Merzbow/Haino/PandiAn Untroublesome Defencelessness
Japanese electronic maestro Merzbow (aka Masami Akita) joins countryman, guitarist Keiji Haino, and Hungarian drummer Balazs Pandi for some extreme sonic experimentation that transmits its own rough beauty.
I met Jannis Anastasakis at a NAMM show in 2013, where he was displaying his colorful effects made in Greece, under the name Jam Pedals. Soon thereafter he sent me his Big Chill tremolo for review. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered he was a fine guitarist in the modern mold. It became obvious that, in addition to his sonic creations, the man himself deserved coverage in Guitar Moderne.
What kind of music were you playing when you first became proficient on the instrument?
When I was 16, my biggest influences were Pink Floyd, Camel, Gong, and the progressive/psychedelic rock scene of the ’70s. We had a band back then trying to imitate this sound. The next step was mixing these influences with a jazz-rock aesthetic and that’s what the band Intravenus was about.
What led you to create more experimental (non-mainstream) music ?
It evolved naturally for me. Sound is what intrigued me the most. Getting more into sound, and exploring all different aspects and textures of it, led me to start creating experimental music. Being a member of a band was, and still is, a great experience for me, but at the time I felt that playing solo was a challenge I had to follow. This resulted in the creation of my solo project called Elektronik Meditation with Deniz Angelaki creating unique live painting visuals.
Whose music inspires you? Past and Present.
Progressive and psychedelic ’70s rock scene was what attracted me the most when I was a teenager: bands like Van Der Graaf Generator, early Genesis, and the Canterbury scene. Around the same time, I discovered the Kraut Rock and electronic scene (Faust, Agitation Free, Tangerine Dream). My life changed completely when I discovered Brian Eno.
The Norwegian underground jazz scene has become an important influence as well: Eivind Aarset, Arve Henriksen, Sidsel Endresen, etc. Contemporary composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen, Penderecki and Jani Christou also inspired me. I just realized I haven’t mentioned the band I would choose if I only had to pick one: the Beatles.
How did you get better at your current style?
I believe that, when it comes to experimental music, “practicing” means experimenting more and more, trying new things, not being afraid to expose yourself to uncertain circumstances, and letting your imagination run free, with no boundaries. For me, a big part of practicing is listening to a lot of music, attending different kinds of concerts, getting inspired by artists I admire and pursue to consort with. I also love modern art. I get a lot of inspiration visiting museums of modern art.
Thoughts, feelings, images, have to find a way out and get translated to sound and vision. You need tools for that, and, for me, these tools are the guitar and the effects I use. In the past I used to spend lot of time practicing my guitar (I also have a degree in classical guitar). Today this time is spent more on quality time with the effects I use, trying to find the hidden possibilities they offer.
What are you trying convey with your music?
All of the above and more. I do what comes naturally to me, and believe that’s the only way to do something that is right and pure.
Which guitars, amps, effects, plug-ins and software do you use to create your music, and why?
I have chosen to use only hardware and not software. I am not against laptops and software, it’s just that I can get lost in having access to any and all effects and the endless possibilities that computers offer these days. I need to somehow be limited in order to be creative. I achieve that by using individual effects that do one specific thing.
What’s crucial to me is also the X-factor of using many analog effects together, and especially analog synthesizers. They react in unpredictable ways, which puts me in the frame of mind as if I were improvising with other people. Last but not least, the feel of turning a knob on an analog effect is more direct, real, and keeps me in the moment.
For guitars, I mostly use a Nik Huber custom Dolphin and a handmade custom Strat by Dukas Guitars (a great builder located in Greece). The sound of the Dukas is unique; the body is made from rosewood and I have installed a Piezo mic behind the neck—an idea I stole from Eivind Aarset. Occasionally, I use a Fender Telecaster, a Gibson Les Paul, an Italia Maranello, and a Fret-King Ventura.
My pedalboard consists of many pedals, including most of the pedals I build myself: compressor, overdrive, distortion, fuzz, boost, tremolo, phaser, chorus, vibrato, and two analog delays. I also use a JAM wah pedal with a special seagull effect in it. These pedals are the basis of my tone and color. I then use the following effects for things like freezing the sound, rhythmic patterns, making loops and crazy/synth/space/noise sounds : EHX SuperEgo, HOG II and Bass MicroSynth; a Boss Slicer and RC-505 Loop Station; the ZVEX FuzzFactory and Ringtone; the LoveTone RingStinger and Flanger?; a Digitech Whammy II, a Hilton Volume-pedal; an Alesis Bitrman (again inspired by Eivind Aarset: he is the one discovered this little monster device); an ADA Flanger, Strymon’s TimeLine and BlueSky, an OTO Machines Biscuit filter, and a Korg KAOSS pad
The analog synths I use live are the Doepfer Dark Energy, which I mostly use as a bass synth (connected with a midi foot keyboard) and an EMS synthi AKS, which I love and have been using often. A few months ago I got a Mini Theremin, which is very interesting, and I also use a mini Korg Monotron. In the studio I also use a Korg MS-10 and recently acquired a magnificent Russian Aelita synth.
