Government Alpha is the extreme harsh noise project of Yasutoshi Yoshida.
Around 1992, he started recording at home with the aim of creating experimental sounds, and from 1994 he properly started his harsh noise activities under the name Government Alpha. His made his debut in 1995 on the CD compilation Extreme Music From Japan, released on Susan Lawly, the label of UK power electronics pioneers Whitehouse.
Since then, he has actively pursued his activities through releases and live performances, and to date has toured 7 times overseas.
While researching the essence of extreme sound, he continues today to perform and collaborate with artists from a broad range of genres, while exploring the many possibilities of electronics.
The label Xerxes, which he operates as an output for Government Alpha's music, has until now released over 80 titles, including not only his own recordings, but also the works of noise artists from all over the world.
Yoshida has also received high praise for his artwork, which he started creating at the same time he set up his label, and he has lent his art to many other artists for their album covers.
In 2008, his first artwork exhibition was held in Osaka.
*Resolution of Remembrance 1992-1999 4CD 2009 (Pica Disk/Norway)
*Quaint Putrid Slag CD 2008 (Kubitsuri Tapes/Japan)
*Venomous Cumulus Cloud CD 2007 (PACrec/USA)
*Spontaneous Combustion CD 2006 (L. White/Germany)
*Chronic Deja Vu 10" 2006 (Gender-Less Kibbutz/USA)
*Sporadic Spectra CD 1999 (Ground Fault/USA)
*Alphaville LP 1999 (Segerhuva/Sweden)
Please briefly describe the history of Government Alpha and your own career in music and other fields of expression.
It was around 1992 when I started messing around recording noisy material at home, but if I'm not mistaken, my activities as Government Alpha properly started when I participated in the compilation CD Extreme Music From Japan that came out in 1995 on Susan Lawly.
Up until then I was simply accumulating recordings for my own listening pleasure, but getting on that compilation meant that for the first time, a third party would hear my music. The various parts that I felt were unripe kept sticking out, and I was quite bummed out, wondering if I could improve my noise, if only a little ? so maybe that's what motivated me.
Around the age of 15, I started playing guitar, and I continued playing occasionally as a hobby until I turned 30 or so, but recently I’ve completely stopped. My activities as Government Alpha are pretty much the only thing you can truly call a career. Before that, I played a few shows in rock-oriented improvisation bands, but the more people you have, the more divergence of opinions as to style and musical direction tend to appear, and in the end, the bands often disintegrated by themselves before you even knew it. That is why I felt it was much more fun to start a one-man project as Government Alpha and decide everything by myself.
As for artwork, I simply started creating it because I thought covers were essential in order to release my own works. I was not even aware that it was “artwork”.
What meaning does the name “Government Alpha” carry? Please explain its origin.
When I started my activities, information about noise was still very sparse, either on the Internet or on printed media like Denshi Zatsuon, so there was room to imagine noise artists as being mysterious or shady. Part of me was convinced that noise was truly made by sickos, and therefore I figured that I could appeal to others by anonymously creating suspicious noise made by some suspicious organism, in a “hit it and quit it” sort of way. That is perhaps why I wanted to use the word “government” in my band name ? to give it a neatly shady flair.
Then at some point I realized that I very much liked Godard’s film Alphaville, and wondered if by any chance that word hadn’t unconsciously left its impression on me. Since then, whenever people ask me the origin of my band’s name, I answer that it’s a play on Alphaville.
While it is a vague concept, right from the start I wanted to create my own absolute world where I could build my own values ? in that sense, I think the name “Government Alpha” was not mistaken.
Government Alpha’s current style is that of pure harsh noise with enormous sound pressure. What are you looking for in this so-called “noise” (especially “harsh noise”), and what do you leave up to your own sound?
What are the main themes that you pursue with Government Alpha?
Personally, I am not that much concerned with extreme sound pressure or volume; my only desire is to create a sound that is purely intense. I am rather more concerned with the sound’s texture than with its pressure or volume. If a texture hits my sweet spot, I can comfortably listen to it for a long time, even if its progression is monotonous.
When it comes to my own acts of creation, there is a profound wish to create something that I want to hear or see, rather than searching for something within harsh noise, so I am not at all trying to confine myself within the boundaries of noise... Well, I try all sorts of new things, but in the end, the truth is it all turns into harsh noise.
In any case, I am not really satisfied with the current sound of Government Alpha, and I feel that I have barely passed the stage of pursuing the joy of noise itself. Therefore, I think this trial-and-error approach to recording noise might go on for the rest of my life.
