Music
7:29 pm
Fri June 8, 2012

Kishi Bashi: Unique Performances In Time

Originally published on Sat June 9, 2012 9:58 am

Consider this name: Kishi Bashi. It has a pleasant, repetitive character with a nice — if unusual — little loop. It's an apt stage name for a musician who's creating something haunting, beautiful and maybe a little off-kilter through the technology of looping.

Kishi Bashi is also known as K. Ishibashi, a Japanese-American multi-instrumentalist who has toured and played with artists such as Of Montreal and Regina Spektor. When he's on his own, the sound he makes comes from his voice, his violin and his looping machine.

"If I have a lot of idle time, I'll tinker with the violin a bit," Ishibashi says. "Usually, I'll just hear something and the words come later. For some reason, my mind works where I don't hear words; it's just sound, so I'll pick a word and then I'll create a story based on that word."

The first full-length Kishi Bashi album is called 151a — not exactly Thriller as far as titles go. But as Ishibashi explains, the name has hidden significance: It's a riff on the Japanese expression "ichi-go ichi-e," which roughly means "one time, one place."

"It's a play on words that translates as a performance aesthetic of having a unique performance in time, with imperfections, and enjoying it while you can," Ishibashi says. "The saying reminds me to embrace my mistakes and move forward."

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Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Consider this name. Kishi Bashi. Kishi Bashi. It has a pleasant, repetitive character. A nice, if unusual, little loop.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "CHESTER'S BURST OVER THE HAMPTONS")

KISHI BASHI: (Singing) All day, every day, breeding like a curse...

SIMON: Which makes Kishi Bashi an apt stage name for a musician who's creating something that's haunting, beautiful; maybe a little off-kilter through the technology of looping.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "CHESTER'S BURST OVER THE HAMPTONS")

SIMON: Kishi Bashi is also known as K. Ishibashi. He's a multi-instrumentalist who's toured and played with some of the biggest names in indie rock including Of Montreal and Regina Spektor. When he's on his own, the sound he makes comes from his voice, his violin and his looping machine.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "CHESTER'S BURST OVER THE HAMPTONS")

SIMON: He recently released his first full-length solo album as Kishi Bashi. It's called "151a". And he joins us in NPR studio 4A, no relation that I know of. Thanks so much for being with us.

KISHI BASHI: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: May I call you K?

KISHI BASHI: Sure.

SIMON: "151a" isn't exactly like "Thriller" or "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts." I mean, as titles go, there's "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." Where does it come from?

KISHI BASHI: It's actually a play on words. There's a famous Japanese phrase called (speaks Japanese) which is one time, one place and it basically translates as a performance aesthetic of just having a unique performance in time with imperfections and basically enjoy it while you can.

SIMON: Now, you incorporate a lot of elements of Japanese music but you're from Virginia, aren't you?

KISHI BASHI: Yeah. I grew up in Norfolk but my parents are Japanese, so...

SIMON: Yeah.

KISHI BASHI: I discovered Japanese is a great percussive instrument, and I use it as an instrument on my album.

SIMON: The Japanese language is the instrument.

KISHI BASHI: The language. Yeah. Yeah.

SIMON: I can't wait to get to your music. Is there something you want us to know before we hear it?

KISHI BASHI: Well, I mean, I guess the song I'll probably start with has a lot of Japanese things in it and I guess I'll walk you through the looping part of it, and...

SIMON: I mean, we're going to prepare people a little bit because you pile loops upon loops.

KISHI BASHI: Sure.

SIMON: And it's kind of a symphonic landscape and yet as people listen to your music they should remember it is just you.

KISHI BASHI: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I do my best.

SIMON: We're set up to hear a song, "It All Began With A Burst."

KISHI BASHI: OK. So basically I'll start with a violin loop.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIOLIN MUSIC LOOP)

KISHI BASHI: And then I'll double-speed it.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIOLIN MUSIC LOOP PLAYED FASTER)

KISHI BASHI: Then I'll add something.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIOLIN MUSIC LOOP WITH PERCUSSION)

KISHI BASHI: Then I'll sing for a second.

(SOUNDBITE OF "IT ALL BEGAN WITH A BURST")

KISHI BASHI: (Singing) And the source was your laughter, threw me off the wall. Used your face as a mascot. Ay, yi, yi. Was a war with the fast guards, many chemicals in the eyes of the master.

