Miya Masaoka

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San Francisco-based composer Miya Masaoka (Washington, 1958), a student of Alvin Curran, Chris Brown and David Tudor, straddles the border between jazz, classical, electronic, computer and Japanese music.

Compositions/Improvisations (Asian Improv Arts, 1993), for solo koto, and a series of distinguished collaborations, such as Trio (Ratascan, 1996) with Gino Robair and Trevor Dunn, and The Seance (1996) with Danielle DeGruttola and Kaiser, established her in the world of free improvisers, while emphasizing the Japanese concepts of "jo ha kyu" (prelude, intermezzo and allegro), "ma" (the space in between notes) and "kobushi" (the sound between two notes that the ear cannot recognize but can nonetheless "hear").

But she soon became more and more active in the electroacoustic, interactive and multimedia scene.

For example, the title track of What is the Difference Between Stripping and Playing the Violin? (march 1997 - Victor, 1998) was performed live in a San Francisco plaza in 1997 by twelve musicians (Asian, jazz, rock and electronic instruments) and two erotic dancers. The other piece of the album, 24,000 Years Is Forever (1997), is scored for desert flower. orchestra and tape.

She has also composed Music For Mouths (1999) for saxophone quartet, Ritual (1999), a "collaboration with giant Madagascar hissing cockroaches", the five-momevent suite Koto, Solo Koto and Tape (2001), Thinking Sounds (2001) piece for brain waves, computer and eight musicians.

While I Was Walking I Heard A Sound (MM, 2003) for mixed choir of 100-150 voices is structured in four parts. The first part opens with a bed of drones that Soprano and contralto voices use as a springboard to propel their jumps. Male voices join in, lending the flow a Gregorian quality, but the female voices get thicker and thicker, like a bustling beehive. Their tones and elongations change, turning echoes and counterpoints into agonizing wails. By the third movement, the vocal architecture has blossomed into harmonious, gentle, celestial singing. The fourth movement takes place on another planet: subliminal galactic chirping sounds are suddenly devastated by sustained female howling. The flow become unstable, with voices screaming over the top and then resting, mourning, disappearing.

Illuminations (april 2000 - Ratascan, 2003) was a collaboration with Gino Robair and German bassist Peter Kowald (recorded in 2000). Cloud Plate (january 2001) was an improvised collaboration with percussionist Alex Cline, guitarist G.E. Stinson and vocalist Kaoru, with a lot of electronic manipulations. Fly, Fly, Fly (july 2002 - Intakt, 2004) was a collaboration with Larry Ochs and Joan Jeanrenaud. Klang. Farbe. Melodie (april 2001 - 482 Music, 2004) was a collaboration with Biggi Vikeloe, George Cremaschi, Gino Robair.

The 54-minute For Birds, Planes & Cello (Solitary B, 2005), a "continuous field recording with cello" performed by cellist Joan Jeanrenaud, mixed solo improvisation and field recordings. The triangular semiotics of the estranged languid wailing of the cello, the light anarchic patterns of bird chirping and the dense, static and tragic drones of the planes references the triangular relationship between humans, nature and machines. The human element (the cello) is mostly providing the setting for the dialogue between the much louder elements of nature and machine. The real protagonist seems to be the machine. The planes are often distorted to play the role that, say, guitar plays in heavy metal (in which case the birds would be the equivalent of the drums, with the cello providing the bass lines). But then the drones also erupt, volcano-like, and also decay in what sound like somber requiems. Nonetheless, the effect (particularly between minute 20 and minute 30 as well as at the ending) is eerily similar to the music of Sunn O))), although coming from a completely different perspective and praxis.

Accordion Koto (Deep Listening, 2007) is a collaboration with accordion player Pauline Oliveros in the style of improvised (and mostly dissonant and fragmented) music.

Miya Masaoka on koto and electronics, Audrey Chen on cello and vox, Hans Grusel on electronics, and Kenta Nagai on shamisen, vox and hichiriki recorded Masaoka, Chen, Grüsel, Nagai. (september 2009).

The East-West Collective, a quintet consisting of Miya Masaoka (koto), Larry Ochs (tenor & sopranino saxes), Didier Petit (cello and voice), Xu Fengxia (guzheng and voice) and Sylvain Kassap (electronics), debuted with Humeurs (june 2013), mostly composed by Didier Petit, except for Ochs' 15-minute By Any Other Name.

The double-disc set DUO (DCWM) 2013 (august 2013) documents a collaboration between Anthony Braxton (sopranino, soprano and alto saxes, electronics) and Miya Masaoka (21 string koto), notably the 51-minute Experience 1.

Released only in 2023, Heat (1998-99) contains music recorded in 1998 and 1999 by Grew, a trio with Miya Masaoka on koto and electronics, Gerry Hemingway on drums and electronics and Reggie Workman on bass and percussion. The trio recorded Between Reflections (november 2019) 20 years after.

MZM (2017) documents improvisations by the trio of Miya Masaoka, Zeena Parkins and Myra Melford.

(Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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