friends who’s even more into Japanese music than me and he identified it. Can you talk me through this: Can you talk about how you made “Shing Kee”? Do you remember how you made that song?
Yes. In 1986 I had completely changed my technical situation. I had a burglary and all my previous equipment, like the Publison—everything was stolen. But it was insured, so I got the money to replace it, but instead of replacing it I decided to get a sampler and a Macintosh and I set about to write some music.
I discovered with the sampler that it would be possible to do a kind of granular synthesis by playing a long sample, but playing through it—you could do it fast or slow, backwards or forwards. It hit me that it might be interesting to explore the idea of a kind of time stretching, which really wasn’t that easy to do back then. Now it’s trivial, technology like Ableton Live makes it so easy to do, but in those days with samplers, almost all of them were set up so that you hit a key, you play a sample. You hit another key to play the same sample at a different pitch, or you play a different sample. I figured out how to play these samples from any different starting point and that led me to understand that I could do what people later started referring to as granular synthesis.
The term may have existed at the time but I wasn’t aware of it. I wasn’t thinking of it really as a synthesis. I discovered that I could play with these samples that way, and I just set out and worked out a form scheme. I wanted to gradually introduce a sample, so I figured out that—I’ve talked about this piece a couple of times—but basically what you hear at the beginning is the first few milliseconds of a four second sample. You hear just the first few milliseconds looping. So it sounds like a buzz.
But each time it repeats, I introduce a little more of the sample at the end. You’re hearing the first few milliseconds, and then you’re hearing the same few milliseconds and a few milliseconds more, the next time you hear a few milliseconds more. It’s expanding out. It also takes the same amount of time to play, whether it’s a few milliseconds or two seconds or four seconds, the playback is the same fixed period of time. What that means is at the very beginning the first few milliseconds are spread out very drastically over the four seconds. As you introduce more and more you have to play it back faster and faster in order to cram everything into the allotted time slot—if you follow me.
Yeah. That makes sense.
What that means is at a certain point you come to a kind of unity where the amount of time of the playback, the four seconds equals the exact amount of time of the original sample, which means that [you hear the] completely natural playback of the sample, no stretching at all. And that is actually the conclusion of the first part of the piece. Then it slips to the second part of the sample, and there I employ a complementary technique which is the same length as the sample played back every time. In the beginning it’s just four seconds played back in four seconds, and the next time it repeats, it’s four seconds played back in 4.001 seconds, then in 4.002 seconds—I’m just making these numbers up just to give you the idea, it’s not what it actually was. Then it becomes stretched out, and it kind of dissolves. The fabric of the texture becomes so wide that all the light is passing through.
It was the idea of formally organizing these two complementary approaches to sample manipulation. That’s how I did it. I don’t remember exactly how I decided how long it would take, or anything like that. It might have been kind of arbitrary. That I don’t recall. Somehow I had the inspiration to organize the piece in those terms.
It all came fairly quickly, actually. It was not a nine-month process of birthing a baby or anything like that. I hit on the idea, I spent time figuring out the structure and then I just sort of did it. I liked the results, and that was it!
Let’s switch gears, let’s talk about your new album, Stolen Car. I was very excited for this, because when you released the single earlier this year, the two songs that appeared I thought were some of your strongest work. I really gravitate towards both of those songs.
“The Jugged Hare” and then “Au Jus.” Out of the new songs on this album, is there one that you are particularly fond of?
I don’t want to play favorites with my children, because then the other ones get jealous.
(laughs). That’s fine, I can just pick a song for us. I like “Figli,” which was also released as a single. I think that one’s really fun. I like the way that the song develops. It eventually has that beat that builds and it gets trance-y. Can you talk about how you made that song, if you recall? I’m curious about that process. What tools do you use nowadays?
Max. Everything is done on Max. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Max?
I know what it is but I’ve never used it.
Well it’s a programming language. You can write your own code, or of course you can use someone else’s code, but I write my own for the most part. I’m very fond of word games, like palindromes and anagrams. The title Stolen Car is an anagram of Carl Stone—
Oh! I didn’t even realize that! That should have been obvious, wow! (laughs).
