Interview with MIRAI (Intelligentsia)

by John G.M. van Houtert, the Netherlands. MAY 15th 2004

JVH: While preparing for this interview I searched for information about you on your web page and while doing so I wondered if your out-of-space image and behaviour wouldn't be scary to people. So how would you introduce yourself to ordinary people?

Mirai: Hm, When I was interviewed in Japan, we were called a 'galactic coalition'. It's a nickname given us because we're united spacey people. It a kind of joke that we've stuck with. Thus we don't feel that we are part of any country - because we are global minded people.

JVH: So all the members of Intelligentsia are from all different countries?

Mirai: Yeah. Well, I'm a Star Trek fan basically. That's what I grew up with. So I wanted to make a band, in Star Trek style, with this global mixing. As I don't feel 'British' at all.

JVH: Indeed, you're here with Naoshi and Tomoya from Japan, Ms. Hypnotique from the UK, and John van der Stap from the Netherlands. So an international party, indeed!
JVH: Now don't you think that this out-of-space image you uphold scares people away from your act? I mean, they might think you're just a bunch of weirdo's.

Mirai: Ha, I hope they all think we are weirdo's-- I like that! In general, we really like dressing up anyway. I mean, in the electronic music scene, many artists haven't actually got an image.
For example, Kraftwerk began with a poor projected image, but when they switched to what they are now. They had a bigger impact.

JVH: Indeed, Kraftwerk has a strong image, while the music is basically the same.

Mirai: The thing is, it's not just image - we actually believe we're a kind of space people. We may dress up to get the audience intersted, but we are really into the Star Trek ideology.

JVH: So you think this image is more to do with the 'intelligentsia' among mankind or has this nothing to do with the name?

Mirai: Originally I didn't know what the word meant. I saw it in a book about Japan. And I really liked the look of it and used that. Later I understood it. For me now, it represents a group of people on the vanguard. Sometimes it may be viewed with a snobbish connatation, but it also has a very good meaning for me- I wanted to go with that.

JVH: I saw on your web page that you did a lot of work in Japan for video games, TV and radio performances. How did you end up there? I mean, it is not so common for someone from Britain to go to Japan and work over there.

Mirai: It was because of the 'Yellow Magic Orchestra'. As soon as I saw this band, I had to go to that country- I wanted to live in a kind of 'BladeRunner' society. I saw Tokyo and YMO, and I was hooked.

JVH: So you just wanted to have that experience.

Mirai: (Laughs) Well, I also liked Japanese girls at the time.

JVH: So that's how you got there, but why did you want to work there as an artist?

Mirai: Because of Japanese people. They seem to have the ability to predict the future before any other culture.For example their ANIME. Their society is often very futuristic. That interested me a lot, so I wanted to live there.

JVH: Now you're back in Europe. Are you a full time musician, or do you still work for radio and TV?

Mirai: Yes, I still work as an audio engineer.

JVH: Audio engineer is a quite general description. So does that mean you are composing for whoever wants your music?

Mirai: Yes, it's freelance work I do. Actually, now I make Mobile phone ringtones for a German company.

JVH: So chances are that when I buy a new mobile phone, there is a ringtone by you in it!

JVH: How would you describe your style of music, in what category would you put it?

Mirai: There are so many genres of electronic music, that people try to pigeon hole you into one or another - but I think we fit under ALL of the headings. I really love electronic classical music but don't care for other styles. Which might seem narrow minded, but I just follow my feeling. I don't relate to pop music at all- it doesn't make me feel anything. I think our music is more under the heading of 'Future Music'.

JVH: I listened to "Civilizations" and "Federation" and they don't really fit it in any defined category of electronic music, but you still consider your music electronic music without specifying any subgenre?

Mirai: Yeah, exactly.

JVH: This answered three of my questions in one answer! Your definition of EM is thus very broad?

Mirai: I just like 'future music' and anything futuristic. Put simply; Futuristic Music!- I love it!

JVH: You are active on the Jean-Michel Jarre mailing list and if I listen to your music, I feel a strong Jarre influence.

Mirai: Actually, I was the second person on that particular Jarre list, following the guy who created it. So yes, I am a Jarre fan, as this proves it!

JVH: So your music is influenced by him?

Mirai: Totally, well, I'd say 70% of it is influenced by Jarre. I learnt music listening his work.
JVH: Are there any other influences, from possibly less known artists?

Mirai: YMO is my second favourite band and many people in Europe don't really know anything about them. They are the biggest EM band in the Far-East, after Kraftwerk.

Saskia Giesbers, who was present in the dressing room where this interview was taken, joins in: He even gets inspired by the zoo, not only music!"

JVH: You said only you listen to Electronic Music and classical music...

Mirai: Yeah, if you mixed UFO's, with 'The Matrix', with Jean-Michel Jarre, then basically what you get, is what I like.

JVH: UFO's + The Matrix + Jarre = Mirai..., an interesting equation!

JVH: Did you have any formal training for playing instruments or composing?

Mirai: No, I was a computer programmer, and video game designer. That's how I realised I could stop paying others for making the game music and do it myself- this is also when I discovered Jarre's music. It was a daily ritual to listen to his work, while I was programming - this went on for about three years. I would program all night long, with the headphones on - then one day I thought: I want to try to do this!".

JVH: Because there was no one else to do that for you?

Mirai: Well, computer programming for me was 90% mathematics and 10 % creativity. It was making me very tired mentally.

JVH: While programming is more maths than creativity, creating music is the other way round. So it was also an escape for you?

Mirai: Yes, I stopped programming because creating music was a far better path.

JVH: So you didn't receive any special training in composing and playing and taught yourself?

Mirai: Well it came from computer programming; all to do with patterns. I was this so-called whiz kid at school and I didn't have to study in computer class. They put me at the back and they let me do what I want. I just made games and stuff. That's how I learned music listening to Jarre; just copying all these musical data patterns- I'm obsessed with patterns actually. But as for musical performance, I don't really like it. That has been forced on me somewhat. I have discovered though I do like drumming and hitting things to rhythms. :-)

JVH: That brings me to another subject: The BODY DRUM. What is it, and how does it work?

Mirai: Well, I can't really drum like a professional drummer like John (van der Stap, the drummer of Intelligentsia - ED.), so I wanted to build something that I could play on stage. After watching the BORGS on Star Trek, I thought to make a Borg suit - with drums on.

JVH: Do you just use it as a gimmick?

Mirai: Nah, I really need it to perform on stage.

JVH: On your website, I saw a picture of your equipment setup. It contains a lot of analogue and digital synthesizers. Are any of them special or rare?

Mirai: No, they are just old. I used to work for Yamaha in Japan and they gave me some new stuff. But mainly, it's all old equipment from the seventies and eighties.

JVH: What's your opinion on using these retro machines; the old big analogues?

Mirai: I like them. I like them better than the new instruments.

JVH: Why? Because of the sounds or the image of them?

Mirai: The sounds. They are stronger.

JVH: That's what many people say!

Mirai: yes, as its my job to make music for companies, I use digital and analogue instruments every day. For instance, when making music for mobile phones, I have to use DX7's and FM synthesis 10 hours daily and that hurts my ears. When I use analogue instruments, you can feel the difference. Saying that though, most of my music is digital. I'm looking to make a new album for Eric Snelders which will be all-analogue, there will be no digital sounds in it. Just as a test to see what comes from it.

JVH: I'm curious what comes from it!

JVH: Have you ever used software synthesizers?

Mirai: I've have them but I've used perhaps, only one, in one whole album. I'm not really using them because I can't actually stand them. I'm not a fan put it that way.

JVH: Is it too limited?

Mirai: Also the interface. I don't like using the computer, I need a tactile sense- I want to touch and feels things live.

JVH: And the recording? Do you use tape recorders or hard disk recording?

Mirai: Recording is my weakest point. I think I have to use DAT again. I'm using hard disk recording but I'm not happy with that either.

JVH: The good old DAT tape, but still digital.

JVH: Back to the body drum, how does it work?

Mirai: Well, it's like a 'Simmons'.

JVH: The well-known drum manufacturer?

Mirai: Yes, most artists in the eighties had Simmons drums, and I have a Simmons kit as well. The very first kind. But when I called the company up, to ask how to get the drums to work, the boss himself 'Mr.Simmons' refused to talk to me - he was quite rude. That made me annoyed. So I opened up this Simmons drum and the design was so bad that I thought, well I can make this". I do not know much about electronics but I just copied what was inside and I made them better for what I needed.

JVH: You just re-engineered them.

Mirai: Yes, mainly because 'Mr.Simmons' annoyed me. Which sounds kind of funny: because they were rude and the bad design, I decided to make a better one. Although saying that, I still like Simmons drum kits.

JVH: And the pads that you put on your body trigger drum sounds from the computer?

Mirai: Yes, it's all microphones.

JVH: Microphones?

Mirai: yeah, there is this special store in Japan where you can buy any little designer plastics and devices. I just went in there and bought some stuff and stuck it all together. With the help of my friends that is.

JVH: The concerts and the pieces on your albums are in most cases performed by more than one person?

Mirai: Not really. What I do is go around recording people beforehand. For vocals I completely cut up and change everything, so its not actually as live as it sounds. But I will get to make more use of John's live drumming ability.

JVH: You do all the work, and you don't meet up in a studio for recording, so do you still consider it as a group effort?

Mirai: I'm just the one who finally puts everything together, but it is still a group effort.

JVH: Also the composing part?

Mirai: Well, sometimes I have a music partner around, 'ION'. He whistles tunes in my ear and says "put that one in". And I do.

JVH: Well, I'm at the end of my question list...

Mirai: Don't forget to mention 'MEISAI'.

JVH: MEISAI… Are you especially here for tonight's performance?

Naoshi and Tomoya of MEISAI: Hai!".
Mirai: The thing about MEISAI; it's a new trend in Japan, for people to dance to electronic music- not hip-hop, R&B, or whatever. This new trend is electronic music progressive dance. It looks like a rebirth of body popping, but it's not. It's a new generation and you'll see it tonight.

JVH: I'm curious about that!

Mirai: And these guys are the best out of the hundred of groups doing this in Japan. They just appeared in a PlayStation 2 commercial. SONY held a competition for all these dancers and MEISAI won. They run a Techno club aswell in Tokyo, for which I used to perform as VJ. I really feel good working with them - and they make electronic music far more visual.

JVH: Indeed, on many concerts like this you just have an artist on stage with a few keyboards and a laptop. It sounds nice, but with a live drummer and dancers it becomes more of a spectacle.

Mirai: Yes, that's the biggest problem in EM: performance. I'm still trying to discover the best way to do it. I think we'll keep changing the format until we're happy.

JVH: Do you have any future plans except for working on the analogue album CD?

Mirai: Yes, I'm going to remix the music to make it more palatable for clubs in London. I will have to darken it up somewhat and make it more danceable.

JVH: What do you mean by "darker"? Less like it sounds on the CD, which sounds quite happy and optimistic?

Mirai: Well unlike 10 years ago, there are a lot of people now into the dark or gothic side of music, who are wearing Cyber clothing. It's really big in London; thousands of people frequenting such places, so I have to get into that area.

JVH: We have big techno parties here aswell in The Netherlands, where a lot of young people go to…

Mirai: yes, I've been through the 'Techno' period in Japan, with my partner who was the number#1 British DJ over there at one point. But I used to get a headache at those weekly clubs. :-)
I want to do a more live version of that style, which is perhaps darker. With people dressed up, and more into the Star Trek image and progressive ideology.

JVH: Thanks to all for the interview and lots of success with the performance!

John van Houtert, 2004-05-15