Part 1

Name: Masayoshi Fujita
Nationality: Japanese
Occupation: Composer, Vibraphonist
Current Release: Book of Life on Erased Tapes
Recommendations: ‘Book of Tea’ by Kakuz┼Ź Okakura
'Parce mihi Domine' from Officium Defunctorum by Cristóbal de Morales

Website / Contact: If you enjoyed this interview with Masayoshi Fujita, visit his website to find out more about him and his music.

When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

I started making music when I was 22 or 23. Around that time I was into electronic music and I started making electronic music with vibraphone. After a few years I got more and more into the vibraphone itself and began to train seriously and also started to compose songs on it. I guess that was around 2009. First I taught myself how to play vibraphone by copying Bill Evans’ piano. I couldn’t play very well so I just studied his chord voicing one by one and adapted them into the voicing that sounds good on vibraphone. I really liked the mood he makes and also the texture of the sound of old records, too. I love the sound that gives me a certain atmosphere or image. The main focus of my last three acoustic albums is to evoke the image in the listener with the music.

For most artists, originality is first 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? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?

When I started making music I was very much into Rhythm and Sound or Jan Jelinek and some other electronic music and I couldn’t get those sound off my mind while I was making music. I guess I didn’t even think it was so bad to copy something. I made some songs and some of those songs were included in the release of my first el fog’s album. After it had been released I realized that it was a copy and also heard some people saying it was. Then I thought it’s not fun and I didn’t want to do it again.

I think the best way to get away from the temptation of copying what you love is just copying it. In that way you get bored with it and can free yourself from the spell of it. And what still remains in you after copying is something you obtained from that process. And those remains deposit in you and form layers over years. Those layers of depositions form your originality. It’s not copying anymore but digesting.

You also learn different techniques or theories, different way of composition or production from copying. For those too, some remain in you and some disappear and that layer of depositions makes your originality too.

What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?

Arranging songs using other instrument was a challenge for me in the beginning. It was a totally different process than composing just on the vibraphone. You have to ask other musicians to play a part for the recording, it costs time and money, and without a lot of budget you have to ask favours from people which you don’t really need to when you do things only by yourself. But working with others and collaborating with them brings something you can not get alone and it gives you a wider range of expression. Also it helped me to see the vibraphone from a different perspective and understand it more. It opened up more ways to compose songs, too. Now I sometimes compose hearing the sound of other instruments in my head.

Before I was too focused on every small part but now I can see a song with a bigger view. Also I listen back my past pieces and find what I like and I don’t like. It makes my own way of composition and arrangement. 

Through working with other people I learned how to have others understand what I want, how much free space I should leave for the others, where you should compromise and where not, what to prepare, work flow, what to be careful about and so on. So far I have done only relatively small ensemble arrangements. In the future I would like to try bigger arrangements, too.

What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?

It was just a bed-room studio using speakers of home audio. It was a tiny room in Japan and I hardly had space to put up microphone stands. Now I work in a separate studio where I can spread all instruments and my equipment around me. It’s really nice to have it all there lying on the table without having to put them away each time you want to try something different. It makes easier to try spontaneous ideas.

The most important gear apart from the vibraphone may be the drum-set I have around the vibraphone, especially the sizzle cymbal. Actually it’s new and I have never used in the recording but will try more in the future. 

How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?

I don’t use much of technology but being able to record and edit quickly with a computer makes it a lot easier for me to compose. I am not a classically trained musician and it is difficult to write and read music or to compose based on the theory in my head. When I compose I record sketches and listen back to them, then play the passage again and again and record it again and repeat this process. A computer makes this process a lot easier.

Machines excel at doing something fast and cheap with quality and accuracy. Humans excel at creation and making music human and personal. There are debates about algorithmic or automatic compositions but I think that basically the music exist for humans so the role of humans will remain in terms of composition. Humans also excel at connecting things that apparently don’t have connections between each other and create something new. Also humans can bring up something buried in people’s heart with music.

Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?

Vibraphone has a great presence in my music. The moment I find a seed of a song is often when I play the vibraphone without thinking what to play or during the basic practice or between those practices playing something different. When I hear a good sounding melody or harmony I play it over and over. And I record it as a sketch – otherwise, I might lose those ideas very easily. So I always have  microphones set on the vibraphone to record anytime. Then I listen back to it and play it again over and over searching better phrasing or different versions and progressions. So a song always begins from the sound of vibraphone. I try to be the first and the best listener when I compose and play vibraphone.

I never compose from the sound which rings in my head or something. I would like to try it in the future, though. I will keep composing the songs which rise from the vibraphone’s sound and which make the most sense and sound best on the vibraphone.

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?

In collaboration basically I do something I wouldn’t do or couldn’t do on my own as solo.  Having someone I have less responsibility and can be more free. In reverse sometimes you need to adjust yourself to the liking of others and there might be some kind of restrictions. Overall it gives you a different perspective and ideas, different way of thinking and different approach which are refreshing. It’s very important that you can trust and respect the collaborator. It makes it easier for you to try when the others offer sounds you are sceptical about or you usually don’t like. 

Basically I like to play together in the same room at the same time but it could be easier to sending files back and forth. It depends on the type of music. Sometimes I talk about ideas with the collaborator but sometimes just play without it. It also depends on the type of music and how you want it.

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