On Tuesday, Japanese musician Yoko K demonstrated the relationship between artists and digital music production tools in the Copley Formal Lounge, in an event sponsored by the Georgetown’s Communication, Culture, and Technology program.
Yoko K, who recently finished her second album, Heaven’s Library, is the first “electronic” musician to become an Artist in Residence at the Strathmore Center in Bethesda, Maryland. A self-described ambient or organic electronica musician (as opposed to industrial or heavily sampled electronica), Yoyo K gave students a taste of how she produces and performs music with her “tools”: a laptop, a keyboard, and a mixing board.
Reflecting on statements from Talking Heads front man David Byrne, Yoko said she feels that digitally-produced music is part of a natural evolution of music, a process that began as ritualistic chants in churches and eventually morphed into present day performances in bars and clubs.
And despite that her music comes largely from a laptop, “performance” is fundamental to the way Yoko uses her digital tools. Instead of hitting a “play” button and letting the computer do the rest, she carefully structures her live performances with her keyboard, building and transforming songs with intricate layers. This live, creative component makes each performance a unique experience, not unlike the jazz improvisers she expressed her admiration for. Her fascination with the “balance of structure and chaos” keeps her pushing towards new techniques without facing the mindless repetitions and grooves that can plague even most experienced electronica artists.
Possibly the most interesting aspect of this prominent musician is her lack of formal training. While she took piano lessons as a youngster and grew up in punk and jazz bands, she began making electronic music with practically no training at all. Her teachers? Youtube tutorials and close observation in the studio. Despite this lack of guidance, she has sealed a deal with an airline to play her music during flights, and she will be performing at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage in January (date TBA).
So given all that Yoko told her Georgetown audience, the moral of her talked seemed to be this: If you’re looking to become the next Flying Lotus or Aphex Twin, get the hell out of school and move into your parent’s basement, because elevator companies, dentist lobbies, and airlines have big paychecks with your name—or pseudonym—on them.
If you’re interested in what Yoko’s performances are like, the video below gives a pretty good idea. Jump to 2:11 to hear her incorporate an Obama speech.
Photo by Julian de la Paz.