I was first introduced to the wonderful world of Mora-Tau by way of his 2020 album, ‘The Light Of the Winter’. Something about it was very nostalgic…very haunting. Upon further probe into his Bandcamp page, I discovered an alluring and eclectic cosmos of improvisational recordings that are addictive and more importantly conceptualized based on a specific theme – particularly around horror, nightmares, worlds end and retrospective subject matter. Needless to say, Mora-Tau has become one of my favorite Dark Ambient producers and I couldn’t wait to have a conversation with him to find out what makes this project so unique and special. Hope you enjoy this interview.
1. Thank you very much for this interview opportunity. Mora-Tau has a rather short recording history but has left quite an impression on my. How did this project start for you?
As you pointed out, I only started publishing my work around 2009. I was born in 1959 and I will be 63 this year, so it’s not a long career.
For about 10 years, from the age of 15, I listened exclusively to progressive rock. I now listen to a wide range of music genres, including jazz, avant-garde music and club music, but most of it came through progressive rock. Even punk rock.
The most influential artists at that time were Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, Mike Oldfield, Steve Hillage, Gong, Popol Vuh and of course King Crimson. Well, this is a very conventional list.
I started working under the name ‘mora-tau’ around 2008. I had been creating music before that. But I was satisfied with just playing them for my friends. I didn’t do any live performances. I had no formal musical education, so I’m not very good at playing an instrument. So I couldn’t even imagine the day when I would be playing in front of other people.
In 2008 or 2009, I discovered the music publishing website jamendo.com. By registering on that site, I was finally ready to release my music to the outside world. It was then that I named myself ‘mora-tau’. The name comes from my favourite 1950s horror film The Zombies of Mora-Tau (with my favourite actress Allison Hayes playing the bad girl, who turns into a zombie at the end).
Around the same time, an acquaintance invited me to perform at his shop (which was a bookshop) for almost the first time in my life. That was a lot of fun! And that was the start of my live career.
I consider myself ambient music, drone music and experimental music at the moment. I feel that these three genres are often balanced and mixed in one piece.
It was only after 2000 that I started to listen to this music seriously, in other words systematically and consciously. Before that, I was looking for my own music, imitating what I had heard. So it wasn’t until I started performing live that I got the style of music I was aiming for.
The first music that made a big impact on me was Eliane Radigue, a pioneer of electronic music who manipulated an ARP2500. I found the drone music she produced to be very simple, but with immense depth.
Another hero of mine is Morton Feldman. When I met Feldman, who produced very long, very slow music (sometimes over five hours of music), that music melded with Tangerine Dream, Harmonia and Eliane Radigue in my mind and became a big part of my own style It has given me suggestions.
This is ‘the origin of mora-tau’.
Wow, it’s a very long answer! I’m sorry.
2. I’ve noticed that on the liner notes of many of your recordings on Bandcamp your work mainly consists of improvisations. Do you typically have a plan of what you are going to play before recording or is it completely improvised?
I record almost all of my compositions as completely improvised performances. On very rare occasions I may write a musical score, but it is a sketch for memory.
However, in the last few years, I have often decided on a scale only at the beginning of a performance. Especially for live performances, I always decide on just the scale. Sometimes I move on to another scale during the performance, and sometimes I just finish it. The reason why I decide on it is simple. I don’t want to make a mistake in front of the audience :-).
Recorded performances are edited using DAW software. Sometimes it is just the same thing as played, with a few tweaks. In most cases, however, editing is essential. Balancing between tracks, noise reduction, sound quality adjustment, etc. are always done. The song is then cut into several parts. Sometimes I’ll delete parts, sometimes I’ll change the order, and sometimes I’ll layer completely different tracks that were previously unreleased. Sometimes I create a piece by layering several tracks that were recorded at completely different times and have different tempos, tunes and tonalities.
Once I have finished recording, I change my mind and think: ‘This is all just material’. And in the editing process, I emphasise an improvisational sensibility. I rarely work in advance. My style is as improvisational in the editing as it is in the performance itself.
3. You have quite a few live recordings from Bar Lynch (in Utsunomiya, Japan). How do you prepare for those sessions and how is the audience response to your work?
Lynch is a very small bar in a narrow alleyway; it overflows when 20 people arrive. The sound system for live shows uses the shop’s audio system. Otherwise, artists bring their own amplifiers.
I always have about three synthesisers available, with the necessary effectors connected to them, and record them on a mixer/recorder, a ZOOM R-16. The output from that is then input into Lynch audio.
So the sound quality is by no means top-notch. But because my recordings do not go through the shop audio, I can guarantee the same quality as studio work. Many of my customers listen to me while they chat. No, they are not listening? But some of them listen intently, clap seriously and ask questions after the performance. Yes, about one person every six months.
My turnout is very low, only a few people at most gigs. Sometimes there is only the master. On those occasions, I play around with phrases and developments that I think the master will enjoy. Of course, I never play to the extent that the whole structure collapses, though.
4. I lived in Japan for almost 24 years and really loved the music scene however, my only electronic concert experience was seeing Merzbow live in Tokyo a few times. How is the Electronic/Ambient scene in Japan these days?
Sorry, I actually don’t know anything about the music scene in Japan. I live in Utsunomiya-City, which is 100 km north of Tokyo. The famous Shinkansen bullet train will take you to Tokyo station in an hour, but I rarely go outside my area.
I’m like Rapunzel living in a tower.
I keep up to date with new music through streaming services such as Spotify, YouTube and CD shopping, but so far I haven’t found the Japanese scene to be very interesting.
