A neon image of a naked Edo Period prostitute flickers on the screen in time to the blips and beeps of a chiptune track, over which snakes the synthesized voice of a Japanese folk singer; this is Omodaka, aka Soichi Terada, an artist who blends retro digital bleeps with traditional minyo (folk) singing, creating a startling sound all his own.
Mixing two such alien elements together can be tricky, as Terada admits over coffee in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district.
“There are many songs where I failed. I’m not exactly sure why; maybe because the elements didn’t go well together. For example, when you cook something new, it might be delicious, it might taste awful, but you can’t really find out until you taste it.”
Before he became Omodaka, Terada’s musical output (under the moniker of Far East Recording) was heavily influenced by house and drum-and-bass. During that period he was asked to remix some tracks for minyo singer Akiko Kanazawa. After a friend introduced him to chiptune band YMCK some years later, he got back in contact. “When I heard chiptune music, it made a deep impression on me,” he says. “When the idea came to me to mix minyo and chiptune, I just had to do it.”
Kanazawa agreed to help right away.
“The way Kanazawa sings is really interesting. Her phrasing, ‘Aaaaaiiia’ — I like that sound, it’s very charming,” he says.
Terada composes the backing track using a Game Boy, PSP, DS Lite and a Kaossilator (a touch-panel sythesizer). When asked whether electronic instruments that stick rigidly to a Western musical scale are tricky to mix with Japanese folk music, he replies, “The scale is different but unexpectedly they somehow go well together; it’s not so difficult.”
The themes Terada chooses to write about are rather left-field. He has recently been exploring the theme of Edo Period prostitution.
“I’m really interested in the songs that were popular in the Edo Period. In those songs, they sing not only about prostitution but also about the elegance of the era. Melodies from then use a different musical scale and are very unique.”
Terada also writes about gambling.
“Japan has many different kinds of legal gambling that take place at a variety of venues,” he says. “I decided to make a song about boat racing, so I attended a boat race. It was fascinating because it had a kind of delinquent atmosphere.”
Omodaka’s method of composing is also unusual. He tries not to start with lyrics; instead he comes up with the backing track, finds a minyo piece and then somehow makes them fit.
Inspired by 1980s TV show “Max Headroom,” Terada performs live with Kanazawa’s disembodied head joining him on a screen as he operates his instruments.
In person, Terada is relaxed and friendly, but on stage he cuts a rather more unsettling figure, by wearing the outfit of a miko (female shaman) complete with wig and white mask. When he toured the United States with the Japan Nite showcase last year, his outfit caused a stir.
“There wasn’t anywhere to change so when the performance was over and I was on my way back to the hotel, some people passed by in a car and screamed!”