TENGGER is the moniker of a traveling musical family, itta, Marqido, and their son RAAI. Originally from Japan and South Korea, the family have been fixing up a home in Japan during this period of self-isolation, but it's also a time in which they've released their new album, Nomad.
TENGGER creates music using harmonium, voice, and toy instruments (played by itta) and analogue synths (played by Marqido), and you might have come across them previously using the band name "10", which they updated after the birth of their son with a name that means "unlimited expanse of sky" in Mongolian.
As you might guess from the name of their new album, travel is extremely important to them "as spiritual experience in real environments". itta and Marqido kindly agreed to do a Q&A with us about their new album, their thoughts on music, and what they've been getting up to during this down time from touring.
Hannah Means-Shannon: When did you first become aware of music as something that could transcend a sense of time and place?
itta: We grew up in different environments but both of us have enjoyed radio since we were young and under the influence of our parents. I think that anyone can have the experience of nostalgia for the music they listened to for the first time on the radio or have the feeling of traveling to somewhere while listening to some music.
HMS: What made you take steps to create music rather than just listening to it?
Marqido: My father was an engineer of electronics. There were always many electronic machines at home, so I could be an early adopter. I started playing 8-bit computer games as soon as they came out. One day I realized that I quit playing the games and started playing to copy the game music with the computer. Which then shifted to make my own music.
itta: I started to play piano and organ in the Mass at the Cathedral from a young age and wrote poetry. Then, I wanted to add a song to my poems so I started to create music with piano and organ.
HMS: How long has your journeying lifestyle been important to you? How do you plan your travels?
Marqido: We are from two different countries, but TENGGER is not just from Korea or Japan. So we became Nomads.
itta: We don't have any specific plan for the travels. Usually, when we visit where we are given the opportunity for a performance or to be artists in residence (we really appreciated those chances), we observe the surroundings. But when we visit somewhere, we try to learn as much as we can about their specific culture and traditional music there during our time.
HMS: If you want to compose music while traveling, what kind of materials do you have to take with you to make sure you can capture your ideas?
itta: Except for our Artists in Residencies, we don't compose music while traveling. Sometimes I will sing with my voice when I encounter a really beautiful spot in nature, just naturally.
Marqido: We try to accept experiences with an open mind. Then, the ideas come in naturally. We think it requires an open mind and sense of openness.
HMS: Why do you think that synth and electronic sounds are able to remind us of nature and the cosmos? They obviously do, and they feature a lot in New Age music, but I wondered what your opinion might be.
Marqido: The cosmos is a system of nature, such as the movement of celestial bodies and the arrangement of DNA, like the principles of the universe. I think it resembles the sound of the sequencer. As morning to night continues, time passes, it repeats and changes subtly. It is nature's providence, and New Age music has the idea of "Back to Nature", so it is easy to express that as a synthesizer and electronic sound.
HMS: The album, Nomad, has a very watery cover, and the album itself seems to have some elements of a water theme. How early in the making of the album did you realize this theme?
Marqido: We wanted to tell about "water and life” and how it’s related to the origin of this album. I think I should also say that the album’s track titled "Us[os]" means 'water' in Mongolian.
itta: If you are asking about timing, we started making this album exactly one year ago.
HMS: I’ve seen from another interview you did recently that you are trying to use this time in isolation to create and experiment with other projects. Do you think these global experiences will result in new directions for your work?
Marqido: We've been renovating an old house in Shikoku, Japan since a few years ago. It has continued slowly.
During this time in isolation, we have a new purpose to use this space as a studio for creating online content that shares our travels.
This is the new direction for work that we are taking now, and we are looking forward to.
itta: Of course, we are continuing to work on the creation of music for our next releases.
It's not new, and it's new.
HMS: You mentioned in another interview that you feel that time flows differently for people when they are traveling. Can you describe for us how it seems different to you when you are a traveler?
itta: The extraordinary sense of 'travel' stops time, and also makes you feel that time is very quickly passing.
Marqido: I think you can try to have that sense in your hometown where you live also.
HMS: When you are composing music that you hope is calming or uplifting for an audience, do you tend to use more layers of music or more minimalism?
Marqido: Minimalism. We believe in the hidden sound of space, the sound that doesn't exist, but makes you feel, and we also believe in the spirit of the audience, the imaginary sound coming from their feedback.
itta: We limit the sounds we play ourselves as much as possible and think about how to get along with them at that moment.
HMS: How big a role do you think the unconscious plays in creating your music? Do you think the unconscious affects music more strongly than the other arts?
Marqido: We think that our expression is the fate of the moment when we encounter the unconscious.
itta: I said this in another interview before, but I think our role is to be a messenger between the listener and the nature of the unconscious. In this sense, I think the role of the unconscious is in common between all expressive arts.
HMS: Do you think there are elements of music and sound that cross cultural boundaries, or perhaps come from before cultural boundaries, in terms of human history?
Marqido: I think the beginning of the universe is the beginning of music.
HMS: I saw that you were originally supposed to play at Levitation in South by Southwest with Tower Records this year before it was postponed. Have you ever visited the Tower Records stores in Japan?
Marqido: When I first went to New York in 2005 for a solo live tour, I stopped by Tower Records. And when I was living in Tokyo, of course I often visited Tower Records in Japan. I even went to see an in-store live performance.
itta: I was honestly surprised when Levitation announced that it was related to Tower Records, because I didn't know that Tower Records was still operating in the United States. Tower Records was also in Korea, but it disappeared in the early 2000s, due to mp3 issues. It was too sad at that time.
HMS: You’ve been busy making videos to release. What are some of your goals when you put together a video and what kinds of processes do you usually use to create one?
itta: One of the goals of our videos is to show the beautiful Nature today, which may someday disappear.
First, we choose a location and share a beautiful landscape.
Marqido: Our videos are also records of RAAI's growth, so it's fun to see that he is growing up little by little. It might be nice to think of our music video as a family video that makes things a little harder ^-^;
HMS: Is there a difference between sacred music and secular music for you?
Marqido: I would like to say that there is a difference, but there is not. After all, neither is just sound. I think it is the difference of how the listener feels.
HMS: Can you tell us about one of your pilgrimage locations and why it was special for you?
itta: Shikoku. The beginning of TENGGER originated while watching "Uwa Sea宇和海", in Shikoku. It is a calm and sparkling, and actively circulating sea.
Marqido: And, Shikoku Pilgrimage (It's a Buddhist pilgrimage. You can search our past releases called “Minishiko”, and “Shikoku”) has a circular route. So, it can start from any spot and ends without a goal, and has endless looping. We are still doing the pilgrimage when we have time. I think it has had a huge impact on our musical creation.
HMS: We have a motto at Tower Records, both “No Music, No Life”, and “Know Music, Known Life”, which sound the same in English. What might these phrases mean to you, in your life?
Marqido: The water in the body vibrates all over the body due to the sound and plays the role of music therapy. That's why all the senses of the body and the music you listen to affect your life. I think it is the magic of music. Because of this, there are many types of artistic expression but we, as TENGGER, feel more attracted to music.