What do you consider essential in order to create Government Alpha’s sound? Please explain the driving force behind Government Alpha’s sound, be it the equipment you use the most, your recording habits, or from the perspective of your sensibilities, the aspects of your sound you emphasize and make central to Government Alpha.
People often say that Government Alpha’s sounds digital, but the recording technique is still primitive: I use a 4-track cassette recorder. Compared to what other artists have, my equipment is probably surprisingly cheap. Basically, the recording process is about building up precise nuances to a texture I like, through headphones. It is a very delicate process, so if I come up with a texture I like, I can record 2 to 3 hours of material in a single sitting. These days, I almost record everything in one take ? even if I overdub, it will be just once over. I mix down those 2 to 4 tracks manually and in real time to DAT, and create a complete master. In the end I will export this digitally to my computer and do some editing with a program called Peak, but that is simply for fading in and out and removing parts I don’t like. In effect, I do not perform any mastering tasks on my computer. The moment I mix down to DAT, the sound’s pressure and texture are final. If you ask me what is essential, I will naturally answer that “sound texture” is essential, and if you ask me what aspects I emphasise, I will also answer “sound texture”. The main driving force at the time I started my activities was probably the will to create sounds I want to hear, but nowadays the very act of creating sounds has become part of my daily life, to the point where it’s like eating or brushing my teeth. I would even say that it’s when I’m not making sounds that I feel uneasy. When I’m making sounds by myself, be it recording at home or in a live setting, I enter my own world: my perception of time and thoughts are completely numbed, and my sense of reality fades away. Thus sometimes I feel that this means of expression might just be nothing more than an escape from reality.
Can you tell us what figures or works have influenced Government Alpha’s style in the past or at present?
No matter if they have influenced Government Alpha’s sound or not, I realized recently that the things that moved me in my teens, when I was quite impressible, have heavily influenced me.
As far as authors go, I would mention Kobo Abe, Philip K. Dick, Kenzaburo Oe, Garc?a M?rquez, Shuji Terayama among others.
As for film: The Tin Drum, Come And See, 8?, Taxi Driver, Yaju Shisubeshi, etc.
When it comes to noise, I’ve been influenced ? or maybe have been feeding back towards ? Monty Python, Neubauten, Missing Foundation, Nurse With Wound, Godard’s films, among many others that I could not all mention here, but whose influence I have absorbed.
However, my tastes and way of thinking change from time to time, meaning that if I discover something new, I will dig for more ? I have always been like this. In recent years, I have gained many ideas and concepts resembling music methodologies from martial arts matches. It’s a little difficult to explain, because it has to do with my own sensibilities.
Can you give us three important events ? milestones, if you will ? that have had a large impact or influence on Government Alpha within the course of your career (including releases, shows, tours, etc.)?
1. The cassette Erratic released on Xerxes in 1996 is a turning point in that it defined the style of Government Alpha. Before that, I was tied to this negative image of noise and felt like I was going around in circles, but all of the sudden I broke through and decided to have my own way with making sounds, and I feel I succeeded in recording with that spirit. Also, I thought that the sound texture and pressure I had been experimenting with until then matured from that release on.
2. Around 1997 or 1998 I was playing in a certain region of Japan, and 2 or 3 minutes into my set, the owner of the place rudely got on stage and spoke into my ear: “It’s unpleasant, so please either turn the volume down or stop playing”. I myself was having fun performing, but with those words I suddenly lost my momentum, and thought I should go nuts and send my equipment flying. Then I reconsidered ? ending the show like this wouldn’t be fair to the audience who paid to see it and to the organisers who set it up. So I managed to keep on playing until the end, while somewhat restraining myself volume-wise. Then the owner came back up and said: “I’m cutting the power off”... From that point, I realized that there are people who from the bottom of their hearts feel that my sounds are unpleasant, while on the other hand there is an interested audience who will come and pay to see me. Therefore, whatever the circumstances, if I’m on stage, I have to carry out my role without compromise. This idea probably sprouted from that moment. By the way, that place has since closed.
3. When it comes to touring, the 1998 tour of the U.S. West Coast I did with Kazumoto Endo was a turning point. It was my first time overseas, I was unable to communicate in English, and on top of that, through this succession of wild performances, my equipment kept breaking day by day ? yet even under these conditions I had to carry on playing. Nonetheless, even under the building pressure of this situation, I somehow managed to make it through, and after this I gained confidence, or should I say strength. Under pressure, humans can accomplish anything. However, if the quality of what one achieves in a stressful situation is not high, it isn’t worth anything ? anyway, that’s what I thought.