No one to date has pointed out that they have figured it out either, so… (laughter). Both of those pieces, “Au Jus” and “Figli,” they’re basically anagrams of musical tracks. With a word order or a momentary musical moment order, scrambling and unscrambling, or scrambling and reorganizing in different cells and textures and so on. So basically that’s what’s happening, using Max to take a sample, slice it up and redistribute it in different patterns.
That’s nice. I’m fascinated by the fact that you’re interested in word games. That sort of plays a role here. Is that something you’ve always been interested in, or is that a recent development?
I think I’ve always been interested in it to a certain extent, but I’ve been more interested in recent years. I’m very into palindromes, I have a big database of palindromes. I construct some sometimes but I mostly just love to enjoy them. Anagramming is something I like to do a lot.
Awesome, I’m into that. That’s a fun thing to know about you! Something I want to know: You have lived in Japan for a long time, and you’ve sampled Japanese songs but also Asian songs in general. How do you go about deciding what to sample?
It’s just instinctual. It’s intuitive. Something will catch my ear and it reveals itself as something worth exploring. I may hear something inside of a song that just intrigues me; something in the sound world of the song, the production values of the song, something that’s happening harmonically in the song, or the way the bassline runs in contrary motion to the vocal line would suggest to me that if you were to play with it that the results would be interesting. There are pieces where a little bit of parody is involved by using pieces of music that I don’t really love or respect. I take it and I try to build it into something that actually is loveable and respectable. I like to do that. A lot of times I’m working with material that I genuinely like in the first place, and that’s why I listen to it.
Do you ever worry about the ethics with regards to sampling? For example, there might be issues someone might have with regards to sampling an Asian artist, or an artist that’s making more traditional styles of music, and then you taking that and working with it and presenting it and profiting from it—not that you’re making a ton of money. I’m just curious if you ever wrestle with that or think about it when you create your pieces.
I have thought about it. You know, basically there’s a level of destruction that takes place, especially working with popular culture with collage, and artists who work with found materials: Duchamp, Rauschenberg or Warhol, whatever. I think that the aesthetic and historical precedence is there. If I were to take a pop song and sample it and then use it to create my own pop song, that could be an issue. But I’m taking something, I’m breaking it, I’m shattering it—I’m allowing myself the use of the production values that give the samples a sound, but I’m destroying everything else, in terms of the rhythm and the harmony, the melody, the structure of the song itself.
Almost everything is gone. It’s almost an arbitrary starting point. The processes that I use could be applied to almost any piece of music. Of course the results would be different every time, sometimes they would be more interesting or less interesting. My own roots coming from minimalism and postmodernist aesthetics informed by the dada artists who used found objects—I come from that tradition. For me it’s near that. Plus, we have the innovations of Negativland, or John Oswald or work that I did in the ’70s and ’80s where it’s no secret what we’re doing. We’re not concealing anything. People who’ve got good ears can figure it out, like you and your friend did. Some of it is insanely obvious.
For me, yeah it is something that I’ve thought about and frankly the question you’ve asked I’ve been asked before. So I have thought about it since the beginning. This tradition didn’t start with Duchamp. Bach sampled from German folk songs, Handel sampled from Bach, and Brahms sampled from both of those guys! Benjamin Britten came along and sampled from Purcell. Alban Berg sampled from Bach. It’s been going on forever and ever.
The point is, I think once you sufficiently change something there can be no mistake as to—I think nobody could possibly mistake a Carl Stone piece from a piece of enka from Oka Midori. Even though I might use an enka artist, there’s no confusion as to who’s who here.
Thanks for saying all that. You’ve been kind of prolific recently, at least in regards to having music that’s released. It’s been exciting to see. How do you feel you have grown as an artist, even within the past couple of years?
(thinking). Well… it’s true that I have been more prolific in releasing things. It may be a little bit of a misperception that I’m composing a lot more than I used to. What it is is that I’m releasing a lot more than I used to. But it’s not entirely false. I am composing more. Part of it is that once I established my records going back to the ’70s and ’80s with the two archival releases that I did on Unseen Worlds, they were met happily with a certain amount of critical success and attention. Then I became concerned that I would just be thought of as that composer from the ’70s and ’80s.
