I have never written a piece for 12 percussion players before. Also, the Lucerne Festival Academy asked me to follow the set up of the other composer's pieces which will be performed in the concert, to avoid long pauses whilst instruments are changed around. In last year's Lucerne Festival I wrote an orchestral work, which was divided into 3 groups. You can imagine the look on the stage mangers faces when they say the technical rider. I felt I owed them a favour, so I decided to follow the requested set up exactly. I also felt that it might be good for me to work with limitations not of my choosing. This gave me a huge headache. For three weeks of the christmas period I managed to cause a paracetamol shortage in Notting Hill. It was so hard for me to get used to this set up. I kept shouting at the desk: Why do the crotales share with temple block? And why is the steel drum shared with cowbells? Who wants that? It was like I was staying at someone else's apartment without the owner there. I couldn't find the sugar, or cutlery, and was failing to understand why the bedside lamp was so far from the bed and why the speakers weren't in opposite corners of the room.
After 3 weeks of this nightmare and a number of desperate phone calls made to my friends, the samaritans and carrer change advice services I realized that I couldn't give up and had to deal with this set up. Then I suddenly felt really comfortable (but perhaps that was the valium). Why would you want Crotales and Temple Blocks played together? Are you crazy? I asked myself (and the doctor). Then this stranger's home became a very nice apartment indeed!
I remember watching Takeshi Kitano's interview about his latest movie. He was saying that he had a metronome playing a consistent tempo during the shoot. I was inspired by this idea. I started to think, if there were some sort of pulse going underneath the music, and if this pulse was not regular at all, maybe it could contain metric modulations, like a gear change in the car. This was a strange thought, as I can't drive (perhaps that was the valium). In this piece, this highly irregular pulse sometimes surfaces, though most of the time it is beneath the music. However, almost every note, even the very slow and quiet sections, is played on this rhythm, hence the title Phantom Pulse.
Special thanks to Tom De Cock for answering many of my "percussion" questions.
Dai Fujikura (edited by Harry Ross)