Name: Shoko Igarashi
Occupation: Saxophonist, flautist, composer, improviser
Nationality: Japanese
Recent release: Shoko Igarashi's Simple Sentences is out via by Tigersushi Records May 20th 2022.
Music: Suzanne Ciani Buchla Concerts 1975
Movie: Moe no Suzaku (1997, Naomi Kawase)
Art: David Hockney: The Arrival of Spring, Normandy 2020
Book: Lady Sings the Blues by Billie Holliday with William Dufty

If you enjoyed this interview with Shoko Igarashi and would like to find out more, visit her official website. She is also on Instagram, Facebook, and Soundcloud.

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

My very first musical love was for disco and funk at a very young age because my mother often listened to those timeless records in the car, probably reminding her of her university years when she would go dancing in the clubs of Tokyo in the 80’s. Earth, Wind and Fire, Michael Jackson, Sly & The Family Stone, Bee Gees were my favorites.

My generation was the golden age of Anime and TV culture in Japan, and as a child I was especially fond of various theme songs from composers-arrangers such as Kentaro Haneda, Yoko Kanno, Yuji Ono. Their music was mixing disco and big band jazz with classical orchestration and some electronics.

Some people experience intense emotion when listening to music, others see colours or shapes. What is your own listening experience like and how does it influence your approach to music?

Of course, it all depends on which music we are talking about.

My listening experience is very simple, I dig it, or not. If I find music that I like, it makes me a little bit jealous; like: “Wow, I wish I could make something like this”. This feeling gives me the motivation to create my own stuff.

I think all great Art does that: it allows and triggers a creative impulse in you that can be a motor to your creativity.   

How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?

My primary interest has always been towards Jazz saxophone. When I first saw and heard this instrument, I was immediately drawn into its shiny allure and the beautiful tones it produces.

I’m also interested in clothing and fashion in general. I like to dress like an ideal persona I imagine of myself. This goes for the music I attribute to myself too. I also have guilty pleasure; I’m nuts about Japanese comedy “Owarai”, I’m always seeking for the next best skit and the funniest bits.

Lately I’ve become more involved with synthesizers and electronic music. I have recently acquired a Buchla Easel Command and have been studying it, which has significantly shaped my current approach to music. Like most people, I’ve lived through big challenges on a personal level. They have defined who I am. I know these challenges will keep coming and push me to continue searching for my own voice as a musician, because music has always been and will always be there for me. I don’t wish to stop searching, because that is all the fun part of life and music.

I would say that my main breakthroughs has been to move from Yamagata to Tokyo as a teenager, then going to Berklee College of Music in the USA, and finally coming to Brussels.

But surely my most important breakthrough so far will be the release my debut album “Simple Sentences” on Tigersushi.   

Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please (pure and a bit innocent – open minded/easy going).

Actually, I’m truly a countryside girl who kept a certain purity and innocence compared to some people who may have grew up in the big cities. That’s why I’ve always been fascinated by big metropoles and their citizens. I grew up in a quite simple environment surrounded by nature until I went to boarding school in Tokyo. There, I discovered some of the excitements, disappointments, beauty and ugliness of the urban world.

Thankfully, this experience made me pretty easy going and open to new things as I had to discover everything on my own. Also, being the little one in a family of 3, competing with and being protected by my two big brothers has made me quite bold and hard-headed therefore nobody can make me do things I don’t want to do.

What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?

I’m always making sure to keep a certain taste and stylishness in my music, or what we call in Japanese “iki” (粋).

“Iki” is a word that defines an aesthetical concept that is specific to Japanese culture. For me the beauty of Art is having the confidence in what you do while maintaining the mystery around it. So, in other words, by not showing too much nor necessarily telling the full story behind the work.

I think we should keep that mystery untouched and try not to fall into the trap of the demystification of Art by constantly explaining why and how we make it.

How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?

I avoid pre-categorizing my music in general. Sometimes as I start a new song, I might say to myself: “New Jack Swing”, or “early 90’s Hip Hop”, “70’s jazz fusion” but it always comes out much different than I expected. I’m afraid that if I stick a label to my music it might restrict my creativity. So, I prefer to remain free from those questions.

