A Guide to Toshimaru Nakamura’s No-Entry Mixer
By Matthew Blackwell April 11, 2022
You’re not supposed to connect a mixer’s output to its input. “If you buy one, you might see a cautionary notice in a blender’s manual saying, ‘This may cause feedback,'” explains Toshimaru Nakamura, one of Japan’s leading experimental musicians. “Feedback is probably something sound technicians want to avoid, but it sometimes makes musicians happy and excited. So, I did what the manual says not to do. Nakamura found that after re-routing the signal into the mixer, the resulting feedback could be controlled with its knobs and faders.In doing so, Nakamura created the inputless mixer, an instrument that was deployed worldwide in experimental circles.
Nakamura began his musical career as a guitarist in more traditional rock bands in the 1990s, but was soon drawn entirely to the inputless mixer. “The guitar was always with me,” he says. “But I found myself playing less and less, and more and more knobs on the mixer. At one point, I unplugged the guitar from the mixer. The sound remained. The music stayed.
The Inputless Mixer can be used to invoke soft tones or waves of noise. In the early 2000s, Nakamura deployed him subtly, almost passively, as a key member of the Tokyo one onkyo movement. Based in the old Off-site location in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, the onkyo movement included Nakamura, Taku Sugimoto, Sachiko M, Tetuzi Akiyama, and others who have invested in the relationship between sound and space. The most minimal of minimalist music, an onkyo performance would often be so quiet that the footsteps and conversation of passers-by would overwhelm the concert itself. Less interruptions than involuntary collaborations, these outside sounds were welcome illustrations of onkyo’s fundamental principles of improvisation, spatial dynamics and attentive listening.
Although its effects were far-reaching, the onkyo movement itself was limited to the early 2000s. “No one uses the term onkyo to describe the style of music I’m involved in anymore,” says Nakamura. “Of course, sometimes people talk about it, but when they do, they talk about it as part of the story. So, I have to talk about the past. The present, however, is much more exciting for him, because he has developed his approach to the mixer without input in the years that followed with collaborators from all over the world, including the Lebanese Mazen KerbajNorway Havard Voldengermany Axel Dornerand France Leo Dupleix.
During this time, Nakamura became more adept at the mixer without input, although that was never the goal. “I wasn’t really trying to learn it, but when you keep working on a thing, you get to know the thing,” he says. “But the inputless mixer is not something that needs to be controlled. I think one of the virtues of this setup is its uncertainty. What I do is be obedient and resigned to this unpredictable setup. in front of an audience, discovering and observing sound changes with people.
Here, Nakamura suggests that the defining characteristic of the inputless mixer is philosophical rather than musical. It is in a way a machine that plays itself, the musician being as much spectator as public. Anyone can play the mixer without input, and this openness may explain its popularity in the experimental underground. “There is no role model, there is no paragon, there is no teacher. Everyone has their own goal to achieve,” says Nakamura. “Or there’s not even a goal anyway.”
Ponceau (mixing table without entry #10)
Nakamura’s latest solo album for no-input mixer is also the best place to start. His pieces for the instrument are published in an ongoing numbered series called simply “NIMB”. “I would try not to give listeners too much information before and during listening,” says Nakamura. “The titles can sometimes explain the music, reinforce the sensations of listening. It’s something I would like to avoid. ” On culvert, he presents a variety of his experiences which, without descriptive titles, leave the listener guessing from track to track. “NIMB #63” features repetitive feedback jolts that increase the tempo until they are frantic. “NIMB #70,” meanwhile, is one of Nakamura’s most musical compositions, whose steady bass and echoing punchy top line would belong just as well to a Compact Release.
Contrary to culvert, No input mixer board #8 forgoes variety for consistency. Recorded in a single day, this album features the hardest side of the no-entry mixer. High-pitched, piercing tones alternate with pounding noises on three tracks over 10 minutes long. Although it’s a solo album, Nakamura got help from an unexpected source: singer-songwriter David Sylvian. “After David left, the studio looked completely different from when I arrived,” Nakamura writes. Surrounding my inputless mixer was a jumble of cables, microphones and speakers, a setup David suggested, and there I was very tempted to stay another day to do some more recordings by myself. The result of it all is here.