All the pedals are connected in series, ending in the Boss Loop Station, together with the Dark Energy, in case I want to record a bass line loop.
The amplifier I use in my studio is a ’66 Fender Bassman into a Fender Dual Showman cabinet (2×15). With this combination I get the sparkling clean sound you get from a good old Fender. It has lots of headroom, so you can hit the amplifier with low frequencies, loops etc. The Dark Energy goes to a Hughes & Kettner amplifier into an Eden 4×10 cabinet.
Live, I use a Koch StudioTone XL. What I love about this amp is that you can get a lot of headroom with only one 12″ speaker, and it’s not heavy at all to carry. It’s a super clean and quiet, pedal-friendly amplifier. You don’t get the crispy clean sound of a good Fender, but you can’t have it all.
How and why did you start making pedals?
I always used guitar pedals. When I entered the world of effects, I got very inspired by all the possibilities they provided. As I grew up, I became pickier about the pedals I used. I found that some of them would alter my tone in an undesirable manner, while others would add frequencies I didn’t like.
I had already begun studies at the School of Electronics in Athens, so I had all the basic knowledge I needed to start building my own pedals. That was around 2005 and it instantly became a great hobby for me.
Soon after, I was unexpectedly asked to build pedals for local guitar players I admired. They had heard my pedals and dug their sound. That made me realize that I could do something more than just build pedals for myself and that’s how JAM Pedals was born.
Today, I am very happy to say that my pedals are in almost in every part of the world. A lot of artists who have been an inspiration to my music are using them: Eivind Aarset, Bill Frisell, Lee Ranaldo, Daniel Lanois, Nels Cline etc.
How are the Greek economic issues affecting business?
Fortunately, JAM pedals found its way out of Greece and are being sold all over the world, so we haven’t been really affected by the Greek economic crisis.
How did you hook up with Eivind Aarset?
I believe it was around 2007, my good friend Yorgos, gave me Electronique Noire, Eivind’s first album. I instantly became a big fan of his music and playing, and he became an inspiration to me. In 2008, I took a trip to London to watch part of the Norwegian PUNKT Festival where Eivind was playing along with other great Norwegian artists (Arve Henriksen, Nils Petter Molvaer, Sidsel Endresen), and also the American trumpet player, Jon Hassell.
I didn’t waste my chance to go and talk to Eivind after his concert. I expressed my gratitude for his music, and offered to send him a few of my pedals to try. I was so happy when, after a month, I got his response telling me that the pedals had found a place in his pedalboard. Since then, we’ve been in contact and met many times in different parts of the world. I was so happy that he came once to see our performance in the Vigeland Mausoleum in Oslo. This December we shared the stage, taking part in the Avant-Garde-Guitar Festival in Athens, doing also a free-impro set together
Which do you enjoy more: recording or playing live and why?
I definitely enjoy playing live more than studio recording, especially when playing free-improv music. I get affected and inspired by the audience, along with the energy and atmosphere of the place. Those are important aspects when improvising. I have also enjoyed studio work and have done a couple of studio albums, but playing live is what attracts me the most—at least right now.
How have you built up an audience for your music?
I have been doing a lot of concerts since 2000 in Greece and have worked with many great artists and bands. You can’t expect great exposure when playing experimental/avant-garde music, but that’s not what it’s about.
With whom would you like to collaborate and why?
If you asked me this a few years ago, I would have said Eivind Aarset, who happens to be my favorite guitar player, and Arve Henriksen, who is my favorite trumpet player. I am proud to say that I’ve had the chance to collaborate with both of them. The next thing I would love to do, is have the chance to improvise with my favorite singer, Sidsel Endresen.
What is your latest project? When will it be available and where can people in different parts of the world get it?
My latest project is a solo project, called “Plague.” What is new to me about this project, is the absence of the guitar. I use ground noise as input source that is then edited live and manipulated with effects. It was a great challenge for me to make music out of an “unwanted” hum noise.
It is also accompanied by a laser-show, which lends a special atmosphere to my live shows.
“Plague” has been recorded and has been ready for release since last year. The part I am worst at is promoting/advertising my own music, so I haven’t even tried to find a label to release it.
Capos are not often seen in experimental guitar situations, but many Avant-guitarists, myself included, find themselves in more traditional, song oriented situations where a capo comes in handy, whether for matching a singer/songwriter’s chord voicings or maximizing open string usage. Thus when I came across (spoiler alert) the ultimate capo, I felt the need to share.
Two of my faves, Nick Reinhart on guitar and Source Audio’s Nemesis pedal on effects. Reinhart shows how the modern experimental guitarist can skip all the great traditional delay sounds produced by this pedal and go straight to the weirder more experimental sounds. In the spirit of Halloween, check out Reinhart’s release Scary Sounds from last year at this time.
Prog, math-rock, jazz, fusion, and experimental electronica are all genres that can alienate an average listener used to short melodic pop tunes and/or rythmically simple dance beats. Yet, Matt Calvert’s primary musical projects, Three Trapped Tigers, and Strobes, manage to make a melange of these styles accessible through punk-like energy, recognizable themes, and military-style precision that somehow still swings.