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Haruomi Hosono: Planet of sound

, 2010/03/03

Haruomi Hosono’s early discography contains the band Happy End (1970-73). Digesting the influences of America’s West Coast rock, they established an idiom for Japanese language rock. Solo releases like “Bon Voyage Co.” (1976), which rediscovered Asia via the perspective of Hollywood, saw him enter a period of exotic sound exploration. Blending in Kraftwerk-style electronica, Yellow Magic Orchestra (1978-83, 1993) took this sound in a disco direction. “Omni Sightseeing” (1989) then delved into the roots of pop worldwide. Throughout, Hosono’s music leads listeners on journeys that transcend both borders and generations. As a record label producer, Hosono ran the YEN label from 1982, the Non Standard label (which released pre-break Pizzicato Five) from 1984, and the Daisyworld label from 1996. The current label’s motto is “Keep Listening, Keep Searching!” Masaya Nakahara was among the first of a new wave of artists to swell the rosters of this “expanding musical family.” At its head, Hosono encouraged young artists to explore with their music. “The gap between the Japanese music scene today and the artists on Daisyworld is incredible,” observes Hosono. “What they’re doing happens outside of the sensationalism of the music business, which only recognizes commercial success. Daisyworld appears plain on first glance; but musically, it’s a rich, enjoyable world of music.”  This summer, Hosono will release an album by Sketch Show, a band he’s formed with Yukihiro Takahashi; next year will bring a new solo album. Hosono’s voyage thus continues “in search of music never heard before.”

Many see Hosono as connecting with the world while remaining here in Tokyo. Compared to his soul mate Toshinobu Kubota, the definitive world traveler in search of sound, Hosono looks like an “armchair sound detective.” Actually, though, Hosono has done a lot of physical travel as well. In fact, he says, “If I don’t get a certain amount of traveling, I go a bit stir crazy. That’s why I’ve been a little on edge lately.”

Which of Hosono’s many “voyages of sound” has left the deepest impression? “YMO’s world tour. The U.S. leg was brief, but we went all over Europe: Britain, Italy, Germany, Holland, Luxembourg, France and Scandinavia. We’d do a show, stay the night, then wake up and head to the next place. True one night stands.” Could he be describing the European version of his own song about the woes of touring Japan (“Choo-Choo Gatagoto,” (1973))]? “Yeah. But the response overseas was amazing. That tour allowed us to create an identity for YMO that had never solidified in Japan. For example, our London show was a fiasco. The computer brokedown completely. Still, the fans enjoyed the show, and we were chased by a pack of new wave girls afterwards. I even got kissed on the cheek! That was the first and last time that we were swarmed by girls,” adds Hosono with a laugh.

Another trip, this one to India with Tadanori Yoko, resulted in “Cochin Moon.” “I wanted to go to India to get the runs,” admits Hosono. “In his book, Yokoo uses diarrhea as a metaphor for karmic purification. If you travel to India, you’re guaranteed to get diarrhea. You may may be careful not to, but you get the runs anyway. That’s India.”
It seems much of Hosono’s travels begin with work or an invitation from friends. “I usually go because something or someone else urges it. I have to make use of those situations, because I’m a real homebody. Or, left to myself, I usually go off to an island somewhere. Hawaii, Tahiti, resort places like that. I love the ocean.”

Any upcoming travel plans for Harry Hosono? “The Queen Elizabeth is being restored. Apparently, it will circumnavigate the globe on its maiden voyage. I’ve been invited along, but I think I’d get bored pretty quickly. Besides, any ship I stepped onto would probably sink.” Indeed. After all, Hosono’s grandfather was one of the few survivors of the Titanic. But how about going along as the onboard entertainment? Fans would probably empty their bank account to get on board. “Ah, playing on a cruise would be nice. Of course, if we sank, I’d have to play until the very end!”

This article originally appeared in Paper Sky No. 1 (May/June, 2002). Haruo Hosono went on to write a regular column for Paper Sky entitled, “Journeys on The Musical Saucer,” (Summer 2003 to Summer 2006) which featured writings on Hosono’s returns to places once encountered during his rich musical career and travels. Originally, Hosono is from Minato, Tokyo.

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