In all honesty, I was just trying to make a fun pop record! I actually don’t think in those terms. I don’t think I can be the one to judge whether this music is old or new, traditional or innovative, etc. I’m just trying to be me, and I just let my desire guide what I do. Of course, all artists want to achieve timelessness and hope that their work will persists throughout the ages, but it’s really impossible to decide that for yourself. I can’t turn my back on some traditions in music that I love, nor divorce myself from all hope to bring something new onto the table. It’s an intimate balance between both of those things, and it doesn’t matter much in the end.

There is no real objectivity in music because something old can seem new to some, and vice versa … Music is old and new as it’s constantly being reborn in the present moment in a world that is always changing. We are never hearing something at the same place or at the same time. Or it could be that it’s an endless cycle that we are a part of.

Who knows?

Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
My main tools to make music are my saxophones (tenor, soprano), my flute, my EWI, my Tenori-On, some hardware synths (TX7, Moog, Buchla) and the Mac (Logic Pro X). I don’t think I have a unique approach or anything; I’m just trying to play saxophone the best I can, and I compose either on paper first or then with a DAW using MIDI. Simply put, I love to play, and I don’t think too much.

For my compositions, I try to express what I feel and what I like by first envisioning it in my head and then I get to work. Although, as I said it earlier, it never quite comes out exactly as I imagined so I let the gifts of happenstance surprise me.

Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.

I’ll admit that I don’t have much of a set routine. My days/weeks are never the same.

I go through different phases (composing, recording, mixing, practicing and rehearsing, performing live). Personally, I wouldn’t find much fun in doing the exact same thing every day, so I seek the unexpected.

I will say that I sleep a whole lot …

Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?

All I can say is that each show I give transforms me a little bit and makes me want to play the next one and each piece I write calls for the next one as well. I think all my pieces and live performances are part of a process that is my own. Of course, playing a good show is very empowering. Making this first album “Simple Sentences” has given me so much strength and confidence to keep making new music, so I now have enough music to release another album.   

Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?

I prefer composing alone. I’m not sure composition is really possible with other people. Arrangement and production yes, but not pure composition.  

However, I need to play live with other musicians because I’m a soloist and need accompaniment to really make the magic happen. So live playing is a really a communal thing and it is crucial for my well-being and artistic development.  

How does your work relate to the world? What is the role of music in society?

I’m nobody to say I will have any substantial role in society but if I can make one person happy for a tiny moment of their existence, that’s already enough. When I release this album, I hope to bring a smile on many faces. Therefore, I want to thank my label, Tigersushi for giving me that chance.

Music is like a painting on the wall. We can survive without it, but then it leaves us with a gap or emptiness. It colours and fills our time on this earth with moods and emotions that help us go on.   
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own and that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?

Music is always there. Even when you don’t notice it. It follows you in every aspects of life and it has for me undeniably. Music doesn’t help you understand life, life helps you understand music.

There seems to be increasing interest in a functional, “rational” and scientific approach to music. How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?  

Science will never become music unless you play it.

A synthesizer for example is a piece of equipment that operates scientifically. Furthermore, it employs all these scientifical terms (oscillators, waves, frequencies, etc), but by itself it doesn’t produce any music. That goes with music theory or instrumental technique: isolated, they won’t give you anything. They are mere tools to enable human expression and therefore bring access to  music.

Music is something else that is beyond scientifical and theorical.

Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?

Your enthusiasm or interest towards coffee making and music can be similar but the end results between them can’t be comparable as coffee is restricted to the physical world whereas music reaches the metaphysical and the spiritual.  

Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?

Because we believe in these potentially deep messages, we tap into them. Music is a universal language of the human emotion which communicates its own meaning.

Music can express what spoken/written language can’t. You can’t say “tree” in music, but why would you since you can already say it in all 7,000+ languages?

Like in the medium of images, music tells another truth and channels energies that can’t be found elsewhere.