Music | MUSIC NOMAD

Artists with eclectic tastes dispute the 'healing' tag

by Paul Fisher

Of all the nonsensical musical genres, perhaps the most irksome is one coined here in Japan: “healing” music.

For “healing” read Muzak of the blandest variety — an endless drivel of so-called mystical keyboards, some “meaningfully” intoned lyrics, a few natural or “ethnic” sounds and pretentious waffle about spirituality masquerading as liner notes. In short, a blancmange of the brain, capable only of healing a severe bout of insomnia.

If it could simply be left alone as a genre to avoid that would offer some respite. The healing tag, however, has been hijacked by marketing people onto some real music, most notably Celtic but even African, and onto some worthwhile artists.

Ambient musician Sizzle Ohtaka (above) has gathered together her favorite commercial work for the compilation album “Sizzle” (below) and releases a new CD next month.

Sizzle Ohtaka (as she now prefers to spell her first name, Shizuru) has not only had to put up with her music being dubbed healing, but also with being labeled the “Commercial Queen.”

“Healing has become good business,” says Ohtaka, “but mostly it’s just boring music, to tell the truth. The record company want to say that, but I don’t try and heal anybody through my music. I’m a serious musician, but I suppose if someone heals through listening to my music then I’d be happy. Hopefully though, you won’t find this CD in the healing section of a record store.”

The CD in question is a new “best of,” titled “Sizzle,” compiled by Ohtaka of her music used in TV commercials and TV and film soundtracks.

“I chose these tracks because they were relaxing and quiet, and using these songs I made a story dealing with love, temptation, sadness, spirit and universe.”

Her voice is one of Japan’s most beautiful, and has been used in commercials for products ranging from Honda cars to Kirin Supli drinks.

Whereas some musicians might use commercial work as extra income to support their more artistic ambitions, Ohtaka sees no division between the two.

“Firstly, the songs are mostly ones that I made for an album, which were then picked up by agencies, except ‘The Water of Life’ for Supli, which I loved so I asked the composer to write a full version of the song. Secondly, I don’t hesitate to say I’m a studio musician. It’s a kind of goal to be a good studio musician. I sing for the song, even if it’s a brand name.”

Ohtaka’s eclectic and diverse talents should be on full display on her new CD, “I Remember You,” to be released on the same day as her upcoming concert of the same name.

“This is a kind of requiem. A friend of mine, a jazz pianist, passed away last year. When I went to see her in hospital I asked her what she most wanted to hear, and she said a concert with cello. I promised to do that, but when I went to Morocco she died, so I couldn’t fulfill my promise. In Morocco I recorded my voice over background noises, such as when I was walking around a market or religious chanting. Sometimes it would just be improvisation, other times I would write lyrics, and one track is a poetry reading. It’s like a letter from me, to everyone.”

For the forthcoming concert, Ohtaka will be joined by jazz pianist Kyoko Kuroda, and percussionist Tomo Yamaguchi (whose unique style and charisma can sometimes overshadow the principle performer). Photographer Bruce Osborn will be adding visuals to what promises to be an interesting night.

Sizzle Ohtaka, “I Remember You” at Tokyo Gate City Hall (JR Osaki Station, east exit), Feb. 12 from 4:30 p.m. Tickets 3,800 yen (in advance), 7,000 yen (pair tickets in advance) from Ticket Pia, (03) 5237-9990, or 4,300 yen at the door. Information from Gate City Osaki Event Office, (03) 5485-2457.

Synthesizer and video artist Kin Taii’s latest releae, “Dragon,” features Sizzle Ohtaka as guest vocalist.

Sizzle Ohtaka also turns up as a guest vocalist on the new album “Dragon” by Kin Taii and will be one of several guests at his concert. “She has one of those really interesting voices that I wanted,” says Taii, whose own music has also been called healing.

Taii, whose father is Chinese and mother Japanese, came to Japan when he was 15. “Until then I had only listened to Russian classical composers such as Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev and Chinese revolutionary songs,” he says.

“Then, when I came to Japan in 1979, I had the shock of listening to hard rock for the first time, like Deep Purple and the Rolling Stones.”

Originally Taii planned to continue in his parents’ footsteps as a painter, although in Japan the music gradually took over. “I bought a synthesizer and started playing rock covers in a band. I also listened to New Wave groups from the U.K. such as the Police and the Smiths, and then from Japan, Y.M.O. They were my first entry into techno and pop, and along with Kraftwerk remain an influence today.”

Taii studied video arts at university, a medium he still uses in concert, and started his current direction by composing soundtracks to his video works. At first rhythm was not a natural expression for him, and even with a progression toward techno, melody — Asian melody — is still of primary importance.

“Melodies come from within me,” says Taii, “and as I grew up within a Chinese lifestyle even in Japan, that’s why they sound Chinese or Asian.”

For his “New Asian Century” concert, in addition to his own synthesizer and visuals, Taii will be joined by three more synthesizer players, plus vocalists Sizzle Ohtaka, Miu and Mongolian singer Wuyontanna, Tei Noka on kokyu (Chinese violin), Eichi Hanoka on percussion and didgeridoo, and kalimba player Matsuzaki Gyoten.