Yosi Horikawa explores Yakushima's sounds in new documentary

by James Hadfield

Special To The Japan Times

As Tokyo gears up to host this year’s Red Bull Music Academy, one of the event’s Japanese alumni is keeping himself busy.

In April, 2011 RBMA grad Yosi Horikawa headed to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Yakushima Island to take part in a Red Bull-produced documentary. In “Layered Memories: Searching for Sound with Yosi Horikawa,” the bearded beatmaker hauls his field microphone through the island’s ancient forests, gradually weaving the natural soundtrack into his own music.

“To be honest, the sounds aren’t as amazing as the sights,” he says, recalling the fecund splendor of Yakushima in spring. “But since the finished piece was going to incorporate film footage too, I had to make sure the music didn’t lose out to the power of the visuals.”

In his productions, Horikawa warps and layers recordings of the natural world, blending them with warm, saturated synthesizer tones and gently clomping beats that betray an adolescent obsession with hip-hop. Yet this was the first time he’d had to create a track with specific visuals in mind. The documentary also required him to capture his field recordings — something that he usually does alone — with a 10-strong production crew in tow.

“If you try to do something like that overseas, when you start recording, people really struggle to stay quiet,” he says. “There’ll always be some movement: some whispering, some shuffling of feet. But with Japanese people, they’re really orderly — everyone actually keeps quiet.”

While it’s sure to make the Kagoshima tourist board happy, the documentary also showcases one of Horikawa’s current obsessions: DIY speakers. Faced by the difficulty of producing tracks while he was on tour, he began constructing his own monitor speakers, using information that he’d found online. Perhaps predictably, it wasn’t long before his musician buddies were asking him to build some for them too.

“They’ll tell me, ‘Yosi, you could make a living off this,’ ” he says.

He whips out his iPhone to show a photo of one of his recent creations, a speaker with front and rear baffles made of concrete: an effective, if unwieldy, way of cutting down on unwanted vibrations. “Yeah, I really like sound,” Horikawa says with a chuckle.

“Layered Memories: Searching for Sound with Yosi Horikawa” is released later this month. For more information, visit

In line with the nationwide state of emergency declared on April 16, the government is strongly requesting that residents stay at home whenever possible and refrain from visiting bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.
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