KNIFE SPITS ICE:
Frederick Bristow interviews
SWAN MEAT and YOSHITAKA HIKAWA
“KNIFE SPLITS ICE” is the latest collaboration from experimental musicians Yoshitaka Hikawa and Swan Meat. Centred around themes of surgery and security, this EP is cold and clinical – exactly as the title might suggest.
Having collaborated on tracks in the past (“Wilt” and “BX3 HEADSPACE”), this EP is an elaboration and evolution in sound for both artists. Both prolific creators in their own right, this EP seamlessly blends what you might consider the signatures of both. The more ‘sound art’ motif-centred compositions of Yoshitaka Hikawa blend seamlessly with the brutal rhythmic reprises and spoken word recordings one might associate with Swan Meat. Hearing both these names together paints a visceral and immediate idea of what to expect – but this EP has plenty of surpises.
1. Could you talk a little about the collaboration process and how this came about? I understand you have collaborated on tracks in the past (“Wilt” and “BX3 HEADSPACE), but what was the driving force behind creating an EP together?
YH: “BX3 HEADSPACE” was our first collaboration. We send stems to each other, edit them, send back and edit, etc. I was interested in her perspective before our first collaboration. Still now it gives me inspiration; to sync our madness in a track’s unpredictable flow.
SM: We’ve been collaborating for over a year now and figured it was about time some of these sounds were sent forth into the universe.
2. Following on from this, I found it interesting that I could identify which sonic motifs were made by who; some phrases are distinctly Yoshitaka or SM’s. Does this speak to the internet-based collaborative process?
YH: I don’t necessarily have this consciousness- through the editing process, the tracks are mixed and remixed. Certain [original] phrases get lost.
SM: I’d be interested in hearing which bits you thought were ours, respectively. The collaboration process isn’t necessarily additive, here, & no sound exists monolithically within the context of our work; most of what’s done between the exchange of stems is resampling; the source audio in question is obscured, disappears.
3. Conceptually, how would you describe this EP? What was your intention behind the concept?
YH: We thought a lot about security, comfort/discomfort, & safety. It’s hard to describe beyond these words.
SM: I think the “concept” behind the EP, if there is one, only emerged when we decided to call the thing an EP: when we were selecting song titles, ordering the tracks, etc. Furthermore, this concept’s vocabulary is aural; what’s most interesting about the tape is, I think, our (mostly) subconscious ability to synchronize workflow & compose as one sonically linked body– rather than 2 separate-&-apart musicians.
4. Could you elaborate on the title, “KNIFE SPLITS ICE”? To me this seems to embody both the clinical and cold feelings in this EP.
YH: Exactly – the clinical & the cold [frame] our operation’s atmosphere. [The title] “KNIFE SPLITS ICE” is refers to the motif in the EP’s first track, “everywhereigoicarryaknife”.
SM: My experience growing up in-&-out of hospitals as a young person has directly informed the way I process & make sound. For some time, the cold & the clinical were my norm. It’s hard to shake this vocabulary. “Knife Splits Ice” refers also to an image I kept coming back to, that of the uncanny surgical procedure: a knife cutting in half, perfectly, a chunk of ice: no melting, no shards. Two halves, like frozen lungs.
5. Is there a particular importance to the choice of vocal samples that runs throughout the album? Notably, there is a spoken word piece on the 4th track that follows an almost voyeuristic field recording of conversation between a group of women.
YH: I love the sounds & inflections of the voice. I often use [the voice] in my solo work.
SM: That particular conversation is one recorded between my best friend & myself while watching fireworks on NYE in Berlin, whilst wearing 3D glasses & being drunk. Vocal bits are resampled t/out our work, but the spoken word pieces usually come directly from my personal brainstorming process; i.e., before I begin working on a track I might write something that helps me figure out, say, the narrative path I want it to follow or the kind of sounds I want to source or make. Sometimes it feels appropriate to then bring those notes into the actual track.
