Name: Masayoshi Fujita
Occupation: Vibraphonist, composer
Current release: Masayoshi Fujita's Bird Ambience is out on Erased Tapes.
Recommendations: Book “Book of Tea” by Kakuzo Okakura; Music "Parce Mihi, Domine" by Cristóbal de Morales
If you enjoyed this interview with Masayoshi Fujita, visit his personal website for everything you ever wanted to know about him. He is also on Facebook, Instagram and bandcamp.
Around the releasse of Book of Life, Masayoshi already answered a previous version of the questionnaire. Read our Masayoshi Fujita interview to compare his replies.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started making my own songs around the age of 23 or so. Portishead was a big influence on me to get into electronic music. Before, I didn’t listen to electronic music. I played drums in bands since I was in junior high school and didn’t listen to electronic music.
After I found Portishead I got more into electronica and ambient. I've always been drawn to music that has its own atmosphere and evokes images in me.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I had a such phase in early stages. In the beginning what I made would often sound similar to the music I liked very much then. I don’t remember if I was aware of it and if so if I felt bad or not. But I remember after I got to release those songs and saw people writing on the Internet that it sounded like a certain artist. Then suddenly I thought like “Oh, it really sucks. I don’t want anyone saying that I’m copying someone.” Similar things happened time to time later, too, but each time I couldn’t help emulating.
For me the only way to get away from the music I love too much is just to keep doing what I do, even if I know it’s a copy of someone, and release it or make it public and leave it for a while. Then I can see it more objectively and often hate it. Then I can be free from the music I’m intoxicated by. But it is this exact process which enriches my music and makes me realize what’s really me and my own music.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I don’t really feel of my nationality or race or whatsoever when I create. But I feel the connection to the land and the nature where I live and create in.
That is actually something I missed and longed for when I lived in Berlin. I lived there for 13 years and enjoyed it a lot but I always felt that I’m an outsider or a guest and couldn’t relate to its land and nature. I had a feeling like I was a rootless grass. It was very unhealthy for me as an artist especially as my music is often has a thematic connection to nature.
That was the biggest reason why I moved to the countryside of Japan, where I am now. I have a studio in a small village high up in a mountain and I feel like I’m living my dream. I’m looking forward to seeing how this new environment will affect my creativity.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
In the beginning I was trying to make my songs sound more proper and real. I felt that my songs sounded cheap and unprofessional compared to those of other musicians. I was new to DAW and not very familiar with audio technical things and was learning by doing.
Now I know it a little more and my challenge at the moment is to find time to work on my music. I still have lots to do for my studio and also I’m a father of three kids, and I’m struggling to find time to make new music here in my new studio. Also, another challenge is that I’m starting to make videos. I studied making film in my twenties but I left it. But now as I moved to a place where I'm surrounded by rich nature I'm beginning to feel that I want to make video with my music in it.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
In my case it is of course the vibraphone. It has always been a source of inspiration and a great music partner.
I bought my vibraphone right after I decided to start playing vibraphone. When I started playing vibraphone I knew almost nothing about music theory or scales and such things. I couldn’t play, but I decided to buy this M75 model vibraphone by a company called Musser, the most expensive one from them, just because it looked best. I didn’t have money so I worked and save the money and I imported it from the States on my own because it was twice more expensive if you bought it in Japan.
From my experience, good instruments or equipment teaches you and educates you. You don’t really know the difference in the beginning but as time goes by and as you develop yourself you notice the small but huge difference, especially when you have a chance to play other instruments, and you appreciate it.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
From the beginning I was fascinated by the idea of sampling and the feeling it creates. The feeling of sampling and editing sound was one of my initial interests when I started to make own music. I liked working with a sampler and editing the sound files on a computer.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Collaboration are for me a chance to try something that I can’t or I don’t do on my own. Interesting artists make me imagine how it would be if I collaborate with them. Collaborations give me a lot of experience and expand my views.
My Preferred work-flow depends on the artist, what and how they do. But basically I like to talk and play together for some days.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I have three kids and the morning starts with them. After breakfast I drive two of them to kindergarten and then I head to my studio, which is about 40 minutes by car. The kindergarten is by the sea and we drive along the amazing view of geo-park cliffs. Then I drive to my studio through mountains and forests along the river. I love driving this road while listening to music.
I work in the studio and around 4pm I drive back to pick my sons up, then go home and cook as my wife works full-time and I’m more flexible. And then we feed the kids, brush their teeth and put them to sleep. They are all boys and not very quiet and easy, you know. It’s pretty chaotic at home. It’s really demanding but I try to enjoy it too. In contrast it’s very quiet in and around my studio. So, the difference is huge. I’m not sure if the time spent with my family affects my music, but maybe yes.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Maybe that would be “Apologues”, the first release on Erased Tapes. Since that release and working with Erased Tapes and a booking agent I became able to make living with music. I started composing acoustic songs around 2009, around the time when I released the last el fog album and made the album “Stories”. “Apologues” was the second one of the acoustic trilogy. Before, I couldn’t play the vibraphone so well and I would just sample it to edit on computer. But as I kept practising, it I got better and became more and more interested in playing the instrument and the acoustic sound of vibraphone.
The songs of “Stories” were very simple and almost all the songs were vibraphone solo. For “Apologues” I wanted to make bigger compositions with more instruments, like strings and wind instruments. The main focus of all those trilogy albums were to evoke images in the listener with the music.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
When I was making songs as el fog I liked working at night when everybody was sleeping and quiet. I remember when I’d try to make songs during the day, the voice of children yelling outside was pretty disturbing.
Now it’s completely the opposite. I can be more focused in the morning. I try not to to work on emails and checking SMS or websites in the morning. Good sleep is the key for efficient work.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Yes, when I play my instruments and deeply dive into it I realize afterwards that my mind is often healed. One time I was very sad and happened to sit in front of the piano and played randomly. It sounded very bright and didn’t fit my feeling. It was really disturbing, almost hurting.
I think there are resonances and empathy between our heart and music. It’s a miracle, as the sound is just vibration of the air. And yet, through those frequencies, we humans perceive feelings and emotions.
I think people should play instruments more to be healed.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
It really depends on what and how you do but I personally think that you should care about how the people from that culture/society/gender would feel if they see or hear it. At least it’s necessary for the artist to be aware of it and think about it, especially in the current era where information can be easily spread and go beyond boarders.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I often recall old memories by smell. Also, sound and music can evoke images in you. I think those primitive senses work somewhere deep in our brain in conjunction and they're all connected to our emotions.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
My approach is rather indirect and with a longer vision, I would say. I would like to pass on my thoughts through music and my works and affect the way of life or thoughts of people. Such as going back to nature and recognizing yourself as a part of it. I may not yet be able to achieve this effect with my music. But I’m hoping to make it happen in the longer term.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Emotion and something beyond that, such as the existence of human beings as a part of nature. It’s difficult to describe in words.