Born in 1953 in Tokyo, Japan. Addresses: Office--Tzadik, 200 East 10th St., PMB 126, New York, NY 10003.
Electronic musician Ikue Mori started out as a drummer performing, most notably, with the seminal New York "no wave" outfit DNA in the late 1970s. After DNA disbanded in the mid-1980s, Mori began experimenting with drum machines and samplers. Today, she works exclusively as an electronic musician, and has collaborated with a wide range of avant-garde musicians, including guitarists Fred Frith and Marc Ribot, harpist Zeena Parkins, percussionist Susie Ibarra, bassist Kato Hideki, vocalists Tenko and Catherine Janiaux, and reed player John Zorn, whose Tzadik and Avant record labels have released most of Mori's oeuvre. Outside the New York and Japanese avant-garde scenes, Mori has worked with Kim Gordon of indie rock band Sonic Youth, Jim O'Rourke of atmospheric rock band Tortoise, and turntablist DJ Olive, and composed and performed film scores, including several for filmmaker Abigail Child.
Mori was born in 1953 in Tokyo, Japan, and moved to the United States in 1977. In an interview with Theresa Stern for the website Perfect Sound Forever, Mori stated that she had not intended to stay in the United States. "I always wanted to get out of Tokyo and in 1977, New York seemed like the most interesting place to visit," she said. "I didn't intend to live here. I just wanted to get out and see what was happening." Soon after her arrival, she joined with writer-turned-guitarist Arto Lindsay and artist-turned-keyboardist Robin Crutchfield to form the band DNA. Although she had only basic musical training, mainly on piano, Mori became the group's drummer, inspired by musicians in New York's punk scene such as Television and Patti Smith. (Crutchfield was subsequently replaced by former Pere Ubu bassist Tim Wright.) DNA came to be regarded as a key element of New York's "no wave" scene, whose bands were characterized by atonality and free-form rhythms. The group appeared on producer Brian Eno's no wave anthology No New York, released on the Island subsidiary Antilles in 1978. The band drew much critical and popular interest, but released only an EP, A Taste of DNA, on the American Clavé label, before parting ways in the early 1980s. Zorn released a live album, DNA (Last Live at CBGB's), on his Avant label in 1993.
Following the breakup of DNA, Mori formed a short-lived all-female trio Sunset Chorus in New York and a second all-female trio Electrified Fukuko, in Japan, which released the EP Gamble '86 on the Telegraph label in 1985. Mori also began experimenting with drum machines and samplers, and lent the sound of her new instruments to improvised collaborations with Zorn, who introduced her to other artists in the city's avant-garde music scene, including Frith, cellist Tom Cora, and keyboardist Wayne Horowitz. Eventually, Mori gave up the drums. She now uses electronics exclusively. "The transition took a couple of years," she told Stern. "I had more and more drum machine and less and less drums. I'm more interested in making pieces and songs than in becoming a good drummer. Here in an apartment, you can't really practice drums but I can write music with a drum machine and headphones." Mori explained the advantages of the drum machine in a 2000 essay for the book Arcana, edited by Zorn. "Using the drum machine one can make loops, play a sequence, select from hundreds of sound sources (voices), program each pad to a key, control pitch, trigger other sound sources. ... multiplying and manipulating the sounds by adding effects, by combining them, and by causing them to interact in real time."
The progression from drums to electronics seemed natural, Mori recalled in an interview with AC Lee for The Wire. "Even back when I was playing a drum set, I was playing it like a drum machine. I would program the patterns in my brain and then repeat or change them in performance." Yet Mori stressed the emotional aspect of using electronics. "I try to control the machines as spontaneously as possible, playing as close to my feelings as possible, as I would with any instrument," she said.