Without limiting myself to those three examples, it seems that every release or every show becomes a milestone in my career, and every time I’m done with something, I often question it. The act of questioning itself means to me that there is plenty of room for improvement.
Outside of Government Alpha, you are also active in several projects/bands, either solo or with other people, such as S.Isabella, Barom One, Monster DVD or Arakatsuma. I would like to ask you about the relationship between these side-projects and Government Alpha itself. Now, even as Government Alpha you have often carried out collaborations not only with noise-related musicians, such as Masaya Nakahara or Pain Jerk, but also with artists from other fields, such as vocalist William Tokuhisa; how do you value live performance and musical creation with others? Does this influence your solo activities as Government Alpha?
The good thing about collaboration is that your partner will bring out other aspects of yourself that you weren’t even aware of before. The ideal collaboration would be one where both parties bring the best out of each other.
Because Government Alpha is my own self-contained and self-complacent project, from time to time I will unavoidably become blind and push in the wrong direction. When I’m at a point like this, collaborating can become an occasion to correct my course or be made aware of my strengths and weaknesses. And since it obviously feeds back into my solo activities, collaboration is a very important element. I myself do not often gain ideas about sound through verbal communication, but there are quite a few ideas to be gained and influences to absorb through sonic communication, which is to say collaboration. Therefore, I think people who create sound should communicate more through sound. But if you want to perfect your conversational skills, then of course verbal communication will work. When I was in a band, I used to think that rather than to deliberately stop playing in order to start discussing in the middle of studio practice, you might as well thoroughly use your studio time for jamming, and when you’re done, discuss it over drinks at an izakaya.
Government Alpha’s performances are extremely powerful and also feel quite free. There are instances where you will call out to listeners with visual and inventive elements: sometimes you will take your hands off your equipment and start dancing, at other times you will bring home made instruments, put mechanical toys on top of them and let their movement affect the sound. While Government Alpha’s performances make use of many effects units and other machines, they are ultimately organic, and strongly feel as if the music emanates from the performer’s own flesh.
How do you perceive your own performances as Government Alpha? What are the things you give the most importance to during your performances? What do you want to express? Is there a difference between your live performances and your recordings regarding what you aim for and what you leave up to chance?
For example, in recent years you have been using a lot of vocals in your live performances, but there are none to be found in your recordings. Is this a conscious choice?
It’s funny, I have no recollection of any performance where I took my hands off my equipment and started dancing! I probably did that unconsciously, because I am completely absorbed in my own world when I perform.
When I first started playing live, my expressive skills were so weak that half-desperate, I would just go nuts, thinking that if I was a spectator, I would naturally understand an action-filled performance. But recently, I’ve come to think that if the sound isn’t “killer”, then I would never, ever grow up. Just imagine a weak old man getting on stage looking like he’s about to die, but once he starts playing, his sounds just kill you instantly. Someday I would like to do a show like this. Seriously.
Still, a show being a transient thing, as long as I’m playing, I want to do my absolute best, as though my life depended on it (that is to say, if I don’t do my absolute best, the next challenge will never arise). Personally, I’m influenced by rock, so maybe I just like the feel of sweaty physicality. I’ve been using live vocals for a long time, but recently I feel like I’ve found a more effective way of doing them, so I’m using vocals more frequently because I want to expand their application. There’s quite a bit of vocals on my early recordings, but they are either unintelligible screams or groans I recorded for some reason I can’t understand nowadays. When I record at home, I’m focused on operating my equipment, without an audience in mind, so I end up only playing machines. Or you could say that because my playing is motivated by something different than what would stimulate me to use vocals, my work turns out strictly electronic, although this is not intentional. It’s not that I can’t record vocals at home, but rather that I don’t feel the need for vocals on my recordings, and ultimately I only think of my voice as one tool among others. If it becomes necessary I’ll use it, I guess.
The 4CD box set of Government Alpha rarities and unreleased tracks, Resolution Of Remembrance 1992-1999, that was released this year on Norwegian artist Lasse Marhaug’s label Pica Disk was in my opinion quite fascinating to listen to, as were to read your own liner notes. I think the content was excellent in that it follows the evolution of your style from your early days until the late 1990s both through sound and text. Even today, listening to the early recordings of Government Alpha (namely on Disc 1), one can strongly feel the parts that have a more experimental approach to them, such as the use of sampling and collage methods to pre-recorded material or field recordings, which differs from what we would call harsh noise.
What reasons and changes in sensibility are there behind Government Alpha’s transformation from the style described above to the straight harsh noise of today?
