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
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
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,
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.
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).
2013), studio recorded in june 2013 by the members Didier Petit
(cello and vocals), Sylvain Kassap (clarinet), Xu Fengxia (guzheng
and vocals), Miya Masaoka (koto) and Larry Ochs (tenor and sopranino
saxes). The seven pieces were all composed by Didier Petit, but the
15-minute By Any Other Name, by Ochs. Another album mostly
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.
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