Toshi Makihara studied drums, percussion and improvisation with Sabu Toyozumi, a prominent percussionist in Tokyo. Since arriving in the United States, he has worked with various new music ensembles as well as with numerous dance and theater companies internationally. Makihara has worked with Joel Thome's WORLD SOUND, and provided original music to Arden Theater Company, Diversions Dance Company (Wales), Pennsylvania Ballet, ZeroMoving Dance Company, Merian Soto / Performance Practice, Leah Stein Dance Company and Zornitsa Stoyanova's Here[begin] Dance Company. Over the years, he has worked with musicians including Steve Beresford, Peter Brotzmann, John Butcher, Nels Cline, Eugene Chadbourne, Tom Cora, Amy Denio, Thurston Moore, William Parker and John Zorn. He has also collaborated with poets, visual artists, filmmakers and performance artists widely. Since the fall of 2000, Makihara has been focusing on three separate performing styles: 1. New Jazz performances on a conventional drum-set, 2. music for theater and dance using a variety of percussion and discovered sound media, and 3. the experimental free improvisation using a simple setting consisting of one snare drum and one small cymbal. Makihara's recordings include Grammy nominated "Another Shining Path" (1998 Drimala Records) in trio with Gary Hassay (alto saxophone) and William Parker (bass), and "Hurricane Floyd" (Spring 2000, Sublingual Records) in trio with Thurston Moore (guitar) and Wally Shoup (alto sax). He received Pew Fellowship in 2013.
LSDC: How have the social shifts of 2020 impacted your life as an artist?
TM: After the 2016 Presidential Election, I stopped performing in public. I was in despair in terms of American society and politics in general, and deeply discouraged in terms of my artistic creation. I hid my artistic "light" deep inside of me while working my day jobs and surviving. For 3 years (2017-2019) I could not produce any artistic works. I had energy to practice my percussion instruments, but that was just basic technical training in order to keep my chops from failing. In short, I got into my "hiding mode," and the emergence of COVID-19 further extended this situation. I bounced back at the end of 2019, and made my 2020 resolution to be artistically active. Beginning on January 1st, 2020, I began to perform my nightly solo improvisation, document and upload them on YouTube for 365 days.
LSDC: How has the broad emergence of this digital realm influenced your creativity/artistic work?
TM: I have used YouTube as my presentation media for over 10 years. My first "Solo365Project" series was produced in 2009. The 2020 series was my third production. The idea was very simple: I perform solo improvisation every night, document and upload them on YouTube for 365 days. Generally I like the method because it is technically very basic and I can produce them at home. The key is to continue the performances everyday for 365 days. I see something very valuable about "repeating" because the performances become literally a part of my everyday life. This project was completed in 2009 (Multi-percussion / Sound Objects), in 2014 (Dance), and in 2020 (One Drum).
LSDC: Have you produced any new work, live or digital?
TM: The "Solo365Project" series as explained above, and few public performances including one with Leah.
LSDC: How have you maintained balance and regularity in this time?
TM: Personally it has been very challenging. I have been working 2-3 day jobs regularly, and trying to be creative and continue my artistic projects. Honestly I haven't maintained any balance and regularity in terms of my day to day living with my artistic works. I am in a strange place where my "non-balance" and "non-regularity" is my balance and regularity. I am not sure if this is a good situation or not. The chaotic situation in terms of my day to day living is creating a certain sense of my artistic direction. Back in 2016, the chaos was totally discouraging, but now, though things are still very chaotic, I am seeing my "Artistic Will" burning again.
LSDC: What does your daily/artistic regimen look like?
TM: I work several day jobs in order to survive financially. So my schedule is very much limiting my time for arts. I practice percussion every night, and explore ideas daily. So generally I work during the day, and do my art at night.
LSDC: How would you describe yourself as an artist, and/or your work, as we step into the year of 2021?
TM: My work is improvisational. Non-idiomatic free improvisation is the method of my art. I am particularly interested in the non-separability of music and dance. "My movement is my music" has been the core concept of my works. Dance and Music "originate" from one another like Yin and Yang, and they are both dependent and independent of one another. This is very important. I would like to realize this codependency / independency of dance and music in my performances, and the method for that would be the aforementioned "Non-idiomatic free improvisation ." Working with Leah has been very priceless in terms of my work as such. She understands the dynamic relationship between dance and music, and we have done so many projects together. My first project with Leah was back in 1986 and I would love to continue working with her long into the future.
One methodical core of my work is the notion of "expansion and limitation." Here "expansion" means expanding the artistic ideas and extending my technique. For example, in addition to all the traditional percussion techniques, I use many "extended techniques" I discovered through my practice. Extended instruments such as found objects and site-specific soundscapes are very much used for the collaboration with Leah. The method of limitation is mostly for the purpose of training. For example I try to improvise music using just one object such as "a chair" or "a drum." The process involves both deconstruction and reconstruction of a given object, through which it is given a new meaning as a musical instrument. While the process of "expansion" searches into the artistic macrocosm, the process of "limitation" looks into that of "microcosm."
Finally, based on Dogen's "dropping off body and mind" (Shinshin Datsuraku), my music is the process of "becoming." In this state, the subject-object dichotomy is "dropped," and sound / movement is in the true sense, Free. The sentence
I (subject) perform music (object).
I (subject) perform dance (object).
and so on. In this state, seemingly separate "I," "perform" and "music" are integrated in one whole presence. That is, myself, my performance, and my music are One Integrated Whole. I call this "Becoming" which is "Becoming the sound" and "Becoming the movement" or frequently "Becoming both" (sound / movement). Again Leah understands this, and when we improvise together, this process naturally begins to happen. When I improvise with Leah, it is almost like a contact improvisation of music and dance.
This video features Toshi in creative improvisational
flow back in 2015!