The native electromagnetic music of ELECTRONICOS FANTASTICOS!, Interview with Ei Wada

ELECTRONICOS FANTASTICOS! turn old electric devices into electromagnetic musical instruments.

“ELECTRONICOS FANTASTICOS!” is a project led by artist/musician Ei Wada in which various people work together to revive electronic products that have outlived their usefulness into new electronic instruments and gradually form an orchestra. In 2009, he started the group Open Reel Ensemble, which manipulates and plays reel-to-reel tape recorders. He has provided music for ISSEY MIYAKE’s Paris Collection 11 consecutive times.

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What are your major musical influences? What music do you listen to?

The first was gamelan music, which I experienced when I was three years old on a family trip to Bali, Indonesia. The metallic sound has stuck in my mind like a trauma. The second is VELVET UNDERGROUND, which I first heard when I was in elementary school after finding my father’s LP record in the closet of our house and dropping the needle for the first time. The flood of distorted sounds vibrated my eardrums and heart violently, and I fell in love with electric music. From there, I’ve got connected to electronic music, techno, and the new wave. In recent years, traditional instruments from various regions have become electric, and electronic music that reflects the local musicality of each region has been born all over the world. I’ve been fascinated by the electric as well as the primitive sound of those instruments and the music.

When did you start to experiment with music? How did you come up with the idea of recycling household appliances and electronic devices to create music?

It all started more than twenty years ago when I was in mid-school when an acquaintance of mine gave me a couple of old reel-to-reel tape recorders. One day, the motor of one of the recorders broke when I was playing with it recording my voice. When I tried to rotate the reels with my hands, I heard a whirring sound that seemed to come from a distorted spacetime and sounded very exotic to me. I was convinced that reel-to-reel recorders are “musical instruments which came from a foreign country called “the past” and when I was a university student, I formed a band called “Open Reel Ensemble” that plays only with reel-to-reel tape recorders.

With nearly 70 members participating in the project, they have turned a number of home appliances into musical instruments, including CRT TVs, fans, ventilators, video cameras, ecoans, and telephones

Photo by Florian Voggeneder

Around the same time, I also accidentally discovered a way to make sound by picking up static electricity from a CRT TV with a guitar amplifier. I found myself putting electrodes on my body and feverishly striking and playing the CRT TV. I came up with the idea, “If we can catch electrical signals, then any old electrical appliance can become a musical instrument”. I launched a project called “ELECTRONICOS FANTASTICOS!”, in 2015 in which I work with various people to transform old electrical appliances into musical instruments and gradually form an orchestra, and have been working on this creative work day and night.

What is native electromagnetic music?

Cyberpunk is the over development of the Internet
Steampunk is the over development of the steam engine.
In the world of Electromagnetic punk, where electromagnetic technology is overdeveloped, there are instruments and music that are played with electromagnetic mechanisms.
I have a fantasy that this is “Native Electromagnetic Music.”

What are the ideas and stories behind your songs?

In the middle of the night, in a civilized desert of electronic waste, a radio tower in the shape of a giant crab’s leg with a CRT TV embedded in it grows out of the ground and starts flickering. Then naked people with radios gather around the tower and start dancing around, picking up the radio signals. The dancing creates electricity, and as the discarded electronics wake up, energized, a strange electromagnetic orchestra begins to play them and sing electromagnetic folk songs. As satellites scan the earth as a giant record, using the shape of the moon and the position of the stars as a musical score, sending signals to the ground and out into space. Images of cell division and volcanic activity appear on cathode-ray tubes, and spinning metal speakers blast out waveforms of the terrain. Every night, a strange festival of time and space, electromagnetism, and nonlinear dreaming takes place.

Photo by Mao Yamamoto

Can you share with us any meaningful story from backstage?

In Japan, the frequency of electrical outlets differs from region to region: 50 Hz in eastern Japan and 60 Hz in western Japan. This is due to the fact that we used to import generators from the US and Germany, which have different standards. As a result, for example, the Electric Fan Harp, a fan instrument, has a different rotation speed and pitch between East and West. Japanese cathode-ray tubes are unified because the machine itself is based on the American 60 Hz standard. When doing a session with a fan and a CRT, it is possible to tune in by providing a 60 Hz power supply.
Since it does not match the A=440Hz of the existing instruments, we have to change the voltage or use a pitch shifter to adjust it when we do sessions with them. After all, the music played by appliance instruments is tuned has vibes based on 50/60Hz as the pitches of the sound of appliance instruments which sound best are multiples of the frequency of the electricity.

What is your next project?

Considering that home appliances can be found in every city in the world, I would like to form an electromagnetic orchestra without borders, starting with making instruments out of old home appliances there.

Photo by Ryo Fujimori

Photo courtesy of Ei Wada, Special thanks to Sampei Yamaguchi
Featured image by Sumi Takesh

Last Updated on December 10, 2021 by retrofuturista

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