Music

Machina and Shohei Fujimoto pair up for a multimedia performance at Mutek

by Mike Sunda

Contributing Writer

As Mutek gears up for its third edition in Japan, the festival, which originated in Montreal and now runs in regular installments around the world, looks set to deliver its most robust offering in Tokyo to date.

Seeking to celebrate both digital creativity and electronic music, this year’s lineup boasts international heavyweights such as Laurel Halo, Fatima Al Qadiri and X-102 (Jeff Mills and Mike Banks), sitting alongside highly respected domestic artists like Kyoka, Ryo Murakami and Sapphire Slows.

But while some individual names jump out immediately, the program’s strength of depth really lies in the combinations and pairings of artists who are working together — from semi-regular collaborators such as renowned sonic engineers Rashad Becker and Ena, to more unknown quantities like beatmaker Daisuke Tanabe and face-mapping visual technician Nobumichi Asai.

Another similarly intriguing duo is that of Machina and Shohei Fujimoto, who will be performing a special audiovisual set together. On paper, the pairing might look like the work of an overzealous festival creator director trying to engineer unlikely sparks: Machina, real-name Yeohee Kim, is a former K-pop singer turned modular-savvy electronic producer; Shohei Fujimoto, on the other hand, is an installation artist specializing in a distinctly abstract visual language that recalls the likes of Ryoji Ikeda, albeit in a more contemplative, less intense manner. Kim and Fujimoto might not initially appear to have too much in common, but they have been working toward this performance since their initial encounter back in February.

“We first met by chance at an event for sound artists who use Max for Live production software,” Kim recalls. “I had been interested in the intersection of electronic music and visual art for a while, and I was searching for a visual artist who I might be able to work with for my own music. Shohei happened to be VJing at this event, and I was really struck by his performance — I bombarded him with compliments afterward, and then we started talking about collaborating together.”

They performed as Machina and Shohei Fujimoto for the first time in July, at an artist’s community based at Shibaura House in Minato Ward, which also provided the perfect location to debut the pair’s work.

“It was the first time that we’d ever performed together, but the reactions were really great from everyone who came, so we realized that there was potential in this collaboration,” Kim says. “I’d actually been approached by Mutek prior to that about participating in the festival, so I told them that I’d met a really great visual artist and that we’d be playing at Shibaura House. They came to see the show and then gave us an official offer.”

Just as their disparate styles look intriguing on paper, Kim and Fujimoto are also two fundamentally different individuals, both in terms of personality and artistic outlook, but the resulting chemistry is great fun to behold, with Fujimoto’s soft-spoken demeanor a foil to Kim’s more overt extroversion, and both clearly enjoying the discussion in their respective ways.

Indeed, their collaborative style is founded on recognizing and respecting their key differences, and they very much agree on that point.

“We’re not really focused so much on trying to find influences or inspiration in the scenes around us,” Fujimoto says. “We’re in our own worlds, really.”

In another respect, Fujimoto and Kim really are worlds apart. Fujimoto, the son of an engineer and a teacher, grew up in a household where STEM education was always front-of-mind. He specialized in mathematics and physics at school, before going on to study both engineering and art at college, and then leveraging that background to find work at the world-renowned digital creative studio teamLab, where he worked for seven years.

“My style is not so emotional. It’s more important for me that I try to explore new modes of expression, and craft visual performances that no one has seen before,” Fujimoto explains. “In this context, that leads me to think logically about how I can use Machina’s ‘data’ in order to accomplish that goal.”

Kim’s own background is radically different, but similarly single-minded when it came to how she applied herself to her own passion, music, which she knew she wanted to pursue from an early age.

“I didn’t have any specific reasons at the time, but since I was 7 years old I’ve been focused on music. Nowadays I’m really interested in digital production and electronic equipment, but at the beginning it was all about vocals and singing. Then in high school I got really into jazz, and that continued for a while. Growing up in South Korea — and this is 10 years ago, remember — I thought that if I wanted to make a living from music it would have to be in the K-pop world.”

Kim soon found herself firmly in the business-oriented world of K-pop, in which she spent a turbulent few years experiencing both the highs and lows of the notoriously tough industry. Now, like Fujimoto, she has broken away to establish herself firmly on her own terms at a time when it’s arguably never been harder to make a living as an independent artist.

“I’m completely independent. I handle my own bookings, my own email communications, all of that,” Kim says. “I spoke with Shohei about the levels of pay in art and music and I was so shocked by the difference between the two — it made me think that music really isn’t recognized as art in that respect, despite all the work that goes into it.

“I get that anyone with a MacBook can make music these days, but there’s so much else I have to consider (as a performer) — how I build the dynamic on stage between the artist and the audience, for instance.”

For Kim and Fujimoto, a rare chance to perform in a truly cross-disciplinary context and, for that reason, it’s an incredibly valuable opportunity to them both.

“I don’t think there are many events that are as similarly focused on the educational component, in terms of the workshops and so on, and in that sense it’s a place where you don’t just get music fans but also academics and scientists,” Fujimoto says.

“You can’t see music with your eyes,” Kim adds. “Art comes closest to that sort of visualization, but there’s so much still left to the imagination with music. When you have an event where there’s also a strong technological component, as well as a scientific one, then it starts to broaden the potential horizons of the music featured there. With electronic music, especially, it always seems to be the output — the sound itself — that’s prioritized over the performative element; but from my personal history, and my experience as a K-pop artist, I’ve always been thinking about the relationship between myself as a performer and the stage. We’re all artists, after all.”

Mutek takes place at Miraikan and other venues in Tokyo from Nov. 1-4. For more information, visit www.mutek.jp. Check out Machina and Shohei Fujimoto on Instagram at @yeoheemusic and @ shohei_fujimoto respectively.