Monday, January 4, 1999

Takehito Shimazu interviewed by Robert Duckworth 

Robert Duckworth: When and how did you first become a student of Prof. Isang Yun?

Takehito Shimazu: It was 1977. Simply, I sent two of my works and I asked him if he could receive me as a student. He answered me in a week. You can come., he said. It was very simple! [both laugh]

R. D.: Do you recall which works?

T. S.: The works which I sent were . . . I think one was for string orchestra and the other one was for woodwind quintet.

R. D.: During your studies with Prof. Yun, was there one point in particular that he emphasized? If so, would you explain?

T. S.: This is very difficult to explain to you. It is not so simple, because he had many students. Probably he would not like to define the way . . . how we must compose. Therefore, I can tell you he taught me nothing. [Duckworth laughs] Yes! Or, he did not tell me only one particular thing. But, when I brought my works, he asked me the details. I had to explain exactly. If I could not explain it to him, he would say, You must consider this more carefully.

R. D.: I see, I see.

T. S.: One good thing . . . one time, when he was before the students, he told us, For a five minute work, the explanation time takes more than one hour . . . sometimes two!

R. D.: It's true! [both laugh] With your own students, do you tend to emphasize a certain point?

T. S.: I can tell you that I also have nothing, only that I would like to correct some of the misunderstood points, some of the difficult points. I want to help them understand some of their errors. I believe they must grow by themselves...So! My first teacher, Sesshu Kai, told me one time, The teacher cannot teach composition, [laughter from Shimazu, then Duckworth] only theory or so. There is no theory for composition itself. [pause]

R. D.: When and how were you first exposed to the idea of serialism?

T. S.: Serialism came during the later half of my period of study, which was from 1970 to 1977. I studied serialism, but at that time by myself or only with my teacher. Mainly, I read a book in Japanese, [here Shimazu refers to the Joseph Rufer book, Composition with 12-tones] and I think after that, I began to adapt the idea of serialism to my pieces.

R. D.: Do you feel the effects of this exposure (to serialism) are directly apparent in your most recent works, or are they in a state of recession?

T. S.: I used the idea of serialism often, up until the 1980s or so, but not now. Yes, I think it is slowly going away all the time. Yet, we can learn many things from this system . . . this theoretical system, keeping in mind that serialism has many strong limitations, borders to the field. To the theoretical field namely! But I, as a composer, must also have one exact field, or exact
limitation when I compose more than one work. They must have their own theoretical source. The idea of serialism is alive now, in that way.

R. D.: Would you care to say a few words about any of your current compositional ideas?

T. S.: I have now a strong interest in the idea that I can create . . . It's a very heavy word, but . . . I can create a world which I could not otherwise externalize. After this idea came to me, I found that I must be no longer a normal person, but a kind of madman. Then I thought that I was a madman. From my eyes and ears, the world itself now looks and sounds very mad. My compositions, until now, sounded for me with the other sounds. Now, I can imagine a completely isolated sound-feeling. This is a very current idea for me. I have a dream to make a new world.

R. D.: Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? One of the most important aesthetical elements of Prof.
Shimazu's electro-acoustic music (in such works as From Origin Point) is found where the concepts of the modern and ancient meet. Also, rather than simply juxtapose these extremes, Prof. Shimazu chooses to have them interact.

T. S.: The first part is not correct, I think, but the latter part is accurate. In my works, interaction is very important! Interaction between the composer and the performer. Interaction between the tape and the performer. Interaction between the audience and the performer. Why so much interaction? Because interaction carries with it meaning . It is also a very important thing to
literally give movement to my works. Example: The performer must move during the performance. The performer must present not only instrumental sounds, but also his own sounds. Breath sounds . . . the sounds of humanity!

R. D.: As in your saxophone work? [Duckworth refers here to Shimazu's Requiem II]

T. S.: Yes! In my newest work also. [for cymbal player and Pro-Tools] First, he must appear from the corner of the stage, playing as he walks. But going back a bit . . . I must now explain why I cannot agree with the first point. For me, it makes no difference whether an instrument is traditional or not. This is not so important. For me, they are raw material. Of course, they have some elements by themselves . . . namely, some traditional meaning or some pre-conditioning circumstances surrounding them. These are also important, but for me, they are primarily important only as sounds! Of course in my works, I not only compose for sounds, but also for thoughts. I define the meaning of an instrument with the following question: From where did it come? The name of one of my works, From Origin Point refers to this.

R. D.: Does your music function, in some aspects, as a metaphor for any personal philosophy you might have regarding the theme of occident meets orient?

