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by Ad Wasey
July 16th, 2010

Tickets are on sale now for Friday’s New York premiere screening of We Don’t Care About Music Anyway.

We Don’t Care About Music Anyway follows eight Japanese noise musicians as they perform against Tokyo’s urban wasteland and expose the process of their collective musical madness, from scraping a cello’s metal spike across broken glass like a DJ scratching a record to taping a microphone to one’s chest to improvise around a volatile heartbeat. The film is itself a piece of noise, with a soundtrack that stands alone in it own right, and with cinematography suggesting an impending self-destruction of Japan’s consumerist society. (Read the Rooftop Films review here.)

I talked with one of the co-directors of We Don’t Care About Music Anyway, Cedric Dupire, and music editor Jacob Stambach, ahead of their Rooftop screening, from their office at Studio Shaiprod in Paris.

Rooftop Films The music we hear in the film may be new to our audiences. Can you explain Japanese noise music for us?

Cedric Dupire, co-director, We Don’t Care About Music Anyway: It doesn’t mean so much “noise” as much as “improvise,” [and] artists’ very specific connections to the tools they are using.

Jacob Stambach, music editor, We Don’t Care About Music Anyway: The noise isn’t the essence of the music, it’s just something that’s layered on top of a more traditional song structure. The people who were originally doing noise, like Merzbow [and today’s musicians], actually trace back what they were doing to structure, [with] the texture being the most important aspect to the piece, as opposed to the structure. The word “noise music” includes a lot of different music, in reality. I don’t think it’s a journalistic term, like post-rock or shoegaze.

RF: This is underground music in the U.S. Is there a big audience for noise music in Japan?

CD: The musicians of the film are not that famous, except in small circles. Otomo Yoshihide (a free jazz and noise rock musician) is famous internationally, but almost all of the musicians are only performing in Japan. They perform a lot, doing a lot of live events. They are not recording albums. There is an audience to see them performing, every day or three times a week.

JS: Even though these guys appear to be marginal musicians from our perspective, they perform in places that can be mainstream as much as they can be underground. It’s funny, if you go to a show in Tokyo — it’s something that surprised me — you can see someone doing radical, extreme noise music, and at the same time be performing on the same bill as someone doing something completely different. Audiences in Japan have this open-mindedness and curiosity, which means that people will stay for the gig and see different people play even if they’re doing different stuff. These days, there’s so much mainstream music which defines itself partly as “noise” — it incorporates dissonance and static — noise musicians will come out and say, “No, that’s not actually noise!”

RF: Cedric, being from France, how did you get so involved in the Japanese noise music scene that you were able to document it with so much access?

CD: I did the direction with Gaspard (Kuentz) and we [wrote] the film with Noa (Garcia-Kisanuki) — he’s a close friend of me from childhood. He’s half Japanese and half French. We used to play music together when we were young and then he moved back to Japan to live there. He told me, “You should join me and see what’s going on with noise and improvised music in Japan.” I [visited] him in 2005 and we started to think about making a film. And Gaspard, at that time, was also living in Japan. We met there and decided to write the film with Noa, and Jake (Stambach) was also thinking about how the sound could be a narrative element.

RF Jake, there are moments when there’s musical interplay in the visuals of the musicians and the city as well as the audio produced in those environments. When did you know the editing of the film would take the form of noise music?

JS: That was one of the first ideas we had before making the film. It was going to be mostly sound, very little interview. We weren’t making a traditional-sense documentary. When you’re in Tokyo, everything does blend together, in terms of sound.

CD: We were thinking that we would use the sound of the city. We thought maybe you could listen to the soundtrack of the film without watching the picture. The sound of the city was telling to us a lot of things about society. It told us a lot, and we don’t need to say that much.

RF: Is Tokyo loud?

JS: It’s pretty loud when you’re in major public areas. There’s a lot of messages, voices and all sorts of information that reaches you through sound in one form or another: video screens and pretty much everything involves audio. But once you leave those crowded areas, it’s quite a calm place.

RF: So you knew you had the sounds of the city and the quiet of the periphery. How did you think to put the musicians into these secluded environments around Tokyo?

CD: One of the main ideas of when we [wrote] the film was to imagine [it] as a science fiction film, where the world destructed by itself [and] the only survivors were the musicians. They’re playing in empty places, reflecting the end of the world. Through their action as musicians, using the tools of the past world, they are revealing [today's] world.

RF: It starts like a science fiction movie. There’s a title card that announces the movie is set in Tokyo in the year “20??.” You could’ve edited this as a science fiction movie!

CD: We tried to, but it wasn’t working! Not really… We wanted it to be a mix. It’s a big influence on the way the film is looking, but also the way we wanted the musicians talking in this dark room. We did it because we want them to be out of the city and out of this destructed world, like a kind of a mafia meeting or a conspiracy against the world. With that, we were free to say something about the city and the world [in which] we are living.

RF: How did you pull together these eight, very different creative personalities, to get them in a room, but also to record them performing?

CD: It was quite easy because they were interested in the way we wanted to do the film. They were thinking it was not a common documentary. We offered some special places to perform, so they were interested in doing that — as a musical experience. And we wanted them to be improviser musicians, to be able to play free music. We wanted them to come from different music, not the same genre. We wanted a kind of panel of musicians. One is more hip hop and one is free jazz noise. Half of the musicians are very close friends of Noa. When you’re close with the people, it becomes much more easy. But Gaspard, the co-director, and Noa are talking Japanese, so it was OK for us, but…

RF But not for you? You don’t speak Japanese!

CD: But when you get close to the people, it’s much more easier. With a few words, you can communicate.

RF: The music translates anyway. How did you make sure the music would be relatable outside of a Japanese audience? Or even beyond an audience of noise music fans?

CD: We wanted the link between the musical action and the tool [to be] clear — so you can see how they produce the sound. In the film, [the musicians] explain what they use and we show how they produce the sound, so you understand the music and how they are musical. Then you can understand the music and listen to it in a more easy way. But, I don’t know if [they'll] buy the albums!

RF: The film has screened at SXSW and Locarno and other festivals around the world before screening at Rooftop Films, but I understand that it took a while to reach Tokyo. What happened there?

CD: We couldn’t screen in Tokyo before the end of May. There was a film festival called Bakuon Film Festival, and the thing of the festival is they screen all the films very, very, very loudly. This is the name of the festival (the literal translation of “bakuon” is “explosion of sound”). And there was a performance of two of the musicians, L?K?O, the DJ, and Yamakawa Fuyuki, the heartbeat performer (the musician who connects a pickup to his heartbeat, which is then connected to atmospheric lighting). I wasn’t there, but apparently it was really, really good. We screen the film very loudly, which is very important, to feel, in the body, the music. Please tell Rooftop Films to screen it very loudly.

RF: I think you’re going to have to tell us to turn it down.

We Don’t Care About Music Anyway has its New York premiere at Rooftop Films on Friday, July 16, in Brooklyn on the roof of the Old American Can Factory. Get tickets and more show information at rooftopfilms.com and follow us on Twitter @rooftopfilms.

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Rooftop Films is a New York based non-profit whose mission is to engage diverse communities by showing independent movies in outdoor locations, producing new films, coordinating youth media education, and renting equipment at low cost to artists.

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