YIDFF 2005 Yunnan Visual Forum in Yamagata
An Interview with Ito Satoru (Performer)

The Hulusheng (Gourd Pipe) is a Part of Me, and through the Instrument I Want You to Think about the People over There

Q: How did you get interested in ethnic music?

IS: My mother taught piano, so I was familiar with music. But during junior high school I went through a rebellious phase and fought with my parents, and also on top of that the music education at school was boring and unbearable. So I didn’t like music, and for a while I didn’t do anything related to music. In high school I didn’t study at all. And after graduating from high school I went to the U.S., and then I traveled to England. Then someone who had graduated before me said, “If you’re going to the UK, you’ve got to hear authentic rock music!” For some reason I misunderstood and thought I was being told to listen to ethnic music. And so over there I heard Irish music, and really got into it. Then I went to Ireland, and every day I went to pubs to listen to music. With ethnic music you can intimately feel the connection between life and sound. Life emerges from people, and then music is born from those lives. I think those links are very important. I was glad that I got to discover music that I could experience really intimately, not at a distance. That’s how I decided to do ethnic music.

Q: Then you entered Yunnan University.

IS: Originally I’d been thinking of studying abroad, but right at that time I was studying Chinese language in university, and easily decided to go to China. I went out drinking at the place where I was studying, and there happened to be a hulusheng (gourd pipe) performance. I thought, “This is it.” Right there, I immediately asked to be taught how to play the hulusheng. That same person is my teacher now. So there was my encounter with that teacher, and so I quit Japanese university and transferred to Yunnan University, which had a course in ethnic music. But I just stayed on in Yunnan, and I didn’t know about the province or the issues that Yunnan was dealing with. My teacher was from an ethnic minority, so Yunnan’s problems were really vivid. So I went out to do fieldwork with him many times. Cities that could be reached by bus appeared to be prosperous, but when you went up into the mountains there were children without clothes, and people really lived in poverty. I want more people to know how ethnic minorities live. So, I don’t perform the hulusheng in order to let people know about the instrument or ethnic music. The instrument is a part of me, and through the hulusheng I want you to think about the lives of people living over there. I hope you can feel this music that communicates to them emotionally, and that step-by-step we can draw closer to understanding one another.

Q: What are you plans for the future?

IS: I’m the kind of person that can handle anything, and I can do just about anything reasonably well. But I’m not great at a genius level. That really pains me. I’m not a performer with technical genius or talent, but I hope to link together the things I’ve experienced. Of course, I plan to continue music, and I’d be happy if I can eat and make a living without a lot of hardship through my forties and fifties, and connect with local people while also being active in Japan. My teacher finally broke out of his extremely impoverished lifestyle at around fifty, and now he’s a really great performer, going abroad to do performances, so I figure that I don’t need to rush.

(Compiled by Sugawara Daisuke)

Interviewers: Sugawara Daisuke, Takayama Marie
Photography: Hashimoto Yuko / Video: Watanabe Ayumi / 2005-10-13