Mori formed the group Toh Bandjan with bassist Luli Shoi and various female guest musicians in 1986. The group, which stayed together through 1989, released an album, Poison Petal, on the Nato label in 1989. Mori began a fruitful collaboration with filmmaker Abigail Child, for whom she has composed and performed numerous scores, in 1990. In 1993 Mori and vocalist Tenko released Death Praxis, which was also the name of their ensemble, on the What Next label. Mori released her first solo album, Hex Kitchen, on Zorn's Tzadik label, in 1995. Her ensemble included harpist Zeena Parkins, bassist Kato Hideki, violinist Han Rowe, and vocalist Janiaux, with guest appearances by trombonist Jim Staley and Zorn on clarinet. Mori contributed vocals to two of the album's tracks. She, Hideki, and Frith released the LP Death Ambient, also on Tzadik, that same year. These releases marked the beginning of Mori's longstanding relationship with Tzadik, for whom she continues to record. She has also designed cover art for her own and numerous other musicians' releases on both Tzadik and its sister imprint, Avant. "I was not seriously involved with visual art until I started designing the covers for Tzadik and Avant," Mori told Lee. "Visual art and music integrate in my brain beautifully," she continued. "To me, the methods of composition in both areas are quite similar."
Mori released the completely solo Garden on Tzadik in 1996 and Painted Desert, featuring guitarists Robert Quine and Marc Ribot, on Avant in 1997. Subsequent releases under Mori's own name on Tzadik include B-Side (a compilation of music composed for Child's films, 1998), One Hundred Aspects of the Moon (2000), Labyrinth (2001), and Myrninerest (2005). Death Praxis released a second LP, Mystery, on Tzadik in 1998. By the late 1990s, rock musicians had begun to take notice of Mori's eclectic style, and she engaged in collaborations with Kim Gordon, bassist for indie rock band Sonic Youth, as well as Jim O'Rourke of atmospheric rock band Tortoise and turntablist DJ Olive. In 2002 Mori joined with percussionist Susie Ibarra and pianist Sylvie Courvoisier to form the trio Mephista. The ensemble released two albums on Tzadik, 2002's Black Narcissus and 2004's Entomological Reflections. Mori explained to Stern the reason collaborators often seek her out: "I think some people want to have some weirdness or intensity in their project, then they ask for me."
by Kristin Palm
Ikue Mori's Career
Drummer for New York "no wave" outfit DNA, 1977-82; formed Sunset Chorus, 1984; formed all-female trio Electrified Fukuko in Japan and released EP Gamble '86, 1985; began playing improvised music, using drum machines and samplers, with various artists, including guitarist Fred Frith, saxophonist John Zorn, cellist Tom Cora, harpist Zeena Parkins, rock musician Kim Gordon, and electronic musician DJ Olive, 1985--; formed Toh Bandjan with bassist Luli Shioi, 1986-89; began composing film scores for Abigail Childs and others, 1990--; formed Death Praxis with vocalist Tenko, 1993; released first solo LP, Hex Kitchen, 1995; formed trio with bassist Kato Hideki and Frith, 1995; toured Europe with Zorn and vocalist Mike Patton, 1996; formed trio Mephista with percussionist Susie Ibarra and pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, 2002.
Ikue Mori's Awards
Prix Ars Electronica for digital music, 1999.
- Selected discography
- (Contributor, with DNA) No New York (anthology), Antilles, 1978.
- (With DNA) A Taste of DNA American Clavé, 1981.
- (With Electrified Fukuko) Gamble '86 Telegraph, 1985.
- (With Tohban Djan) Poison Petal Nato, 1989.
- (With Death Praxis) Death Praxis What Next, 1993.
- (With DNA) DNA (Last Live at CBGB's) Avant, 1993.
- Hex Kitchen Tzadik, 1995.
- (With Kato Hideki and Fred Frith) Death Ambient Tzadik, 1995.
- Garden Tzadik, 1996.
- Painted Desert Tzadik, 1997.
- (With Amanda Stewart, David Watson, Jim Denley, and Rik Rue) Bit-Part Actor Braille, 1997.
- B-Side Tzadik, 1998.
- (With Death Praxis) Mystery Tzadik, 1998.
- One Hundred Aspects of the Moon Tzadik, 2000.
- Labyrinth Tzadik, 2001.
- (With Mephista) Black Narcissus Tzadik, 2002.
- (With Mephista) Entomological Reflections Tzadik, 2004.
- Myrninerest Tzadik, 2005.
- Zorn, John, editor, Arcana: Musicians on Music, Granary Press/Hips Road, 2000.
- The Wire, June 1998.
- "Ikue Mori," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (May 16, 2005, 2005).
- "Ikue Mori," Perfect Sound Forever, http://www.furious.com/perfect/ikue (May 16, 2005).