T. S.: I think that there is a complete difference between the way Japanese and European ways of thinking about the question of occident meets orient. The Japanese are, if anything, taking advantage of the situation well . . . cunningly well in fact. Yet, there are many composers who have tried and still try to show that they have their own music, independent of, and superseding this question. I count myself, among these composers. Therefore, I especially do not want to make this question
a part of my philosophy. Please keep in mind that strangely, one's philosophy may be often misconstrued as one's belief . . . an altogether different matter! I have never overlapped Japanese and Western music for the sheer sake of finding the process as a means to an end or as an answer in itself! It is one answer . . . and not a very good one at that! Rather, I think that this is
much to personal a matter to make the subject of one's music. And yes, although I think that this has been a theme in some circles for quite some time now, it is wrong to take as one's own impetus issues dealing with the crux of traditions. From this point of view, from an aesthetic point of view, or as a source of material to judge objectively, it is acceptable comment on occident meets orient, but from the standpoint of composers who seriously compose, I think that we do not have to think
about those things much. These things, so to say, should come naturally.

R. D.: Do you feel that your music underwent a change after the birth of your daughter? [At the time of this interview, Shimazu's daughter was three years old.] If so, would you describe this change?

T. S.: I did not change my music after the birth of my daughter, probably I was changed. [laughter from both] I can tell you how I changed. It is probably difficult for me to explain this, considering my perspective! Other people can observe such things more exactly. For me, I was changed in that when I consider the idea of music . . . or rather when I wished to play music . . . I began to have more real ideas, more practical ones. Before her birth, perhaps my thoughts were of the abstract, in my mind only . . . inside of me. But now, I compose from a more realistic standpoint, because before I had a child, I did not understand such real problems. Suddenly, I had to wake up from a deep sleep, in the middle of the night . . . so I came to concentrate more on my works again, but now from a more well-tempered perspective, one might say. [Shimazu pauses and smiles] All right, I admit it. What I am really saying is that now I calculate the money very exactly! [both burst into laughter]

R. D.: What relationship, if any do you visualize between your music and the internet?

T. S.: I am now expanding my homepage where I can display my ideas and my theories. Sometimes I post specific theory problems for my students [at Fukushima University], but of course other people can refer to, or open this page. In so doing they may study with me in a manner of speaking. By means of computer, we can of course now study in this way . . . mono e mono . Yet, since it is a machine, or a kind of machine, it carries with it many limitations. Nevertheless, I must try to use this means of communication when and as possible. It is my responsibility, as a composer and as a teacher both!

R. D.: I see, I see.

T. S.: It this a good answer for this question? I don't know. Please edit all of this! [laughter from Shimazu, then Duckworth]

R. D.: Now a simple question . . . perhaps a difficult one. Who is your favorite composer?

T. S.: Difficult.

R. D.: Difficult?

T. S.: I can tell you that now . . . my two teachers. Sesshu Kai and Isang Yun. These are most important. Favorite? Well . . . ah,
probably favorite also! [laughter from both] A kind of favorite, although I change all the time. Therefore I would not like to fix even this!

R. D.: In your opinion, what European composer has had the most profound affect on the modern music scene in Japan, and why?

T. S.: I don't think there is only one . Some Europeans show strong tendencies towards Japanese music, but some Japanese music seems to remain just that . . . mostly traditional, ancient, Japanese music. Japan has not assimilated European modern music to the same degree that Europeans have assimilated Japanese traditional music. I suppose that many European modern composers, at first, found their own ancient instruments in conflict with the music that they were writing. But on the other hand, I myself find many interesting things in the way that the European composers have traditionally operated. Namely, they have composed for the Church. This is my typical example: In Japan, it is very difficult (nonsense in fact) to compose music for a Buddhist ceremony! In Europe, the church has a very important meaning for composers, and this is reflected in the music! There has been a strong, and sometimes even an efficient relationship between European composers and the Church. Such things are very difficult for Japanese composers! At my university, I emphasize and insist the importance of understanding such comparisons, such meanings. Perhaps some young Japanese student-composers cannot understand such a thing as the relationship of the Arts (painting in particular) to the Church in Europe. Some people in Europe have at least an interest in Japanese traditional music, and they at least can use this music in their own way, but still I think that this is only part of the idea.

R. D.: What American composers, if any, have had an affect on your music?

T. S.: I myself would like to ask this question to the audiences, and also the composers. Perhaps in that way, I might gain a concrete meaning . . . a concrete idea of that I had intended. My works . . . are they free from such a sort of influence?

R. D.: In the future, do you intend to promote your music in America?

T. S.: Unfortunately, no. Nothing . . . but . . . I will try. I will try. [long pause]

R. D.: In support of your work, have you received any funding from the Japanese government?

T. S.: I know of several few extant organizations of support from the Japanese government. The Japan Foundation is one. Also, I can receive support from the Office of Japanese Cultural Affairs. This is an especially important and effective means. With funding from these systems, composers, dancers, and artists are supported and encouraged . . . their concerts made possible. I myself received funding from this organization on three occasions.

