Part 1.

Name: Dai Fujikura
Nationality: Japanese
Occupation: Composer
Bands/Projects: Various works for chamber, ensemble, piano, orchestra, voice, video, piano, electronic, Japanese instruments, concerto, opera.
Labels: Minabel
Musical Recomendations: Jan Bang/ Erik Honore

When did you start composing - and what or who were your early passions and influences? 

I remember I started composing … when I was something like 8 years old? Or earlier, I don’t know. I can’t remember myself not composing. I had a rather strict “Japanese” –style piano teacher, sitting next to me, and my mother writing down on her little note book what teacher has said during the lessons. Yes, the whole Japanese-kid-learning-the piano-in-the-80s; which made me want to rebel even more against everything I was told to do by teachers or anyone, including playing the notes exactly as they are in the score. I was studying Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and some Czerny (which I hated) and Kabalevsky whose music I remembered disliking so much, I was calling him Baka-levsky (Baka means “idiot” in Japanese) when I was 10 years old or so. 

I started composing because I didn’t want to follow what I was told to do, by my piano teacher or anyone, for that matter. Not even from the scores which were composed by great masters, like Beethoven. I wanted to play the way I wanted to. The best way to do this without getting told off is to just make your own music from scratch. Then nobody can tell you what to do. That’s how I started composing music. I remember when I was 10 or younger, I first studied Beethoven’s 1st piano sonata. I immediately stopped practicing and wanted to make my own piano music, so I did. 

To my mother, this was me avoiding practice which I should be doing, so I did this while my mother was away. My mother is not a particularly musical person, but she was a member of an amateur choir, and that choir sung Mahler 8, under Sinopolli! I have no idea why such an international star conductor came to a little provincial concert hall. So she went for choir practice and that’s when I composed my piano music. When I heard her footsteps from the corridor (we lived in small flats made of concrete, typical Japanese living situation), I quickly switched to Beethoven piano sonata, to pretend I was practicing.

One strange episode around that time is, for some reason, I was also introduced to Kurtag’s Jetekok, which I remember I found really interesting. If you think about provincial 80s Osaka and some piano teacher round the corner having access to this score and then introducing it to me, it is really amazing. 

What do you personally consider to be incisive moments in your work and/or career?

I don’t know ... in my career? Do I even have one? It’s hard to say, as I feel my life has not changed since I was an 8 year old composing. Everyday I compose, and that is the meaning of living for me and such a joyful thing to do. Just the musicians who play my music have got better than when I was 8 years old. 

What are currently your main compositional challenges? 

I'm working on a full length opera SOLARIS, and the challenges are many but my main interests and challenges are the big arc, thinking of the piece on large scale, but also if you look with a magnifying glass, all the details are functioning really well, to project the epic form of the tail. Well that’s the aim anyway…

What do you usually start with when composing?

Hmmmm, I often work in parallel, as I am naturally a multitasking person. Or it's more like I've got incredibly strong concentration but only in short bursts. I switch from one to the next very quickly so it looks like multitasking. While I am working on my last piece whatever that maybe, I already start researching for the next piece or project after that. I start Skyping with musicians for instrumental experimentation, or thinking about the piece. Sometimes I have a theme, which can be … like the movement of my 2 day old daughter’s cheek (at the time), or how the embryo floats in the mother’s body and grows, or more scientific things, like looking through the surface of leaves or flowers or cells in a microscope, and how that translates into music.

Sometime I write some fragments of music, it could be 2 beats, or 2 seconds or less. I always listen to that musical material for where “she” wants to take me next. Working on the piece is like living with, or having a relationship with that piece every day all the time, and every piece behaves differently. Some don’t reveal themselves so quickly to me and some are quite straight forward and tell me where “we“ should be heading to next.

How do you see the relationship between timbre and composition?

They are in one. Absolutely in one. I can’t think separately.

What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits? 

For me, improvisation or working with non-classical improvisers (that’s what I do, on the side of my contemporary classical compositions) has always been a great joy, like an artistic holiday. I wake up everyday, and I get the WAV files coming in from improvisers, whoever I am collaborating with at the time, with new materials he/she just recorded. Then I download, I create new sound by manipulation on my computer, or I play something on top and then mix, then send it back to him/her. All this spontaneity is wonderful. Then I begin my contemporary music composition, which is not spontaneous at all, choosing note by note, then deleting note by note sometimes …

Do you feel it important that an audience is able to deduct the processes and ideas behind a work purely on the basis of the music? If so, how do you make them transparent? 

I am not sure that is important. I prefer that an audience doesn’t know, I prefer they don't feel the need to find out my process, that is my business. Composing is all about creating a utopia that I would like to live in; a whole world, not just colour, or scenery, but I hope to stimulate every sense you can imagine, like the taste, smell, feeling of texture if you put that (whatever 'that' is) against your cheek, or if you eat it. Is it squeezie or hard or does something ooze out when you bite it, etc. etc. All of this I hope to stimulate just by hearing the sound I create. That’s the aim anyway. I make this utopia for myself and hope there are others I can share it with. I am trying to invite you in, to come and stay with me for a bit in the world I created. 

So process of composition – which I have, a sometimes quite strict system that I use locally, sometimes loosely, but from the first note to the last note of the work. Over the years, I've composed small piano pieces from time to time, for my search for newer composition systems which I could later use for larger or any instruments.

It’s a bit like “plugins”, I use it when I need it in the course of composing. Whatever works. In other words, it is just a method for me to get to where I need to get to, nobody needs to know, and I never talk to people about it.

The relationship between music and other forms of art – painting, video art and cinema most importantly - has become increasingly important. How do you see this relationship yourself and in how far, do you feel, does music relate to other senses than hearing alone?

I also work with video artists, so I think it's wonderful that we do have this relationship with other forms of art. But it can be dangerous. I know for sure that “listening” is the hardest thing to do for most people; visuals always win. Even though on a manipulative level, it's the sounds and the music that is the strongest and most dangerous art form. You don’t cry because of the actor’s acting, you cry because of the music. The pace of the movie (in cinema) can be utterly changed because of the soundtrack. There have been cases in Hollywood movies, where the movie seems too slow, but there is no time to re-shoot, so they simply change the composer and the pace issue is resolved. Yes, I am a movie buff.

When I collaborate with other artists, like video artists, what I aim for is that counterpoint of the visual and visual illusion created by the video artist and the sound of my music in the listeners’ heads, to create another illusion altogether. That would be very nice, as I don’t want my music or the video to simply be accompanying each other.


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