Then I'll think about what I just did. Maybe I'll sing another verse.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT ALL BEGAN WITH A BURST")

KISHI BASHI: (Singing) In the model set in plaster. Ay, yai, yai. In the model set in plaster. Ay, yi, yi. Was a war with the fast cars, many chemicals in the eyes of the master.

Then I'll put a beat in. So I do a lot of beat box music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT ALL BEGAN WITH A BURST")

KISHI BASHI: Then I'll sing another verse.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT ALL BEGAN WITH A BURST")

KISHI BASHI: (Singing) With the model set in plaster. Ay, yi, yi. (unintelligible) Ay, yi, yi. (Unintelligible) many chemicals, in the eyes of the master.

Then I'll put a little violin there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT ALL BEGAN WITH A BURST")

KISHI BASHI: The kind of cool thing about this pedal is you can do a half-speed thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT ALL BEGAN WITH A BURST")

KISHI BASHI: (Singing) In your wallet was your gender, stolen when in Rome / made a model set in plaster. Ay, yi, yi. Was a war with the fast cars, many chemicals in the eyes of the master.

And then this is where the Japanese comes in.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT ALL BEGAN WITH A BURST")

KISHI BASHI: (Singing in Japanese)

And basically this means - this is (speaking in Japanese) which means "this morning I was bit by a mosquito," which has no relevance in the song but I think it sounds cool. And double speed it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT ALL BEGAN WITH A BURST")

KISHI BASHI: (Singing in Japanese)

And since I went to music school I like to show off here a little bit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT ALL BEGAN WITH A BURST," WITH VIOLIN)

KISHI BASHI: And then you loop.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT ALL BEGAN WITH A BURST," VIOLIN MUSIC LOOP)

KISHI BASHI: (Singing in Japanese)

Then that's the song.

SIMON: Ah.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLAPPING)

SIMON: Hey, K.

KISHI BASHI: Thanks.

SIMON: Can you loop my applause?

KISHI BASHI: OK. Yeah. Seriously? Yeah.

SIMON: Bravo.

(APPLAUSE)

SIMON: Yeah. Awesome.

I'm going to start traveling with all of those machines too.

KISHI BASHI: It's going to drive you crazy.

SIMON: Now you went to Cornell Engineering, right?

KISHI BASHI: I did, yeah, for a second.

SIMON: And then transferred to Berklee School of Music, right?

KISHI BASHI: Yep.

SIMON: What was going on? I mean, watching you work I can see that.

KISHI BASHI: Well, I was never really good at engineering. I probably would've ended up an extremely mediocre engineer, but I love music. I like experimental music. And then I also like to improvise. So there's a fair amount of improvisation.

SIMON: So this song, for example, we just heard, "It All Began With A Burst," it's different every time? Or at least potentially?

KISHI BASHI: Sometimes it totally ends in disaster.

(LAUGHTER)

KISHI BASHI: It does, sometimes, because that's the nature of live performance and looping, and...

SIMON: 'Cause one of the things I wondered about with looping, you know, great symphony musicians will tell you that sometimes they drop a note and they just keep on going. But if you drop a note it keeps playing and playing and playing.

KISHI BASHI: Yeah. It's terrible. It's like it's terrifying but, you know, it's a live show. So it's like if you want to hear a perfect performance you should just go home and listen to an album, you know? I think. And if you want to see somebody actually going for it then, you know, that's kind of what I offer.

SIMON: Kishi Bashi. His new album is "151a." He joined us here in NPR studio 4A. Thanks so much. Good luck to you.

KISHI BASHI: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: We wanted to hear another song.

KISHI BASHI: Sure.

SIMON: One I really like on the album called "Manchester."

KISHI BASHI: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MANCHESTER")

KISHI BASHI: (Singing) I wrote me a book, hid the last page. I didn't even look. I think I locked it in a cage. Wrote a novel 'cause everybody likes to read a novel.

SIMON: You can hear more of Kishi Bashi's music and watch him loop his violin at a special Tiny Desk Concert at nprmusic.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MANCHESTER")

KISHI BASHI: (Singing) ...a long time. All the streets are warm today. I read the signs. I haven't been this in love in a long time. The sun is up, the sun will stay.

SIMON: This week the entire music team will announce their choice for the best music so far this year. Be the first to know. Follow them at nprmusic on Twitter or visit nprmusic.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.