R. D.: Would you say that your situation is typical?

T. S.: This is an open situation . . . very open. For the Japan Foundation composers (or other artists) have an opportunity to go to other Asian and even non-European countries (such as Africa) in order to further their development. Most of us welcome such assistance. I enjoy traveling to other Asian countries and lecturing on my works. I feel that this sort of behavior should be among any composers definitive characteristics.

R. D.: Suppose that from now on, you were limited to composing in the musical environment of only one country of your choice, which would you choose, and why?

T. S.: I lived for a long time in France, in Germany, and of course in Japan. When I compare these three nations . . . I wish to live as a composer, in terms of musical environment somewhere between Germany and France. [laughter from both] I cannot choose. Please do not ask me to choose! France has several very large advantages in terms of living. It is a very . . . clear, fine
country. It can be a happy place to live. On the contrary, Germany, in my image, is not so convenient. Yet, as a composer and musician, I have more opportunities there to show my works. Every city and town there is receptive in the extreme to music and composers of music. In France, even though it is such a beautiful place to live, I mainly can only show my works in Paris and in the neighboring cities. In Germany, however, my music had a forum in many places . . . more than twenty cities or so!

R. D.: Very interesting!

T. S.: And now I have a question for you! Why did you ask me this question? [laughs]

R. D.: [laughing] You have had many experiences in countries foreign to Japan, such as France, Germany, Mexico, Hong Kong, and so on. Sakamoto-san and I were actually talking about this idea earlier: perspective. This idea can come in many forms. Granted, travel is only one manifestation, but when it is combined with one's musical travels . . . Do you know that old saying about the difference between the tourist and the traveler? The tourist simply wants to see new things. The traveler, upon returning home, cannot help but view the old things in new ways. What has changed? The eyes! I feel it is the same with music. The significance of the old information, it's quality, always changes in respect to where you are, and where you have been. In the future, I plan to make similar travels. It is therefore very important for me to ask and know how you feel about this subject.

T. S.: Then you have asked a good question.

R. D.: Based on your experience, would you say that the language of composition is, in general terms, currently in a period of expansion, contraction, or stasis?

T. S.: From my small experience, I can probably only give you an inexact explanation of today's situation. I feel that now we are in a situation of stasis. But remember, it is very difficult to find the important things in this infinitely varied world of sound! We have to much information. We have too many selections to find just one of these things. Yet it is our hope! As my dream music must be extended more and more. As composers, we must find the possibility to show ourselves new things, even if they may be small new things. If, as composers, we give up such pursuits, the finding of the new way, then we also thereby relinquish our right to be a composer, to continue with composition. If I wish, as a composer, to reap new sounds, then I have a duty to sew such new possibilities.

R. D.: What is the last music-related book that you read?

T. S.: I have now an interest in the field of psycho-acoustics. Of course, with a concern primarily towards applying this knowledge to my compositions, my sounds. Therefore I have here many books . . . [Shimazu reaches to his bookshelf, producing several books] Here is a book by one of my teachers. Not by my composition teacher, but by my teacher of music aesthetics. This is written on music and creativity, and their place in culture.

R. D.: What is the name of this teacher?

T. S.: Yoshihiko Adachi. Yes . . . [browsing his collection] I have two new books by him, and I am just now reading them. A very philosophical book! He is a music aesthetician, so he has written in this particular style . . .

R. D.: When I was here in your home previously, I noticed that you were reading a book by Pierre Schaeffer. Are you still interested in this book as well?

T. S.: Which of his books? I have several. The title is . . .

R. D.: A la recherche d'une musique concrete, I believe.

T. S.: You have this book?

R. D.: Yes, I have read a translation, but I see now that you are reading it in the French! His charts dealing with the psychological effects of sounds are very interesting.

T. S.: The important ideas in my compositions are those stemming from psychology. When and how events must start, how long we must wait . . . there is a certain tension to be found in even this area. The concern with experiential times!

R. D.: Which languages are essential for a composer to know?

T. S.: From my experience? German, French, and English. The most important of these is German. There are many important composers whose writings can only be found in German.

R. D.: At what age did you begin to seriously compose, and is there any advice you would like to offer young composers
regardless of what age they might be?

T. S.: I believe the study of composition must not come too early. Before this time, we must study many other things. Physics, Mathematics, History, Philosophy, and so forth. The composers must be shaped by knowledge...education. Then, in the later years, as a human being pursuing the art of composition, the composer can grow unassisted. Or rather, the composer knows now how to teach himself. Please keep in mind that I am not speaking from anything other than personal experience!

R. D.: And what age were you when . . .

T. S.: I began to study composition from the age of twenty-one. Probably it is a world-record for the latest! [laughter from both]

NOTE: Mr. Duckworth would like to kindly thank Mrs. E. Sakamoto for her skillful translation of certain passages of this interview.

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