erasing clouds

Righteous Vibes: The Music of Yume Bitsu
(an interview with Adam Forkner)

by dave heaton

"Try to move your imagination toward the sound…the pitches, the colors, you have to watch them move," Don Ayler once was quoted as saying. He was talking about the free-jazz he played with his brother Albert, but that way of describing music almost mystically, as an experience where the world shifts around you, applies as easily to all sorts of musicians who try to push music toward a form of transcendence by focusing on the overall sound, from other jazz players like Sun Ra and Pharaoh Sanders to more rock-oriented astronauts like Spacemen 3 and My Bloody Valentine. Closer to the latter camp than the former, yet with an increasingly jazz tinge around their music, is the Portland, Oregon-based group Yume Bitsu, whose fourth album The Golden Vessyl of Sound is an especially cosmic blowout, an atmospheric rock epic with songs that build up with a blissful sort of intensity and then release into even more sublime jams. Accompanying the album is a legend, a fantasy-style story about moth messengers and tbe Great Goldden Council. Yume Bitsu's Adam Forkner (with Franz Prichard, one of the group's two core members) kindly answered questions about that enigmatic story and much more during a recent e-mail interview.

First off, I was wondering if you could tell me about the recording process for the latest album. What was it like, and in what ways did it differ from the ways you've recorded in the past?

Well it was different in every way from anything we had done previously. I recorded it myself, with the help of the other members, and we had ample amounts of time to just let things develop over time. We jammed a lot, we recorded a lot, it was really loose and free from expectations, it was comfortably paced and after three weeks of that, we let the material sit for a while and I came back to it, honed in on the things that were really good, mixed some things, added some parts, some vocals etc. So all in all it was a lengthy process, and a freeing process. We went for a wide variety of sound to display aspects of Yume Bitsu that had never seen it onto the records but we always knew we had in us. We feel this record is the best one yet.

How about the instruments you used this time around? How did they differ from in the past? It seems like there's more electronics, and trumpet--to what extent did you try to expand the musical palette?

Dub Narcotic has many many instruments laying around. We used as many of them as possible. I've been picking up my trumpet for about a year now after years of hating it. I played jazz trumpet all through high school and the shift towards rock and experimental music made me neglect it. Now I feel that it is exciting to play it in this new setting. We brought in horn players for the beginning of the long song. That was also great. Basically this record was so free of expectations that we all felt free to play everything around us.

What role does improvisation play in your music, as opposed to more conventional songwriting? Your music sounds like it's improvised.

To us, improvisation is the key to musical beauty. It is the heart of our creative force. Almost all of our songs are improvised around a loose structure that one member suggests and we all pick up on. We call this sort of playing "playing through the vessyl" or perhaps "letting the vessyl play through us," the vessyl being a collective channel of energy that we tap into through the process of giving and receiving, listening and playing together.

Tell me about the concept/story that accompanies your new album, the Ancient Dryystonian tale. Did it influence the creation of the music, or was it added after the fact? In what ways does it help you creatively to have a backstory like that?

"The Vessyl" as I shortly described above, is the key to our sound creation. The myth of Dryystn, this far away "tree city" and its inhabitants developed from this concept of the vessyl. According to the mythology, Yume Bitsu took a vessyl-induced trance pilgrimage to Dryystn, where we learned to further hone our skills at vessyl playing, and are devoted to bringing the ancient histories of this mystical land to the people of earth. The story that was given to Franz to tell is one of a million stories about this land. It is a guide to the music as much as it really isn't. Admittedly, the narrative of the particular story is not closely linked to the sounds of the music. The songs are Dryystonian stories of their own that play our in the listeners' heads as they see fit. Next time around I think we will create a sort of children's book with a CD accompaniment, more focusing on the stories with the music tying in in a much stronger way.

That story seems rooted in mythology and fantasy/sci-fi literature; are any of those things that you're interested in?

I don't really read science fiction. My father collected turn of the century children's books and fairy tale books when I was growing up, and Franz the other key member does story-time at a public library reading to kids, so I think we are more interested and influenced by that stuff more than sci-fi.

When did you first start playing music? Were you in other bands before Yume Bitsu? If so, what were they like?

I have played music since childhood, in particular jazz (hence the focus on improvisation). I have played drums for the pop group Wolf Colonel who are on K Records as well. That's about it beside sitting in with people. I know Franz has played guitar since high school, being influenced by African music, progressive rock and stuff. We both played Javanese gamelan in college. I took sitar in college.

To what extent is the band influenced by jazz music? The latest album especially sounds at times as much like "jazz" as it does "rock."

See above. I have played jazz on and off throughout my life. My father is a jazz musician. We all love Alice Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders and 70's Miles Davis. We enjoy the outer realms of jazz music. What we do parallels free jazz in some ways, but we are coming from a rock perspective, instead of coming from the basis of traditional jazz.

The songs on the new album are all untitled--what led to that decision?

Laziness? A lack of imagination? We came up with stupid ones while recording and never could think of real ones, so we said "fuck it" - no titles. People will just have to deal with it. I really don't see it as being so weird. I never know the names of songs on a record anyway. I just don't think it's that important to the kind of music we are making.

What is the Vessyl Collective? Who all is in it, and what does it represent, both conceptually and practically?

Landing, Surface of Eceon (members of Landing and Yume Bitsu), Yume Bitsu, Wolf Colonel (Yume's sometime drummer), Planetarium Music (Yume's sometime keys dude), Hott Metal (a German/Russian metal group), and my solo work under the names Guitar Solos, Mothsounz, Chambers of Light etc...A group of like-minded sonic explorers who have banded together to promote their sounds to the world. It's as simple as that. {}

What other musical projects/bands are you each involved in, and what are those like?

I do solo stuff, trippy and whatever, our drummer has a wonderful pop band of his own called Wolf Colonel. Alex has Planetarium Music, which is pure electronic tripscapes. I play with the Landing guys in Surface of Eceon. Yume Bitsu is in collaboration with the Portland/Tokyo band Hochenkiet (two cds on Roadcone Records, one produced by this guy who was in Faust, features ex members of Irving Klaw Trio). We will be touring Japan with them in August 2002.

Besides just releasing a new album, what is the band up to these days? Do you have upcoming tours or other recordings planned?

We just finished a national tour. We will go to Japan in August with Hochenkeit and play in Atlanta on the 4th of July with Steven malkmus and the Jicks, J Mascis, Ugly Cassanova (Issac from Modest Mouse). We have a couple of EPs' worth of material that will surface soon and we are working on a more electro-based EP with lots of electronic beats. Then the children's book with CD (unless we get the funding and support to make it a DVD or video game.)

What is your live show like?

Live Yume Bitsu is just Franz and me, unless we have guests. We focus on more sparse withered quiet music on guitars, trumpet and voice. Also drum machine dub beats. And we let things open up to new sounds with guests. It's quite nice and refreshing actually.

One last question: if there's an album, live performance or movie that really blew you away recently, please tell us what it was.

Album: today, David Crosby's 1971 solo record is blowing my mind; Joni Mitchell's Blue which we listened to at least once a day for a few weeks on tour. Also Robert Bearns and Ron Dexter's 1977 classic new age record The Golden Voyage Vol 1 directly influenced our record and record cover art.

Issue 10, July 2002 | next article

this month's issue
about erasing clouds

Copyright (c) 2005 erasing clouds