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Fish Music or: How I Learned to Find Music and Love the Absurd

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

I must have been about nine years old when my dad introduced me to classical music. While I knew most of the pieces from cartoons on Saturday morning, I finally got a proper introduction in the wide world of classical pieces. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Rachmaninov. Symphony no. 5 by Beethoven, the DUN DUN DUN DUUUNNN that started the piece, sent shivers down my spine. I was hooked. I wanted more, I wanted to learn about classical music. So I went to our local library and rented all the CDs I could to play on my portable CD-player. It was magical. It was as if a world opened up for me. However, my fellow classmates didn’t understand. They would never pass me the AUX-cable to play my music. It wasn’t hip, it wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination music you could dance on. Nowhere in a modern top 40 list would one find ‘Lacrimosa’ from Mozart’s Requiem. They were of course, very right.

My formative years were coloured by different types of music: music from video games, music from movies, classical, and the illustrious 80s tracks. I found Queen by accident while hearing ‘I Want It All’ in a commercial in Germany. I was in love. The 80s was a magical time, with much better music than the rubbish of the early 2010s. I still stand by that statement today. Slowly but surely, under the guidance of a good friend of mine, I was introduced to the music of the last century. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie… The world became so much bigger, and the amount of music to listen to grew tenfold. There was no way I would be able to ever enjoy all of it. I was 14, and madly in love with all that was old music. Born in the wrong decade, never able to relive that time again.

YouTube is a strange place for music. The algorithm that governs searches and recommendations can bring one some magical songs, songs you would never be able to find yourself. I was 15. A bit of an anime-lover. When I started to search for anime soundtracks I got drawn into Japanese music. Vocaloid, a music programme with the ability to create computer generated voices led me to listen to ‘Rolling Girl’ and ‘World is Mine’ by Hatsune Miku. My parents didn’t understand, nor did anyone else. But I fell in love. Music so obscure, to be shared only with those that also liked it. I was a hipster without knowing I actually was. Vocaloid was the starting point of the road to absurdity. While I’m writing this I’m going through my ‘liked’ videos on YouTube, trying to uncover the past, the path I took to get to the music I love today, and seeing some key moments that make me appreciate where I came from. For example: I liked a 10 hour loop of ‘Healing Song’ from the Legend of Zelda, something I would do more often later, listening to a 10 hour loop of ‘Cisco Hold Music’, a song you hear while waiting to be helped at a call centre or a 1 hour loop of an ambient track like ‘Rhubarb’ by Aphex Twin. 

The turning point came when my interest in classical music gave me Philip Glass. Philip Glass is a modern classical composer, using minimalism as a basis for his music. Simple sounds repeated over a 10-minute piece. His work ‘Prophecies’ was used in the movie Watchmen. After I found it on YouTube, the can of worms was opened. As a first pillar of my musical journey, long, drawn-out echoes of sound, reverberating over the aether. Soundscapes produced by a single note. I dabbled in it, and in the process fell into the ocean of sound. As a second pillar, I found music I would label as nostalgic. There is no specific genre for it, but the soundtrack and songs from the game ‘Life is Strange’ come to mind, with acoustic guitars playing melancholic sounds under the same reverberating sun, or a piano using G-chords as its basis. A third pillar became ‘nature sounds’. For example, ‘Sounds of insects 8 hours/Night of summer in Japan’ (look this one up on YouTube) is one of the first that I liked. These pillars became the building blocks of my current music taste.

The stage was set. Japanese music, Minimalist music, soundscapes, nostalgia, 80s. These streams of music wouldn’t take long to combine themselves into a genre I already wrote about before: Vaporwave. I will not repeat myself here, but the track リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー would be the first contact I had with this enigmatic genre. Driven by some tracks that were more mainstream, like Trevor Something’s cover of ‘Enjoy the Silence’, the walls closed in on me and I started my journey into the most absurd music on the planet. What followed has been an experiment already lasting since 2016 up until now. Ambient music, that combines minimalism with soundscapes; Japanese CityPop, that combines the 80s with nostalgia in a Japanese setting; and Mallsoft, which is music made for malls of the 90s, played as an echo of the past. In conjunction with this, Jazz became a nice alternative to listen to, but this too fuelled the flame of the absurd. ‘Watermelon Man’ by Herbie Hancock, would be the basis for experimental 70s Japanese Ambient Funk. Yes, it spiralled out of control.

All this accumulates into what my friends have labelled ‘Fish Music’. It’s the collective name for my music taste. The name came about after I found ‘Watering a Flower’ by Haruomi Hosono, from a 1984 cassette. It’s an album that played in the Muji store in Tokyo in that year. The simple sounds, the little bell that plays as a rhythm. I love it. As I tried to explain it to my friends, I told them about a fish: ‘[this is] the music that plays when you make eye contact with the creepy little dried fish at the grocery store. You wonder what he was like in life, who is family was, what his goals and aspirations were and he probably wonders the same about you. You don’t speak the same language but you both share 14 minutes of longing, loneliness and happiness bottled into one emotion until the store security drags you outside into the rain with tears streaming down your face. You’re left soaking wet in the warm rain and alone, only to find out that you in fact are that little dried fish remembering what water once felt like. It is bliss and you wish to be nowhere else but here in this moment alone.’ I guess it was only fair people laughed in my face when I tried to explain this strange feeling.

With this explanation I guess I sealed the deal that all I listen to is called ‘Fish Music’. I guess it’s only fair. What’s life without a touch of absurdity after all? I wonder what 9-year-old me would think of my music taste today. I wonder if he would also see the little fish in the grocery story. I wonder. After all, this musical journey is not complete yet, as I keep on finding new, obscure music to add to my collection. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. Perhaps you also became interested now. If you did, let’s go on this journey together, shall we?

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