top of page

“Anything was fine, as long as it was different from what others were doing”

Winter 1997: Interview no. 1 with Chie Mukai from G-Modern Vol. 14

Chie Mukai at Showboat, Tokyo by Urabe Masayoshi.

The following is the first of two interviews with Chie Mukai that were published in G-Modern Volume 14 during the winter of 1996-97. This interview was conducted by Kimiko Isaki on December 23, 1996 in Nishiogikubo, Tokyo. The translation was made by Justin Simon in the Spring of 2018. “A Journey” the 2nd album by Chie Mukai’s group Ché-SHIZU is Available Now from Black Editions.

Chie Mukai Interview by Kimiko Isaki

Chie Mukai Profile

Chie Mukai: vocal, er-hu, piano From Osaka, Japan.

Studied under Takehisa Kosugi at Bigakko art school in 1975. Part of the “East Bionic Symphonia,” a post-graduation project of Bigakko students, along with Kazuo Imai, Yasushi Ozawa (Fushitsusha), Masami Tada, et al. Following her tenure in the EBS, she played in a reggae band called Stereos, A-Musik, Kenichi Takeda’s Vedda Music Workshop, and other groups.

Started a group called Cho-SHIZU in 1980 (name was later changed to Ché-SHIZU). Initially an improvisational group, over time it became more song-based.. Early Ché-SHIZU members included Takuya Nishimura (bass), Tori Kudo (piano, guitar), Tsukasa Takahashi (drums), and guest artists such as the late Masami Shinoda (sax) and Yuriko Mukojima (accordian). In 1983, Mukai gave an improvised performance on er-hu at Plan B (later released as Er-hu (Kokyu) Improvisations, PSFD-10), and Ché-SHIZU released their first album, I Can’t Promise, on Zero Records. She continues to perform both as a solo artist and with Ché-SHIZU. Various recordings of her collaborations with Morio Agata, percussionist Takashi Kazamaki, Swiss saxophone player Christoph Gallio, the American group L.A.F.M.S. and others have been released.


Isaki: I don’t think you’ve done many interviews so far, but a couple recently appeared in Jungle Life (vol. 8, 1996), the free publication circulated in Osaka, and in G-Modern (vol. 7, 1995). Aside from those two, was the last interview you did for COS (#3, 1990)?

Mukai: Oh, I interviewed myself for that one.

Isaki: Some kind of a charade? The publisher didn’t mind you doing that?

Mukai: Okazaki’s not the type to get angry…Also, interviewing myself made it easier to say what I wanted to say, and it went straight to the printer without the need for transcription. Good idea, right? [laughs]

Isaki: So did you periodically agree with yourself while interviewing yourself?

Mukai: Well, that was so long ago, it’s kind of a blur, but that was the gist of it. Later on I had some exchanges with Okazaki via fax about the tour I did with Nachtluft [1] and Hiroshima in 1988.

Isaki: Do you think you are a good interviewee?

Mukai: Do I think I am? I don’t think so, do you?

Isaki: Not really. [laughs]

Mukai: Nobody gets as tongue-tied as I do.

Isaki: Which leads me to my next question: do you think there’s any connection between your music making and your feeling tongue-tied? In the sense that you’re expressing something with music that you can’t express otherwise?

Mukai: I don’t think so. There are musicians who are very talkative and eloquent, like Kenichi Takeda and Shuichi Chino, for instance. I’m just not very good at explaining myself in words.

Isaki: What’s the first music you remember getting into?

Mukai: Classical. We had a record player with a wooden lid in our house and my father had a collection of classical 78s. As a kid I would listen to them all, but this one piece particularly moved me. I’d forgotten what it was, so I went back as an adult and listened to some of the 78s again. I’m not entirely sure, but the piece I really loved might have been “Hungarian Dances.” Then, when I was in grade school, an employee of my parents’ store lent me a Beatles single. I think it was “Please Please Me.” I listened in secret and hid it from my mother because I thought she would be angry. She was kind of a helicopter mother.

Isaki: Funny how even as a child you instinctively knew the music might have had a bit of an edge to it…

Mukai: Actually, my parents bought me a Beatles record for my birthday around the time I was in junior high. I asked them for a record with “Help” and “Yesterday” on it, and they actually brought one home. After that I got deep into rock and roll. I used to like the Beatles, but they’re a little too mainstream for my tastes now. Anyway, around the same time I heard either “In the Steppes of Central Asia” or “Bolero” in school and was really impressed, so I went to a record shop in Juso to try to find the record. I couldn’t decide between that and Bach, but my mother told me to choose the Bach record because she thought he was more sophisticated…so the first record I bought myself was a Bach record. Then I was a huge rock fan from high school through college. I listened to everything from Grand Funk [laughs] to EL&P to Led Zeppelin. I was like, “Jimmy!” [waving her hands in the air]

Isaki: Did you like the vocalist in Grand Funk Railroad?

Mukai: I couldn’t really tell who was who. [laughs]

Isaki: How about Yes?

Mukai: I wasn’t that into them.

Isaki: I recently read a quote from Yes guitarist Steve Howe where he described his attitude towards music, and I felt like it might be similar to yours. It was in a 1981 issue of Yu magazine, in a feature where Derek Bailey compiled quotes from various musicians. Howe said, “I guess I always try to mix improvisational ideas with the sort of music that’s normally written in musical notation. So regardless of what type of music I start out with, I end up improvising and stepping into something else entirely. And if I really like where I end up, I try to use it. I feel like I can create something new this way. And I like it when creation comes easy like that.”

Mukai: …I wish I could talk like that. [laughs] But, basically, my mind is blank (when I’m creating something).

Ché-SHIZU at Showboat, Tokyo (L-R) Nishimura Takuya, Takahashi Ikuro (back), Mukai, Koma Keita by Sato Takafumi.

Isaki: Let’s go back to where we left off. Who were some of your favorites after Jimmy Page?

Mukai: In college I was really into progressive rock, which was popular back then. King Crimson was intoxicating.

Isaki: You and I are from the same generation. Was the Vienna Boys Choir one of the first groups you idolized? They were my first obsession.

Mukai: Yes! I saw a movie about them at school, about a boy who hits puberty and his voice changes.

Isaki: Born to Sing. The one about the boy who suddenly can’t sing soprano anymore, and almost quits but then comes back as a conductor.

Mukai: I just remember his face, with his mouth always open.

Isaki: Sean Scully was the actor on the poster. He was photographed from below while conducting.

Mukai: That image worked i