An interview with Pascal Plantinga

Pascal Plantinga is a Dutch pop eccentric whose musical experiments span several genres. He has just released three records simultaneously on the German label Ata Tak. All three are completely different and all are equally intriguing. Promises of Pleasure is a studio recording of intimate soundscape songs. Even Angels Take Detours is a live performance by Plantinga with a band in New York and includes a 20 minute film as a bonus DVD. Of special interest to us though is the third of these records Yonaguni Shonkane/Bashofu which consists of these two Okinawan songs performed with lush electronic arrangements and featuring vocals by Keiko Kina.

I have yet to meet Pascal Plantinga in person but we’ve been in touch a few times by phone and email. I recently interviewed him about his collaboration with Keiko Kina. Here are his answers to some of my questions:

How did you come to know Keiko Kina?

The first time I met Keiko was in October 2005, at Chakra, where she was doing her nightly performance as a member of Champloose. I already had a few CDs of Shoukichi Kina & Champloose. I was intrigued by the high pitched sounds of the female voices and determined to experience this otherworldly phenomena right at the source. That night Keiko did a few songs all by herself, and I was mesmerized, not only by the beauty of her voice, but also by the glow on her face when she sang, eyes closed. She must have noticed me somehow because when the show was over, she introduced herself and was curious about why I was there. She told me, most non-Asians who visit Chakra are very specific music lovers and many times musicians themselves. I told her I had just bought a sanshin and Keiko invited me to come back the next night, so we could play together. Which I did. That night I also gave her two of my CDs and Keiko immediately offered to sing on my next record.

How were the songs chosen?

They were not really chosen. They chose me. I had prerecorded some rough arrangements of new songs with Keiko in mind for my third trip to Okinawa last year. However, Keiko, who had just opened a new club, Ohana, felt more comfortable playing a few songs from her own repertoire. Much to my delight one of the songs she suggested was ‘Yonaguni Shonkane’, a classic I knew from the Yaeyama singer Isamu Asato. Keiko also sang a version of ‘Bashofu’, a very popular Okinawan song but not really a favorite of mine. And as great as Keiko sounded, I could not imagine wanting to do anything with the recording of that song.

So how did you come to record it?

Well, one thing I enjoy doing in Naha, is taking the monorail. We don’t have monorails in The Netherlands, so to me it’s quite an exotic means of transportation. What makes riding the monorail in Naha a real extravaganza, are the station jingles. On every station you hear an electronic, quite synthetic melody from an Okinawan song. I thought it would be fun to ride the monorail from beginning to end, and record all the jingles. Just to see if I would recognize them all. Back home, in The Netherlands, I listened to the recordings I had made during my trip and discovered that the monorail jingle version of ‘Bashofu’ was in the exact same key as Keiko had sung it when I recorded her performing the song. I tried to synchronize the two and was quite surprised how well they blended together.Then I went back to the original arrangements of the songs I had made before the trip to Naha. And realized that, with a few modifications, I could shape Keiko’s versions of ‘Yonaguni Shonkane’ and ‘Bashofu’ into the arrangements of my own songs. And that’s what I did!

Pascal Plantinga with Keiko Kina at Chakra

Have you ever been to Yonaguni Island where the song comes from?

I have not been to Yonaguni yet, but when I hear the sounds of ‘Yonaguni Shonkane’ I imagine myself sitting on the beach, looking at the waves, pondering about the mystery of the Yonaguni underwater structure, when suddenly a mermaid-like character rises up from the sea. It’s Keiko, singing and sort of mindlessly strumming her sanshin. I observe her appearance, and when it occurs to me I should approach her and reach out for her, Keiko sinks back into the waves. Leaving me empty handed. As you may notice, the song has no real intro or ending. It’s there and then it’s gone, abruptly, just as I imagine this scene.

Are you happy with the way the recordings turned out?

The result is exactly what I dreamt it to be: exotic minimal electronic music with Keiko’s enchanting voice on top of it all. And, even though I never meant to turn these two Okinawan tunes into new electronic music, I am very happy I ended up doing it.

How did you get the idea for the record?

The day after I recorded with Keiko I took a long bike ride around Naha. When I rode by the Okinawa Prefectural College of Nursing, I noticed 3 young ladies, holding little pompoms, standing in front of the school. I jumped off the bike, asked if I could take a picture, then took it and continued my ride. Later, I realized I had made a photograph for one of the most exciting record covers of all time. Now I only had to produce the right music to go with it! Working on these songs was a great stepping stone in my ongoing quest for the ultimate sound. The songs really grew on me and I thought I should give them a chance to have an existence in the real world as a record. Which turned out great; within a week (before the release date!) the record was played on 4 different radio stations in The Netherlands and England. It comes in a very limited edition of only 250 copies. This record is not for everybody, but I trust there are 250 people on the planet who will enjoy the living daylight out of it. Consider it a musical postcard from Okinawa sent to you by your personal friend Pascal.

These recordings are only available as records or downloads. Where can people buy them?

The record could be available at your local record store, but you can also order it directly from the record label www.atatak.com and in Japan from http://www.suezan.com/ It can be downloaded from iTunes. I also have a brand new website: www.pascalplantinga.com It contains no information whatsoever, but tells you something, somehow.

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