Otomo Yoshihide is among the most recognized and booming untried musicians and composers in Japan. Born on August 1, 1959 in Yokohama in Japan, Otomo Yoshihide plays multiple instruments, including the guitar, turntables and electronics. He is a self-taught guitarist who came to first came into the public glare in the 1980s as the organizer of the noise rock group known as Ground Zero. Ever since Otomo Yoshihide has performed in different milieu varying from free jazz, noise, punk to modern classical music. Having produced more than 100 albums as a solo artist, band organizer and collaborator, Otomo Yoshihide has also composed music for films.
Son of an engineer, Otomo Yoshihide’s early years were spent in Fukushima and as a child made his own radio as well as an electronic oscillator. During his teenage days, Otomo first came in contact with music when he created sound collages with open reel tape recorders. By the time Otomo Yoshihide entered high school, he established his own band that played jazz and rock music with him playing the guitar. In due course, Omoto became a jazz enthusiast and loved listening to artists such as Erick Dolphy, Ornette Coleman and Derek Bailey and attended concerts by Japanese artists. Otomo Yoshihide was greatly influenced by saxophone player Kaoru Abe and guitarist Masayuki Takayanagi.
Otomo attended the Meiji University from 1979 to study ethnomusicology with emphasis on the Japanese pop music during the World War II and advancement of musical instruments during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. During his years in college, Otomo Yoshihide played for various rock groups, but soon switched to improvisation. He visited Hainan in China in 1981 as a member of a group to study ethnic music. In the same year, Otomo became a professional playing free improvisation with guitars, tapes, radio and other electronics at Goodman – a live music club in Tokyo.
By 1987 Otomo Yoshihide became an active professional and with saxophonist Junji Hirose frequently played duo concerts till 1990. During the same time, Otomo played for two bands called ‘No Problem’ and ‘ORT’. The year 1990 was a turning point in Otomo Yoshihide’s career as he formed his own band ‘Ground Zero and performed numerous concerts both in Japan and abroad, including Hong Kong and Berlin. For several years, ‘Ground Zero’ was the hub of Otomo’s creativity and it underwent several changes, both in style and lineup, till it was disbanded in March 1998.
Before ‘Ground Zero’ split up, Otomo Yoshihide set up two free improvisation groups called ‘Filament’ and ‘I.S.O.’. These two groups were unlike ‘Ground Zero’ and emphasized on small gestures and low volume. During this period, Otomo abandoned the gramophone records and instead maneuvered the turntable with several objects and contact microphones to produce his kind of music.
By the end of the 1990s, Otomo turned to more conventional jazz and formed ‘Omoto Yoshihide’s New Jazz Ensemble’ and released two records ‘Flutter’ and ‘Dreams’ under the Tzadik label. In addition to ‘Ground Zero’, Omoto has formed as well as organized several bands and projects. Between 1992 and 1994, he simultaneously led two bands – ‘Double Unit Orchestra’ and ‘Celluloid Machine Gun’. Besides, Otomo also established another band called ‘Mosquito Paper’ that played actively between 1993 and 1994.
During his career spanning nearly 30 years, Otomo Yoshihide has released over 100 albums under various leading labels. He has produced duo albums with turntable artist Christian Marclay as well as with Nobukazu Takemura, another Japanese electronic musician. He also released two records – ‘Cathode’ (1999) and ‘Anode’ (2001) – under his own name. In addition, he also released a record with Kenny Millions.
Otomo has worked with a host of leading artists, including Butch Morris, Alferd Harth, Jon Rose, Keith Rowe, Bill Laswell, Toshimaru Nakamura, Jon Zorn, Philip Jeck, Mats Gustafsson, Martin Te´treault and Poire Z. Otomo among others.
Significantly enough, Otomo Yoshihide is also regarded for his writing activities that are not only important, but also encompasses an assortment of subjects. He took up writing in the 1980s and has been expressing his views of various aspects – ranging from distribution issues confronted by the music industry, free improvisation to the socio-cultural deliberations – since then. His articles have been published in numerous magazines and books in Japan.