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Ikue Mori slays on the laptop

Composer Ikue Mori followed a musical path that more than a few Mills College musicians have followed: acoustic to electronic to straight up digital.

“She went from being a drummer to a drum machine-r, then laptop,” said Chris Brown, Head of Mills’ Music Department.

Ikue Mori, an electronic composer and improviser from New York, is coming to perform at Mills College on Sept. 10 at 8 p.m. She will perform a variety of pieces on her MacBook.

Now an avid devotee to computer music generated on her MacBook, Mori will show her compositional and improvisational prowess at Mills’ Jeannik Méquet Littlefield Concert Hall on Sept. 10 at 8 p.m.  In addition to the concert, Mori will host a workshop with students, thanks to funds provided by the College.

“The students that attend my workshop will aim to perform ‘Confucius Becomes Popular’ together to close the concert,” Mori said. “It will be an adventure.”

These funds are given annually to the David Tudor Composer-in-Residence, which a committee of Mills music professors choose as someone who exemplifies composer David Tudor’s life and work. Tudor was a pianist and experimental composer, having worked closely with Mills musicians. The funds were awarded to Mori because she demonstrated similar artistic capabilities as Tudor.

Mori herself has performed with various Mills professors, including Brown and Fred Frith, showing a similar inclination for experimental music.

“We sort of feel like there are a lot of aesthetics that fit into Mills,” Brown said. “Her aesthetics are unique to her, but they fit in with improvistion and electronic music.”

But Mori goes beyond the computer when looking for inspiration. She was born was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1953 and moved to New York in 1977, drawing from a colorful background when she started performing in the US.

“Her aesthetic is really influenced from her Japanese background,” Brown said.

When Mori first hit the states, she hit the drum set as well, forming the band DNA with fellow musicians Arto Lindsay and Tim Wright. DNA was part of the No Wave scene, a short-lived, slightly satirical offspring of New Wave that originated in New York and used atonal sounds with repetitive rhythms and an emphasis on musical texture.

Mori gravitated towards drum machines in the 80s, using them in the nontraditional manner of improvisation. She continued to improvise throughout the 80s and 90s. She first started working with laptops in 2000, creating various pieces that played with texture and juxtaposing various sounds.

Mori said that her pieces come about in a variety of ways.

“Lots of different things could inspire me, (depending) on my condition of mind,” Mori said. “Often from visual images. Many pieces were created as an imaginary soundtrack or musical story.”

Mills students said that in addition to working with Mori, they are also anticipating seeing her perform. Music major and senior Meaghan Leferink said that she’s especially interested in how Mori makes a social commentary through performance.

“I am most looking forward to seeing how she uses the visual medium along with the realm of sound that she is so known for,” Leferink said. “I think it will be really exciting to watch that interaction between the two mediums happen live…. It will also be exciting to watch the collaboration between our Mills musicians and our new composer-in-residence happen. I think that she will be a great asset to our musical family.”