January 4, 2011 – Mick Karn was born July 24, 1958 as Andonis Michaelides in Nicosia, the capital of Greek Cyprus. The family emigrated to London when he was 3 years old and from an early age was looking for ways to express himself. He began with the harmonica (chromatic mouth organ) at the age of 7 and then the violin when 11, both lasted just 3 years before he was offered the chance to take up the bassoon with the school orchestra and later chosen as a member of the London School Symphony Orchestra.
Of that time he said in his biography: “It looked as if musicians were enjoying themselves and I was intrigued by their ability to escape into another world but frustrated with my own attempts to join in, however, it was only a matter of time before I found the right instrument and direction to aim for, purely by chance. The truth is I bluffed my way into the orchestra. I never learnt to read music and played purely by ear, so was always very nervous about being heard in case of mistakes. Although it worked wonders with my memory for retaining music, I can’t remember even one day that I actually enjoyed playing, until in front of an audience at the first LSSO concert”.
By this time, he had already made friends with like-minded teenagers David Sylvian and younger brother, Steve Jansen who were coincidentally both learning their own instruments, David an acoustic guitar and Steve, bongos. It seemed a natural progression that David move on to an electric guitar, and if Steve were then to progress to drums, they could form a band together and escape the confines of south London. That was the plan and a month later they performed for the first time as Japan on June 1st 1974 when Mick was 15.
In the next 6 years and several albums later his highly distinctive fretless bass voice became renowned, an accolade placing him next to Jaco Pastorius. According to Karn, bass went unnoticed and his mission was to get it noticed. Even on early Japan recordings, his wiggly bass can be heard. By their swan song, Tin Drum in 1981, he was dubbed one of the best bass players in the world. “I wanted to be able to slide and bend notes as I’d learnt to do with the violin and so decided to take all the frets off the bass guitar. I also began playing bass directly after the bassoon which, although a bass instrument, often plays lead melodies, both of these factors were major influences in shaping the way I play. I couldn’t help but feel that bass players were always hidden somewhere in the background whereas I was determined to be heard”.
In 1981 Mick surprised the art world by holding his first sculpture exhibition to outstanding critical acclaim, with many reviews and features in columns and magazines not usually frequented by musicians. Proving himself as an accomplished artist with his often disturbing works of art, he has held 5 exhibitions in London, Japan and Italy.
In that same year he’d already supplied bass and sax work to Gary Numan’s Dance album and was the first Japan member with a solo record: Titles. His unique style had musicians from all types of genres wanting his contribution to their own work, from Jeff Beck to Gary Numan. That same year, he was chosen by Pete Townshend to be part of a supergroup to perform for Prince Charles and Lady Diana in celebration of their engagement. It was to be the first Prince’s Trust Gala performance. Pete Townshend explained to the press that Mick was by far the best bassist in the U.K. and therefore the obvious choice.
In 1983, Japan’s live album, Oil on Canvas, brought his playing to new ears: jazz legend Jan Garbarek. The following year brought an unlikely collaboration with Peter Murphy of Bauhaus as Dalis Car. The Waking Hour became Dalis Car’s only album and soon Karn was again a solo agent teaming up with close friend Steve Jansen to produce Dreams of Reason Produce Monsters.
Session work with Kate Bush and Joan Armatrading bridged Karn’s solo efforts, which were few and far between, often odd in title and texture (Beard in the Letter Box, Plaster the Magic Tongue). The early ’90s saw a more prolific Karn who formed the label Medium with Jansen and Richard Barbieri. All three joined guitarist David Torn to produce his best efforts: Bestial Cluster(1993) and The Tooth Mother in 1995. Between these came an experimental project, Polytown, again with Torn and drummer Terry Bozzio.
In 2004 he moved back to Cyrpus with his family to spend time writing and making sculptures. The results were muscular and at times funky prog rock, not always for the fainthearted. Karn found time to spend on his sculpture and a San Francisco sabbatical eventually bore the album Each Eye a Path. The Concrete Twin was his last album released in 2010.
Having been diagnosed with advanced cancer he moved back to London for treatment and was working with his old Dalis Car partner Peter Murphy on a new album, when he died on 4 January 2011 at the age of 52 years 5 months and 11 days.
The recordings were posthumously released on an EP titled: InGladAloneness
Mick Karn was not just a musician, he was a talented sculptor and photographer too. His sculptures were often treated like his music. Each work, once completed, would be sold, given away to (sometimes forgotten or lost) friends or just destroyed. Likewise, Karn never, or rarely listened again to any music he wrote or contributed to. He described the sustainability, validity and timelessness of his two main creative outputs on his website: “During a short interval between [musical]pieces, we are acutely aware of time as we wait for it to restart but oblivious to how long has passed when enjoying a piece. Sculpture defies time. A piece of bronze will outlive all of us and stretch far into the future.” – “Unlike music, the older a piece of visual art, the more valuable it becomes.”