I wanted to go on the record—no pun intended—with the music that I make now, and that I’ve been making for the past few years. There has been a natural growth and evolution after 30 years of working in this medium. Obviously the music has changed over time—even though broadly speaking my aesthetic concerns are the same, the music has changed stylistically and everything else. I wanted to get that on the record as well. That’s kind of what I’m doing now, I want people to hear what I’m up to these days. They had a chance to hear what I was doing… 40 years ago… (sighs). Dear me! (laughter).
Well I’m glad you put this new music out. It’s been fun to see what your new music is like, comparing it to your old work and seeing the through-line between it all.
It should be fun!
You’ve collaborated with a few people—all of whom I’m very interested in and like. You’ve collaborated with Tetsu Inoue, you’ve collaborated with [Nagaya] Kazuya—I really like his album Utsuho from 2006. You collaborated with Alfred Harth who I primarily know just because he’s been in Korea for a while, and he’s an important figure there in terms of jazz and free improv. And also Miki Yui. It’s a very diverse group of artists you have collaborated with. What do you feel like you learned from having collaborated with these people?
I didn’t really collaborate in a live situation with other musicians. I was writing and performing my own compositions, and they were fairly worked out even though there was a certain amount of improvisation involved. In a performance, in terms of the smaller details the structure would be worked out, and each piece would have it’s own identity.
When I moved to Japan I found myself in a sort of situation where I had a lot of opportunities to improvise, and I had not really done so. Over the years—I moved to Japan in 2001, and by 2002 or 2003 I was starting to improvise with people and developing my skills. I found that the process of working with master improvisers, like Alfred Harth who you mentioned, Alfred comes from the old school of free improvisation. When I worked with him it was completely free, nothing was decided at all. It was really fun. I had to challenge myself and develop a lot of skills completely separate from the skills I had from being a composer. This was in order to respond in a fluid way and have a kind of flexibility and spontaneity in my responses. Working with people like Alfred and Gianni Gebbia—those kinds of people helped me a lot.
Working with Tetsu Inuoe was a different challenge because it wasn’t improvisation. We had studio pieces assembled by two parties separated by 5,000 miles. The first time I did that was with Otomo Yoshihide actually. We did that back in 1994, I guess it was.
Yeah. That was before the internet so there was a lot of FedExing master tapes back and forth to get to the final product. With Miki Yui it’s kind of nice because it is improvisation, but she comes from a different background. She’s not an old-school free improviser like Alfred, but she comes from the art world. She was a visual artist first, and then became a sound artist. She has a particular aesthetic point of view. By the way, speaking of anagrams, our project called Realistic Monk, that’s actually an anagram of Carl Stone and Miki Yui.
Oh my goodness! (surprised laughter). I love it!
It’s Carl Stone and Miki, I don’t think that “Yui” made it in.
That is incredible! Thanks for saying that, I would have never caught that.
Yeah, most people don’t get that. We were talking about anagrams so I thought I could let you know.
Are there any other anagrams hidden throughout your work that I should know about?
I’ll leave that for you to figure out!
I’m okay with that. I’m going to look through your entire catalog and see if I can figure out anything (laughs).
By the way, Elliott Sharp is another one that I’ve collaborated with. It’s fun because I don’t have a particular type that I work with. Elliott is very different Miki Yui, who’s different from Nagaya Kazuya. It’s different each time.
There’s only one thing I had left that I wanted to ask you is—you’re 67, I believe?
How are you feeling about your age? What’s going on through your mind when you think about how old you are? Just before you said, “40 years ago” and sighed, so I’m curious.
I think about it and it scares me a little that so much time has gone, but I don’t feel particularly old. I hope my musical ideas are still fresh even though I’m kind of in an elder generation.
What I do feel is that, as a practical matter, I don’t have that much time left on this planet and I want to get as much music in as I can, I want to do as much performing as I can. This pandemic thing has really slowed me down. I had tours in Europe that were cancelled, tours in the U.S. that got cancelled, performances in Japan that got cancelled. I just want to get back on the road! I’m not 30, I’m in the final third of my life, if I’m lucky. It might even be the final fourth or fifth, who knows. I just want to do as much music as I can until they haul me away to the graveyard (laughter).
But no, I don’t really think about it in musical terms. I just hope that it sounds fresh and not like music made by an old fart.
Do you keep up with any experimental musicians who are younger who you feel like are doing work similar to you?
