DJ Sniff is a musician I can’t describe

Takuro Mizuta Lippit performs as DJ Sniff, a musician that it’s easier for you to listen to than for me to explain. His intense mixing, chopping and remixing creates something so unlike what we would call sampling that you could barely call it by the name.

Given that his sources are therefore so hard to trace, I wanted to understand Taku’s thoughts on authorship, influence and more. 

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Chris Woolfrey (CW): How do you see your relationship to your source material? When I saw you perform, I was amazed at how quickly and fluidly you seemed to mix samples. To me, the speed and frantincess of it removed the referential element traditionally associated with sampling.

Takuro Mizuta Lippit (TML): Indeed, the referential element is less pronounced in my performances than sample-based music like hip hop or house; or even the subversive uses of samples in musicians like John Oswald’s Plunderphonics and Negativeland.

Nevertheless, it’s there: maybe less to the artists and in the music but more as a history of my listening. Since I was never really trained in music, my music has always started from being a listener and thinking about how I can flip this relationship into playing music — in a way that’s similar to how the microphone and speaker work according to the same principles and that they are, therefore, reversible.

CW: You mean that for you, the listener and the musician are sorts of “mirrors” of each other? You wanted to see how you could make the kind of music that any listener, rather than a “trained musician”, might make?

TML:I suppose a distorted mirror. Vibrations change their sound characteristics based on how they resonate. When you plug headphones into the input of a mixer, it amplifies your voice like microphone, but a shitty microphone. Its distorted and frequencies are missing, but it also has character that is unique to that headphone that wouldn’t have been exposed unless it was used in this way. So rather than making music that any listener could make I wanted to make music that only I can make as I trained myself as a listener.

The speed and franticness comes from my relationship with the live sampling tools that I built, which allow me to instantly grab sources from the records on the fly and play them back. The tools are very mechanical and non-expressive: I try to compensate for this by quickly sampling new phrases and mixing in new sounds. My tools take the groove and soul out of the original records and I try to insert my own expression back into them: into these corpses of sound.

CW: Because, through your working practices, you’ve removed a certain expressive element, you want to play live to inject it back in. Is that as far as it goes when it comes to your commitment to live performance? I love listening to you on record but I think it’s fair to say that it’s hard to understand your music without seeing you perform. Do you agree?

TML: My live performance, and my music in general, is a result of trying to overcome the friction between myself and technology. I think this is the same with most conventional instruments as well. The violin doesn’t seem to be a very intuitive instrument, and the music emerges through physically overcoming it. I don’t really need people to understand my music, I just want them to think it’s unique, whether they are watching me live or listening to my recordings. I try to avoid talking about technical details in my setup as much as possible.

CW: Are there original sounds in your work? Your music is so deconstructed that the distinction between the original and sampled, it seems to me, two would be almost meaningless.

TML: Other than a synth called the Blippoo box, and field recordings I made myself, every other sound is taken from works that were published by someone else.

To me, when recorded music is played back, whether in its original form by just pushing a button or heavily manipulated through sophisticated techniques, the moment that it is played it belongs to the person who played it. When a record is played, what is at stake is not just the original composition or recording, but also the space, the memories, and the moment.

CW: With that in mind, I’d love to hear your own view on reference and quotation in music: whether in your own or in others?

TML: We always need something to reference when we make music or try to communicate with other musicians. Whether we include those references in the actual music is a personal preference. However, being influenced by hip hop and Chicago house music, I also know how powerful references are to the audience and how it opens people up to listening to new styles of music.

CW: And how does this relate to the Asian Meeting Festival?

TML: The AMF is a festival that I curate together with Singaporean musician Yuen Chee Wai to bring together independent musicians throughout Asia. Artists coming from different backgrounds play together to try to find what kind of music they can make together in a live setting. I’m really dedicated to the project: it’s nurturing a new musical network in Asia that’s not been seen before and the resulting music is essentially different from what you would usually expect from Western experimental music.

CW: In what sense is it different?

TML: At this point, there is a pretty established language to experimental practices of music, whether if it’s free improvisations, noise, electro-acoustic, etc. There are also communities and scenes built around these genres of music in the West and in Japan. Therefore, to even play at venues and events of this kind of music means that you have a fluency in the musical language or you have a pass to enter. In other parts of the world, these scenes are not developed so experimental music emerges from the cracks between more popular genres like metal, hardcore, hip hop, and traditional music.

When we bring together cutting-edge musicians from different countries they all come from very different musical backgrounds and communicate with each other in very different ways. Naturally the music they make together is very different compared to when you play together with people with a common background.

 

Want more DJ Sniff? Check out his website.

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