In 2002-2004 Dai was a participant in the London Sinfonietta's innovative Blue Touch Paper project,
an 18-month creative process with members of the ensemble and mentor Peter Eotvos that resulted in the work
Dai Fujikura interview: part 1
Tell us about your proposal, and what the focus of your work is going to be.
The topic will be the spatial elements. I've always been interested in spatial elements, for example, in the last piece I wrote for the Sinfonietta [Blue Sky Falling for ensemble and electronics], I wanted to have the sound coming back from the back of the audience. I heard Gruppen when I was 21, 22 years old, but before that, I was already experiencing that kind of sound system from cinema. Here, as well as in Japan, the THX stuff was coming out. Gruppen isn't just about the spatial, the three orchestras around the audience, it's not just that, I know… and my interest is not just coming from, for example, Gruppen, it's almost coming from my teenage time. Every time I go to the cinema, surround sound, and nowadays people have it at home, TV, video games, all sorts of things.
Also, every time I go to classical concerts, the audience sits down and they look at the stage… and another thing I want to do in this is the lighting. Nothing really complicated, but I always get put off by the kind of room light, the rehearsal-like light. People say that that shouldn't matter because the sound matters, but it does matter for me, because I don't shut my eyes.
If you go to pop concerts, maybe the music is not as great as classical music, I don't know – sometimes I think as good as, even greater – but the atmosphere, the lighting, all that stuff, looks so beautiful. So I'm thinking of putting solo cello and trumpet on the stage, the cello to the front of the stage and the trumpet at the back. I want to have pitch black, and I want to have just two spotlights on those two instrumentalists, but I want to put the light on the instruments, not the person. So, for example, the cello, you can see the spotlights on the movement of the bowing, and the trumpet, I don't know what I'm going to do, but I'm thinking of moving the bell, so that you see the shiny, golden moving things reflecting the light. Also – this I haven't had a clear idea about yet – musicians to be around the concert hall. Maybe I want to have a clarinettist at the centre of the auditorium, with the other musicians at the sides as well as at the back.
For me, I think, if you look at 'spatial music', it always uses live electronics, but personally I have recently heard a lot of bell-like sounds – piano, celeste, glockenspiel – going on like that, through the auditorium. Ringing sounds. So therefore I don't want to have any ringing sounds. And also I don't want to have electronics. And, if it is performed, I don't want to have any conductor. Just the movements of the cellist and any movement from the trumpeter, somehow directing the other musicians.
I want to write some very quiet and atmospheric stuff, but also I'd like to have a very mechanical section as well, because I've heard a lot of spatial music which is more likely to be atmospheric, so I want to go opposite, with something really scherzo-like, really fast and loud.
Another two things: if this piece is performed a few times, the audience – if they like this piece, if they didn't like it, well, fine! – but if they like it they can choose to sit in different places. And maybe it will sound like a different piece. I'm very interested in films, and every time I write music, I always try to get the sound to catch the audience, to push it in… like the feeling I got, personally, after I watched Goodfellas, the Martin Scorscese film, the first time. I feel like I'm in it, in the scene. So, if I want to do that, why not do the spatial thing, because then the audience will be in it.
Who have you chosen as your composer mentor, and why have you chosen to work with that person?
I chose Peter Eötvös. I just personally like his music a lot. And also, I know that he works a lot with music theatre, which I'm very interested in, especially for this, as well. Because I think this spatial thing, this piece I'm going to write will have some sense of theatricality in it, not necessarily acting, or a story line, anything, but some sort, even just little movements, maybe the trumpeter's gestures.
I always imagine the player when I write the piece. It's difficult to write music when I don't know the players. So I just imagine my friend who, for example, plays the cello, I imagine him or her. And if I am writing music for solo instruments, or for a specific person, then I always get inspiration from the actual performer playing it. I can see it.
So are you going to use up some of your Blue Touch Paper 'credits' to work with certain individuals?
Yes. The visual is very important for me. Even if it's just a classical performance. For example, a Beethoven piano trio or something. The way they enter the stage and sit, you know, on a chair… already I'm not interested, before they play it! They fiddle around, but maybe they could do that before. The noise of the chair, it's pretty distracting. So just if I could do a little touch of lights, if its dark then you can't really see lots of things. Darkness, of which David Lynch speaks very informatively, the interesting thing is that you are almost going forever, you can't see the end. That's a nice feeling, I think it helps the audience, including me, to grow the imagination. I want my music to be always some kind of trigger for everyone's imagination. Like novelists, they always say 'I much prefer when the reader says', not 'nice story, good book', but more like, 'When I read your book I really wanted to drink beer"! A more physical sense. It doesn't have to be that specific, music is more abstract, but I you to react, not only physical reactions.
Another reason I wanted to work with Eötvös is that he's a fantastic conductor. I wanted to work with that kind of person, not just who can talk about the creative side, but how he deals with the musicians when he does his own music theatre.
What kind of risks do you want to take?
One of the easy ones is just practical experiments. How far can I write the complicated section, for example that scherzo-like, really mechanical section, without conductor, in almost darkness, and people can still play. The London Sinfonietta is a wonderful ensemble and if they can't do it, it's probably impossible. So I can really push it.
Also, it's my kind of personality that I like to write almost everything, I don't really write music that could be played a little bit later, or a little bit earlier. It's not that I like my score to be black, or complicated, or anything like that. I'm just obsessive, I just have to write it if I know I want this event to happen there, I have to write it. So when we do this spatial kind of thing, I think I have to think of other practical things, a little bit differently, perhaps, since they are not onstage, facing one conductor who is beating the time.
Something I don't want to do – which I'll probably say differently in the next interview, but… – at this moment, because of this spatial thing, it would be quite easy to do aleatoric co-ordination. I don't think to do that, somehow, because, again, I always want to go opposite. That's the challenge for me. If I write everything too precise, or too complicated, that will be a problem. No conductor, two players in darkness, how do they… I don't know. Also, how different will it be when I'm sitting on the right hand side of the auditorium, or the left hand side of the auditorium, or the back, because if the musicians are all over the place, I wonder how it's going to effect it.
What are your first sessions going to be?
I know fairly well the instrument cello, but then I don't know much at all about trumpet. I mean, I already know about orchestral thing, but not any other techniques. So I'd like to have one consultation with a trumpeter, before I do anything. Perhaps also a clarinettist. I'm thinking of writing a lot of nice multiphonics.
What do you mean by 'nice' multiphonics?
I have a piece for koto and sho – a kind of Japanese mouth organ – and clarinet, viola and oboe. This piece was performed quite a number of times last year, and they funny thing is that I used lots of multiphonics on the oboe and clarinet, and the viola is just playing scratchy noises, but once the sho starts playing – the sho is placed in the middle of the stage, then everybody else is surrounding the sho – all the 'so-called' ugliness of the multiphonics, or even the sound from the auditorium – we once had an alarm towards the end of the piece, because we were running late and performing late in a gallery in Manchester – all those noises were sucked in by this very quiet mouth organ. It kind of eased everybody in. I want to do something like that, where we, the audience, are in the mouthorgan, so maybe the clarinet could be the heart of a big instrument, the rest surrounding, while you are actually in it. Like being inside a greenhouse.
Interview with Dai Fujikura conducted on 17 October 2002 by Nick Reyland