6. To me, there is quite a clinical feeling to this EP. In particular, references to surgery and bodily parts (track 2). @SM: You have mentioned in a previous interview having spent most of your childhood / adolescence in and out of hospital. Is there any relation between your experiences there and the surgical concept of this EP? (If this is too personal I will leave out / you don’t have to answer!! <3)
SM: See my answer to question 4. Most certainly. We built “Casual Surgical Slang” around a handful of samples drawn directly from the hospital atmosphere. Re-contextualizing some of these sounds – those that kept me both alive & motionless – the hospital bed moving up and down, a breathing bag deflating, etc. – has been part of my healing process.
7. Both of you have different contexts and backgrounds to your work. Where do you feel this EP stands in respects to the ‘Experimental Club’ scene of SM and the more ‘Sound Art’ approach (fair to say?) of Yoshitaka? (I understand the two are not at all mutually exclusive – perhaps the wording is not quite right)
YH: [We see] this EP as a collection of scraps, memorandums of no context. Most people listening to our music will find it via internet search, without this context [you refer to], so previous classifications of our work don’t matter. There is no memory of experience. Besides, “club music” and “sound art” are being consumed more & more at the same time, as the same thing. The knife of the EP breaks the old contexts; we dislike it when our work is classified within a specific genre or genealogy.
SM: As I said previously, the great thing about working with a collaborator you really vibe with is the way such collaborations challenge you to shake off the trappings of your old, worn-out workflow and in the wake of these old clothes learn to compose in harmony. So that’s where the EP stands: in this wake, at the crosshair of learning & unlearning.
8. What is the thread that connects these 5 tracks together?
YH: From our beginning [as collaborators] through now and into the future.
9. How would you like this piece to be consumed?
YH: I’d like it to be consumed in the far future when we are no longer alive; I hope someone will dig around in an ancient tape collection and listen to it as an artefact of 2017.
10. Another recording that stuck out to me was the use of a field recording of fireworks towards the end of track 4. I have personally used recordings of fireworks to convey a sense of melancholy in one of my works. What was the intention behind this? (perhaps this is too specific / too much of my personal interest!)
SM: The fireworks are actually a second-hand artefact – I spent a lot of time, actually, trying to muffle them w/ 8-band EQ magic and eventually gave up, seeing as how they work within the context of the track’s melancholy. I understand why the recording feels impactful: fireworks always convey a sense of loneliness & longing – they’re such a hackneyed symbol of celebration but nonetheless they recall childhood, as such recalling innocence lost. Anyway, I was more interested in the half-heard conversations in the foreground of the recording: ohmygod, take my picture!
11. Another personal point of interest that I find in this EP is the idea of security and surveillance. On track 1, the skittering vocal samples of “everywhere I go I carry a knife”, along with writing, wet and mechanical samples instils in me a schizophrenic, gritty, dystopic feeling.
SM: The title of this track – as well as the vocal sample at the beginning – come from the final line of a poem I wrote about diving into the depths of mania whilst living in Los Angeles. The track began as a simple lyre arrangement and expanded from there.
12. Can we expect more collaborations of this nature in the future?
YH: 1000% I hope.
Yoshitaka Hikawa is an experimental musician based in Tokyo, Japan. He is a prolific creator and collaborator with a distinctive sound. I became familiar with his collection of sound works, “A_frontal_lobotomy” on Soundcloud and have followed since.
Available at: https://soundcloud.com/yoshitaka-hikawa-1
Swan Meat is an experimental musician who interweaves spoken word into crushing, perc-heavy club compositions. I found her work through various mixes she has done for NTS, Disc Magazine and Radar Radio.
Available at: https://soundcloud.com/swanmeat
Interviewer: Frederick Bristow
Cover Photo: Monia Ben Hamouda
KNIFE SPLITS ICE
by Swan Meat & Yoshitaka Hikawa
Available as limited edition clear cassette or digital album on Apothecary Compositions: