After moving to London in 2017, Japanese musician Hatis Noit has been tirelessly performing solo, collaborating with the likes of the London Contemporary Orchestra, and even appeared at the Milan Fashion Week. A singer like no other, Hatis Noit is a voice performer who weaves together experimental/primal music. Her newest album, Aura, is her first since moving to London. The record was released by the label Erased Tapes, which has led the recent post-classical trend. This work created solely with Hatis Noit’s voice is a kaleidoscope of vocals reminiscent of sacred music from an unknown land. In order to get a closer look into her vast musical world, we conducted a remote interview in May of 2022 with Hatis Noit, who currently resides in London.
The original landscape of Utoro, Shiretoko, and how Lumbini, Nepal heightened her awareness of the human voice
Hatis Noit’s musical roots go back to Utoro, Shiretoko, where she lived until she was six. Shiretoko is a peninsula that juts out into the Sea of Okhotsk, a majestic land registered as a World Natural Heritage site. The peninsula suddenly became the centre of attention around Japan after a sightseeing boat accident. For Hatis Noit, Shiretoko is a treasured place that is connected to her personal memories.
“I’ve been back to Utoro several times as an adult. Whenever I return, there are moments I remember things I used to know, like the coldness of the air on my skin, the cool breeze of the forest, and the harshness of the winter. They’ve remained with me not as visual memories, but as sensory ones. It’s a place that inspires me and that deeply transports me back to my roots. It’s my origin story.”
Hatis Noit had a crucial experience after returning to Shiretoko as an adult
“I got lost in the forest while I was taking a walk in the darkness. As I was panicking, wondering how to make my way back, I grew sensitive to my senses since I couldn’t see my surroundings. I became hyper-aware of sound, and could feel the softness of the damp soil on the soles of my feet. When you’re in that situation, all of your body’s senses become more acute. I started hearing animal cries and felt I was getting farther away from civilisation. On one hand, I was frightened, but there was also a part of me that was moved by the experience. A reason why I make music is because I want to recreate what I felt with my body at that moment, since it’s a feeling that can’t be put into words.”
There is another event that took place that became an inspiration for her, back when she was sixteen. While visiting Lumbinī in Nepal, the birthplace of Buddha, Hatis Noit overheard a nun chanting a sutra.
“The sutra was melodic and truly beautiful. The voice itself was simple, and wasn’t accompanied by a choir, but sounded strong nonetheless. That’s when I started becoming more aware of human voices. I always liked singing, and took part in ballet and theatre, but I immediately knew this was the direction I wanted to go in at that moment. If I was going to be a singer, I was going to do this type of music.”
The landscape of prehistoric songs before popular music, depicted using the body, the only instrument of the self
As these two anecdotes symbolise, Hatis Noit’s music focuses on expressing the prehistoric landscape of song before the rise of popular music through modern technology and physical sensation. Having studied Gagaku (Amami folk songs), Indian ragas, and ballet for several years, singing is an unmistakable form of physical expression and a means of approaching the physicality of the body before the use of other musical expressions.
“It’s important to “feel my body” as I’m singing, because it’s as though I have an instrument in my body. Your body naturally moves when singing, making it a very interactive intersection of energy. I have to figure out how to express myself through where I stand, what I feel, and how to translate that through my body. I capture my emotions and senses before they become words and express them as sounds. That’s what I aim to do.”
Hatis Noit’s singing is infused with various singing styles from around the world, including influences from religious songs and folk music from different regions. But the human body changes depending on ethnic groups, lifestyles, and customs. Furthermore, voices, words, and vocalisation vary accordingly. With that being said, was Hatis Noit ever conscious of the changes in her voice and body as a Japanese person?
“I’m able to absorb and express ideas from different cultures, but I have to translate those through my body. But this is the only body I have, and it possesses Japanese DNA. Since my voice is expressed through this Japanese body, what comes out may not consciously be Japanese, but may become that naturally. I don’t think I can escape that. I don’t believe that to be a negative limitation, but something that makes me beautifully unique.”
Hatis Noit is also cautious of cultural appropriation, which plagiarises and exploits certain cultures. How does she approach her singing and voice so as to not fall into patterns of cultural appropriation? Hatis Noit does not try to be a different person of another ethnicity.
“No matter how much I try to take inspiration from traditional practices, I’m not a traditional musician, and can never be one. I can’t categorise my work as traditional music because I respect the true musicians of traditional music who have dedicated their whole lives to their craft. If that’s the case, I always wonder what is something unique that only I can do? What I put forth might pass through specific cultural styles, but I believe that the emotions and sensations felt through musical inspiration is always a shared experience. If we get past surface-level style and technique and seek something deeper, I believe we can access a part of music that goes beyond cultural appropriation that everyone can relate to. When I play shows here, I get comments like “I don’t know why, but I started crying,” or “I don’t know why, but it’s heartbreaking,” over comments pointing to vocal technique or style. When I get those comments, I feel like what I’m doing is getting through to people.”
Discovering her identity as a musician after moving to London
Her previous album Universal Quiet, released in Japan in 2014 before her move to London, showed Hatis Noit’s longing for Europe. Her new album Aura, however, is stripped of that longing, and moves only with her voice and body. It seems that Hatis Noit herself underwent a change in consciousness.
She explains why she moved to London.
“I wanted to see the outside world. I wondered what the centres of certain scenes were like. When doing experimental music in Japan, I couldn’t help but feel overly critical of myself (laughs). The support from the experimental music scene here is passionate and very different from Japan. Even indie experimental musicians are highly respected. I just wanted to be a part of that.”
But once in London, the city of her dreams, she was forced to return to thinking about what music she should be playing.
“Perhaps because London is a big city, the quality of musicians is very high. They’ve all dedicated their whole lives to figuring out what music and art are. When I witnessed these things, I couldn’t help but think about myself. I love Western chamber music, but I felt I couldn’t be myself if I made that kind of music. If I was still in Japan, I would probably have focused more on orchestration and incorporated choirs and other church-like elements. But if I did that, I knew I would lose my identity. I didn’t graduate from a music university, nor do I have vast knowledge of music theory. Upon thinking about what I’m best at within that framework, what came to mind was a bit of an abstract idea of performing and expressing human energy through one’s own body, including the voice, that existed before the formation of music. When I first got to London, Robert, the producer at my label, told me to ‘find yourself instead of trying to be someone else.’ Ultimately, I must figure out what my ‘core’ is and what it is that makes me not myself. Then, I must use those findings to refine my performance into its purest form.”
A journey through sound: The answers within her new album Aura, and the thoughts it contains
Aura, Hatis Noit’s latest release, is the culmination of the answers to questions she had been asking herself since her move to London. Her title track “Aura” contains vocal techniques reminiscent of Mongolian urtyn duu, or long song. However, she does not pretend to be Mongolian nor does she play a naive Asian stereotype for the European gaze. What appears is only Hatis Noit herself, and no one else.
The recordings were done in a studio in Berlin, and the vocals were all tracked in eight hours.
“I don’t make the songs in the studio. I do everything live once certain elements are done, because the space and ambience is always different when you do things that way. I subconsciously become inspired and think of different melodies and arrangements every time. I then record whatever comes together at that moment.”
Robert Raths, the producer of this record, had the idea to re-amplify the recordings inside a small local church in East London to take advantage of its natural reverberations — engineered by Marta Salogni, who worked on Björk’s 2017 record Utopia.
What is recorded are the voices and sounds associated with the space and ambience of the church, even the church’s atmosphere is captured and mixed. Perhaps this is a process unique to Hatis Noit, who was inspired by the voices of the nuns in Lumbini, Nepal.
“Inori” is one track on this album that reflects Hatis Noit’s awareness. The song utilises field recordings of waves at a seaside location less than a kilometre from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The song is based on her experience of going to a memorial service for disaster victims in Fukushima after evacuation restrictions were lifted.
“‘Inori’ is not about the nuclear disaster itself. It focuses more on the love the townspeople have for their hometown, their personal memories, and their feelings for those who have passed. I use the sounds of the Fukushima ocean as is, but you can also hear the sounds of the ongoing construction there. It may sound like beautiful seaside sounds, but you can hear the seawall construction noises if you listen closely. I wanted to sing about the ocean because it holds many memories. My wish was to create something dedicated to those memories.”
The song “Inori” (prayer), is literally a prayer and offering for those who have passed, and touches on the origins of singing. This is how a song can connect with the world.
Hatis Noit’s songs are constantly changing. Her technique improves along with her experience, and her songs change along with the daily adjustments of her body.
However, there is one thing that remains the same: singing. Listening to voices and sounds. Thinking and feeling something. As a musician, Hatis Noit tries to capture the energy and unchanging nature of such a fundamental act.
Hatis Noit realised the natural power of the human voice on a trek in the birthplace of Buddha in Nepal, at the age of sixteen. Through this experience, she recognised the voice as an instinctive instrument used to connect us to others, to nature, and to the universe. The name Hatis Noit comes from Japanese folklore and means the stem of the lotus flower (lotus thread). The lotus flower represents the present world, and its root the spiritual world; the stem is the link between the two. Her energetic performances have included a sold-out show with the London Contemporary Orchestra at London’s Southbank Centre, a performance at the Milan Fashion Week, many festival appearances throughout Europe, and a live show at the Manchester International Festival, where she was invited to perform by beloved director David Lynch. In recent years, she’s collaborated with Kevin Richard Martin aka The Bug, joined the stage choir of Jónsi & Alex, and has featured on Masayoshi Fujita and Lubomyr Melnyk’s works amongst various other collaborative pieces.
Translation Mimiko Goldstein