That is probably because my first objective for making sounds was, as I said earlier, to “create sounds I want to hear” ? originally I had no intention of letting outsiders listen to my music, and especially in those early years, I would just record ideas as they came. I didn’t really grasp the noise genre too well either ? I was under the impression that industrial groups like Neubauten or Test Dept were noise, so maybe I naturally took on a musical form. As for the reason my style gradually transformed into harsh noise, that is perhaps because I wanted to create extreme noise that had more intensity and destructive power than any other band. I think it took me quite a few years and a lot of experimentation before I found a recording method that really raises the sound pressure. Above all, this sound called “harsh noise” was much more difficult to attain using only my own ideas than I had imagined, and I experimented with several ways of connecting my equipment before my sound felt complete as noise. Back when I didn’t even know the meaning of the word “multi-tracking”, I tried various ways of recording with portable radio cassette and walkman recorders; eventually, this experience got me completely absorbed in sound creation, and today it has even sprung back up as a recording method idea.
The releases from your own label Xerxes very often have jackets that feature graphics composed of collages and drawings you made yourself. These are extremely colourful, psychedelic and distinctive. With regards to graphic aspects, is there any artist that influenced your style or motivated you to start creating? Do you work as a graphic artist outside of your Government Alpha and Xerxes activities? How are the creation of graphics and the creation of music linked?
What prompted me to start creating was only the need to create jackets to go along the sounds I created. When I started listening to noise in the early 90s, hand-made packaging was quite common, and by looking at Nurse With Wound releases, doing everything on my own just seemed obvious ? therefore, I also wanted to release something with a stylish jacket. Back then, I didn’t know anyone who could do design with a computer or other expensive equipment, so inevitably, I realized I would have to it all on my own, and somehow I’ve continued until now. As far as artists or works that have influenced me, I would say I have been quite influenced by art brut. Adolf W?lfli has left a particularly big impression on me. He made me realize that even without training in the fine arts, by sharpening the senses, it was possible create works in your own way. Part of why I started creating artwork is by defiance. Because from the start, I was reluctant to learn how to draw or make music from other people, and I thought that if I was to spend money to take courses, then I would have to use money to buy tons of records and go see plenty of work. From a business point of view, I couldn’t understand how you could want to earn money with music or artwork ? rather, I thought it was impossible for it to become a business. On the other hand, it was possible to freely create anyway I pleased. I don’t call myself a graphic artist, but from time to time I create jackets upon request. At the moment I’m making the cover and 190 illustrations for a novel by an American author called David Hoenigman, and it is quite fun to do because I can create relatively freely.
For me, graphic creation and music creation are completely separate ? when I have a live show planned right when I’m focused on graphic creation, sometimes I seriously forget just how it is I perform. On the other hand, if I’ve been doing sound work for a while, when the time comes to get to graphic work, it will take me quite some time to reawaken my senses. Therefore it’s impossible for me to perform both tasks simultaneously. By the way, here’s another act of creation: writing. It’s taken me a lot of time to go about answering for this interview. Having said that, I’m not a perfectionist, so I will sometimes finish a task surprisingly fast.
Please let me ask a few questions regarding your new work Seventh Continent, which we are releasing on [...]dotsmark. What is theme of this recording? There is a film of the same name by Austrian film director Michael Haneke ? did you get the idea from there? I believe titles for Government Alpha releases are frequently borrowed from film titles or characters. Do you often make motifs out of other people’s works, be it film or otherwise?
As you have pointed out, I took the title Seventh Continent from director Michael Haneke’s film. Just as I was about to start recording, by chance I had the opportunity to watch almost all of Haneke’s oeuvre. Before that, I had already seen the extremely unpleasant Funny Games. All his films are shocking in a different way. This man is either a genius or a madman ? I was deeply impressed. Among his films, Seventh Continent was particularly memorable. It was a shock for me to see humans portrayed in such a nihilist way. Although the story is confined almost entirely to a single apartment room, I was drawn to the title that evokes an utopian “seventh continent” (there are only six continents on Earth), so in my own way, I interpreted the meaning of that title and the message it contains, and decided to use it as the title of my next album. That is why the artwork is themed around scenery from a seventh continent that does not exist in this world. I also felt it was a good opportunity to try and give shape to this intangible “feeling of nothingness” that I’ve vaguely felt for as long as I can remember.
As for the album’s structure, I’ve taken several ideas from other people’s work, especially progressive rock albums, because those are full of well thought-out ideas on how to make a dramatic album that will engross the listener until the end. I will also often get ideas for the image or worldview that an album conveys from films or books. After reading a J.G. Ballard novel, I’ll have this urge to create a noise album. No matter how good an album you want to create, if no one listens until the end, it might as well have never existed. You could say that with the advent of CD, it has become difficult to concentrate and listen to an album until the very end. Therefore, in order to create a pleasant world that the listener can easily penetrate, the creator should suggest a vision that is about 60% clear, and let the listener compensate for the remaining 40% with his or her own sensibilities. Wouldn’t an album you can listen to in this way be enjoyable? Conversely, if you suggest a concept or image that’s 100% frozen stiff, it leaves no room for the listener’s imagination, and the album becomes impenetrable.
Seventh Continent represents the new sound of Government Alpha for the last year of the decade. What did you aim for, and what points did you emphasize for this album?
Honestly, the album’s theme is “don’t pour too much work into it”! Of course, I’d like that to be interpreted in a good way. After making recordings for over 10 years, in the long run, some sort of pre-established harmony emerged, and for a long while, even though I invested a lot of time in creating sounds, the result didn’t sound too different from what I had made before. Upon asking myself how I could break out of that situation, I concluded that obviously, I should return to my beginnings. By listening to my old recordings, I realized that back then, I was recording intuitively, without thinking up detailed ideas. But after a few hours of recording randomly, guided by my senses, I got tired and stopped recording for that day.
I let the recordings rest, thinking I should just add some overdubs later on, but suddenly I decided to record the rest, and by listening to my tapes over from the start, their startling (even to me) precision and their rough, natural feel sounded fresh. To my surprise, I discovered that I could listen to them over and over, even though it was all rough, pre-overdub, material. Even better, I figured that in that case, I could just use bits and pieces without further layering. Of course, I never cut corners or allow for compromise regarding the sound in order to bring a Government Alpha album to completion. While this album follows the tradition of the releases that came before it, from the point of view of its sonic progression, I think its flow is quite strong. It has turned into album I can be extremely proud of. Which is why I think this album can be quite enjoyable in its own way with regards to its flow: the rough parts make for a more vivid work, and its progression goes against the expectations of the listener. Because for me, an ideal album is one that is worthy of repeated listening, each revealing new discoveries.
As Government Alpha, you have been making noise for almost half your life. Having long been involved in the world of noise through releases and tours, what have you observed about the many noise scenes around the world from interacting personally with other noise artists? For example, have you noticed changes in mentalities regarding noise, either in yourself or around you? What impressions do you hold of the environments surrounding the noise genre? Have you become aware of any problems as you carry on with your activities?
As I get involved, this is what I notice: there are those who have it, then there are those who don’t! Joking aside, in comparison to how it was about a decade ago, noise seems to have gotten a certain degree of recognition as a genre, and it seems it is being absorbed as one element within many other genres. However, if we are talking about the world of pure noise, then I don’t think much has changed over the years. No fundamental change of circumstances has occurred since I started my activities, and my attitude towards noise has not changed at all. The main premise for me has always been to enjoy myself, and honestly I don’t quite care about any outside changes. Still, I’m trying to broadly grasp the fluctuations within the scene, to keep up with the times. Yet when I see so many new bands dynamically emerging only to disappear in no time at all, the difference from my own attitude towards music becomes clear, and it makes me want to keep on going with my own stance even more.
Please tell us your future plans. What kind of evolution is Government Alpha aiming for?
In the future, I guess it will be the same it has been until now. While I will be persisting with the harsh noise style for the rest of my life, when it comes to Government Alpha, I aim to create sounds that will leave an impression in exploring the various possibilities of noise. Apart from that, I want to make sound collages that make no use of harsh sounds, like I was doing in S.Isabella, as well as somewhat slow and loose electronics ? so I might suddenly start under new names.
There are a few plans regarding future releases, but I prefer not to give information until the masters are ready. In the past, I have inconvenienced a few labels by not being able to send a master although we had agreed about a release, so from now on, as much as possible, I would rather let information out only after I have completed and sent a master.
Is there anything else you want to add?
The artwork to my new CD album Seventh Continent makes wonderful use 8 pieces I created. It has been made to please both the ears and the eyes, so I invite you to listen to it. Also, the 4CD box set which compiles cassettes and limited releases from the 1990s detailing the band’s maturation process is a “secret best-of” of sorts, and I would appreciate if you would listen to it too. Thank for you for giving me the opportunity to participate in this interview.
(Email interview conducted in October-November 2009/translation:email@example.com)