5. You’ve made several recordings for International labels such as Church Of Noisy Goat (Brazil) and Kalamine Records (France). How did those endeavors come about?
Both labels approached me through them. I never approached them myself. I think they liked something about the music I was making and invited me.
6. Do you plan to release anymore albums with those labels, and possibly others?
Neither of the two labels has a specific release schedule. I send my work to them about four times a year. Then I ask them, “If you like it, will you release it?” I have never had anyone say “No”.
I will continue to regular releases, where possible. However, there is no fixed schedule. If invited by another label, I’ll see what they’re up to and think about it. Of course, my basic attitude is “anyone, anytime, is OK”.
7. As for your music style and influence, how much of it is influenced by Japanese culture, folklore and spiritual meaning?
The deepest part of the psyche must be inseparably influenced by it. For example, many of the phrases I play unconsciously have a Japanese melody.
But it’s rarely conscious. Before making track, I watch a film or read books, looking for something to inspire me. If I’m inspired by something Japanese then I’m strongly influenced by it. I’ve never been aware of any other influences beyond that.
Of course, consciously or not, ‘Japan’ is firmly rooted in me. When I improvise, I am very conscious of this. Such as when I play the ‘Japanese phrases’ I mentioned earlier. Perhaps I am imprinting ‘Japan’ more deeply in my mind through improvisation.
8. One of my favorite albums by you is called ‘Swirl’. It has a very retrospective and minimalistic vibe to it. What was it like to record this album and what is the meaning behind this amazing music?
Thank you very much. I like that album very much too.
At that time, I was thinking of putting my impressions of the B-Movies of the 50’s to music.
The theme is “guidelines for music production” for me. The light of the lighthouse. A guide to the completion of the work.
This is the case with most of my work.
I say to myself ‘Let’s start to make music inspired by “The Thing”! ‘. But when done, it can be The Thing, but it can also be “Quatermass Xperiment”, or “Frankenstein”, or “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas”. You must have been disgusted at how lazy it was.
Shortly before making ‘Swirl’ I bought an analogue synthesizer with a sequencer. And I wanted to use it to make endless music. That’s how I started with my technical interests.
It’s all about how to combine different approaches: adjusting parameters to make small changes, changing effects in real time, using delays to layer sounds from other equipment. “Swirl” is the result of this research into how different approaches can be combined to create long ambient pieces of music. It’s the honest answer. I’m sorry if I’ve disappointed you.
9. There is another album called ‘Still Here’. In my opinion, this is one of your darkest recordings. What was the main focus behind this album?
This one, contrary to ‘Swirl’, was made with technology I already had at my disposal.
First, there was ‘Story’, which I wrote in the liner notes. How can I live in a world where the world has disappeared and no one can hear me? This was expanded upon in Still Here.
At the same time, I was obsessed at the time with the image of a ‘world on the brink of destruction’ as depicted by J.G. Ballard. I felt that I was living in a terrible world, in a time when I was trapped.
To express this, I partly used contemporary musical techniques such as atonal and whole-tone scales. I think these techniques also promote darkness.
10. One of your latest albums is called ‘Brave New World’. However, in the liner notes, you state, “There is No New World Anywhere”. How does that tie in to the music on the album and what is the meaning behind this recording.
When write it like that, it seems to express a deep philosophy. But there’s a bit of deception there.
It started from my own feeling that “there’s nothing new in this album. Every part of it is a repetition of what I’ve done before”.
Of course, I don’t always try new things in all my work. I think it’s fine to use only familiar techniques of expression, if the resulting work is emotional. That’s why I can write “There is no ‘new world’ anywhere.” It’s a self-deprecating joke!
The music for the album was done, I thought “This album is GOOD!”. But I couldn’t think of a title. At first I thought of “fragment of memories”, but then I thought it sounded like the title my past albums. After a few days of deliberation, I decided on the current title as a kind of compromise.
11. I’m really interested to learn about the equipment you use for recording? Can you please share your setup to the fans?
The main equipment is listed below. This is where we choose and combine the equipment for our gigs.
Moog Sub Phatty
Pico System Erica Synth
Virtual Analog Synth:
Modal Electronics SKULPT Synthesizer
Future Audio Workshop Circle 2
BOSS DD-20 GIGA DELAY
tc electronic Flashback2
JOYO D-SEED II
BOSS Digital Reverb RV-5
Behringer RV600 Reverb Machine
BOSS Loop Station RC-3
tc electronic DITTO X4 Looper
12. Other than Bar Lynch, do you play live gigs at other venues?
Since last year I have been playing at ‘Igno…. . book plus’ (an antiquarian bookshop) every three months or so. There are also a few live music venues where can play. All of them are in Utsunomiya city.
13. Do you plan to release any physical media of any of your albums or will you stick with digital releases?
I actually released a CD a few years ago under the title “the old village”. 300 copies were made and over 200 are still unsold. I don’t think releasing any more CDs. It’s too costly. I would like to release a cassette tape.
14. I’m always looking forward to hearing new music from you. What do you have planned for releases in 2022?
Thank you very much. In 2022 I’m aiming to release an album every month, hopefully one that You will like.
15. Thanks again for your time and for sharing your musical journey. Do you have any final thought for those that will read this interview?
I was born in 1959, so I don’t think I’ll have another ten years to be an active musician. Nevertheless, I don’t want to stop playing music and I hope to go deeper into it. If you don’t mind, I would be very happy if you could stay with me for a while longer.