Toshimaru Nakamura, Sachiko M and Otomo Yoshihide
good morning good night
good morning good night is perhaps the definitive recorded document of the onkyo movement. Nakamura is grouped with prominent onkyo artist Sachiko M and experimental pioneer Otomo Yoshihide. Together they barely make a sound. Throughout the album’s 100 minutes, silence prevails, interrupted at times by sine waves, light static and low hum. These minimal sounds encourage the kind of attentive listening that onkyo devotees appreciate. The album became infamous in online music communities like Rateyourmusic, where critics and supporters point to the exact same attributes in their attacks and defenses. “It’s so close to silent that you’d probably gain more by turning it off than leaving it on,” complained one user before giving it 1.5 stars. “I didn’t even notice the album was ending when it did because I had gotten so used to it. [its] expanses of silence,” praises another, awarding it 4 ½.
Toshimaru Nakamura and Keith Rowe
Nakamura frequently collaborates with the electro-acoustic improvisation legend Keith Rowewho co-founded the British freestyle improvisation group MA and continued to deconstruct the guitar by playing it on a table with a variety of found objects. Weather Sky is the debut recording by Nakamura and Rowe, who were fans of each other long before they met. Folders of yesteryear label head Jon Abby writes: “I was working intensely with Toshi via email on [Erstwhile release] do at that time, and when he heard that I was going to Boston to see AMM, he told me to say hello to Keith for him, please, because he had seen AMM in Japan and was a big fan. When I repeated this to Keith in Boston, he looked at me intensely and said [paraphrased] ‘Toshi is one of the most important musicians in the world right now.'” Abby scheduled recording sessions for the duo, and here’s the result: hardly less minimalist than good morning good night, but much more adventurous texture-wise. For a novice listener, it’s impossible to distinguish between Nakamura’s zero-input mixer and Rowe’s guitar, but that’s the point: they respond to each other’s slightest movements to create an ever-changing sound field. , but still unified. Of this recording, Rowe wrote, “in many ways it’s the kind of music I’ve waited 30 years to make.”
Toshimaru Nakamura and Mark Trayle
A Wave Press’s Casey Anderson tells a story that became infamous at CalArts when he studied there: During a workshop Nakamura hosted on the no-entry mixer and improvisation, “a grad student asked him how much he practiced, to which he replied, ‘I don’t know.!’ In disbelief, the graduate student pressed him – he must have practiced; he was a musician. Toshi said something like “I make noise because I won’t make mistakes”. I prefer to spend my time drinking beer with my friends.’ »
Marc Trayleprofessor at CalArts in California who died in 2015, collaborated with him on Stationary in 2007 after such a workshop on campus. Trayle respected Nakamura’s approach to his instrument. Rather than a show of recklessness or aloofness, Anderson says, “For Mark, it was a good representation of a virtuoso instrument designer who had built his own practice around his instrument.” Stationary, recently reissued by Anderson after its first broadcast on Creative Sources Recordings, is therefore an important meeting between two instrument designers who favor spontaneity and intuition above all.
Toshimaru Nakamura and Tetuzi Akiyama
Nakamura and Tetuzi Akiyama have been collaborating since the early 2000s, but last year Idiomatic Expressionism is their first studio recording together. Although the no-input mixer seems an unlikely pairing with Akiyama’s acoustic guitar, they complement each other subtly on these five tracks. “IE.1” is a more conventional duet piece, with Akiyama plucking single notes over Nakamura’s buzzing electronics. By “IE.5”, however, the two musicians are pushing the limits of their instruments, as the guitar looks more like a saxophone and the inputless mixer looks more like an underwater cave. Here, Nakamura’s collaborative approach is made manifest. “It’s quite spontaneous. Start with sound, and my collaborator and I make something out of it,” he says. “It’s a series of decisions. Go with the flow, or cut the flow. Stay with a long slow movement, or play actively doing lots of different things.