I know that they’re out there. I’m not as familiar as I should be because I don’t consume a lot of music from other people because I’m kind of busy writing my own. Maybe I should. I know there’s good stuff out there and that people are working in the same general area [as me]. Even people just sort of crossing over into the pop world, people like Four Tet for example. It’s good stuff, it’s really great! I really enjoy it. That’s just one example. There could be more. I love Dustin Wong and Takako Minakawa. There are others out there who appeal to me and I’m not coming up with their names at the top of my head.
Oh, someone wanted me to ask you this question but I forgot it until now! What is your favorite kaiseki restaurant in Tokyo?
Kaiseki in Toyko… I haven’t eaten a lot of kaiseki in Toyko! The kaiseki I’ve had in Kyoto is better, in my opinion.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in Kyoto for kaiseki?
Yeah, but I don’t have the name of it on hand. I have kind of a database, so I’ll go take a look and send you some information. I don’t eat a lot of kaiseki, for one thing it’s fabulously expensive and very precious, you know, it’s for special occasions. The kaiseki I’ve had is in a beautiful ryokan or something. It would be easier for me to come up with my favorite ramen restaurants in Tokyo or something like that.
I’m actually interested in that. I’m very interested in good ramen restaurants in Tokyo.
What kind of ramen do you like? There are many different kinds. There’s tonkotsu ramen, there’s shoyu ramen—
I’m a big fan of shoyu, but anything is fine!
Alright. Do you ever come to Tokyo?
I’ve never been but I really want to go. I was hoping I would be able to go on a trip this summer because I had some time, but obviously that wasn’t possible.
So have you gone to Korea sometime?
I actually haven’t. Korea is an interesting thing—my family came to America when they were about 18. They sort of have bad memories of Korea just because the country was very much in poverty. They actually don’t even want to think about going back to Korea. But if I go back to Korea, I’d want to go with my family, so slowly over the years I’ve been trying to be like, “Hey, we should go to Korea!” If I ever do go to Korea I’d like my first time there to be with my parents and my siblings.
That would be cool. You must have aunts and uncles or cousins left out there, right?
No one actually in that sort of degree of separation. All my aunts and uncles and cousins live in America now. If I have family that lives in Korea, it’s like a third cousin. That’s part of the reason why my parents have no incentive to go back. But one day, I hope within the next couple of years I’m gonna convince them, and that should be good.
Well if you do go, you should stop in Tokyo! Look me up, it’s on the way. I’ll take you out to one of those ramen places!
That sounds great, I’d be down! Thanks for talking, I enjoyed this conversation a lot.
Purchase Stolen Car at Bandcamp.
Carl Stone’s South Indian Style Egg Curry
5 Hard Boiled Eggs peeled
1 tablespoon Coconut Oil
1 teaspoon Mustard seeds
1 Cinnamon small stick
3 Cardamom pods
5 Peppercorns lightly smashed
2-3 Green Chilis slit lengthwise
1 teaspoon Ginger finely chopped or ginger paste
7 Garlic cloves smashed and roughly chopped or garlic paste
2 Onions finely chopped (medium)
3 Tomatoes finely chopped (large)
1/2 teaspoon Turmeric Powder
1 teaspoon Coriander Powder
1/2 teaspoon Chili Powder Red
1/4 cup Tamarind Water
1 cup Thin Coconut Milk
1/2 cup Thick Coconut Milk
8-10 Curry Leaves
Salt to taste
In a large pan, heat coconut oil and add mustard seeds, cinnamon, cardamom, peppercorns and green chilis. Once everything starts spluttering, add ginger, garlic and onions.
Cook till the onions turn soft and translucent and add tomatoes, turmeric powder, coriander powder, chili powder and salt. Let the tomatoes cook till they are pulpy and add tamarind water and thin coconut milk.
Stir and bring this to a boil. Simmer till the gravy reduces slightly and becomes thicker. This will take about 5. At this point, add some water if you need to adjust the consistency.
Adjust seasoning, add curry leaves and pour in the thick coconut milk. Stir a few times, without letting it come to a boil and switch off the flame. Drop the eggs in the curry, and cover and let it sit for five minutes before serving.
To make tamarind water, add a small, bite sized ball of tamarind to warm water and let it sit for 10 minutes. Mash with your hands and use the paste/water in the curry.
Thank you for reading our special midweek issue of Tone Glow. Eat something delicious tonight.
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