Name: Patrick Shiroishi
Nationality: Japanese-American
Occupation: Saxophonist, multi-instrumentalist, composer, improviser
Current release: Sans Soleil, Patrick Shiroishi's new duo album with Chris Williams, is available now from Astral Spirits. Vinyl- and tape-editions of I shouldn't have to worry when my parents go outside are forthcoming from Family Vineyard and Distant Bloom respectively. Patrick also has a quartet with Chris Jusell, Chaz Prymek and Matthew Sage, who play dream-like pastoral jazz meditations. Their third album Yamawarau (山笑う) is available digitally from Cached Media.

If these thoughts by Patrick Shiroishi piqued your interest, visit his website or bandcamp page for more information and music.

How  would you describe your relationship with your instrument?

My instrument of choice is the alto saxophone, although I do use the whole woodwind family as a means of expression. I have been recently trying to expand my approach by using field recordings, piano and synthesizers, among other percussion instruments but still have ways to go in terms of harnessing their true potential.

Going back to the alto, it is a relationship of growth. I feel that I am truly able to express myself with the instrument but at the same time have only begun exploring the full range of possibilities with the horn…it’s a truly lifelong journey I am excited to continue year after year.

What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?

To me, improvisation is just composing in real time. The only difference in writing compositions is being able to truly map out what will be happening during the course of the piece. I say that just because I have been in several settings where I thought I knew what route we would go, and we ended up in completely different spaces. I think that is the real joy of improvising and what keeps it fresh and exciting each time.

Improvising and playing in different settings with new musicians is definitely the most stimulating as it’s a new situation and keeps me on my toes as to how to react in the moment. On the other hand, I also play regularly with a select bunch of musicians and it is an incredible feeling to grow together and connect almost on a spiritual level … it’s a nice feeling when someone like Dylan Fujioka, who I’ve been playing with for years, pretty much can anticipate what I’m about to do and vice versa.

Purportedly, John Stevens of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble had two basic rules to playing in his ensemble: (1) If you can't hear another musician, you're playing too loud, and (2) if the music you're producing doesn't regularly relate to what you're hearing others create, why be in the group. What's your perspective on this statement?

There are a lot of different ways of looking at improvisation, but I 100% agree with both of those statements.

I love playing off of the musicians I am playing with, whether it be melodic or rhythmic. Coming off of the questions above, it is what keeps free improvisation so appealing to me. Personally, I love small settings like duo or trio as you can really get to know the player and have a real conversation together.

I do have a tentet that I play with when everyone is available (a little difficult sometimes) but that is also a real joy. Everyone in Danketsu 10 have played with each other in various settings and when we all come together, it feels like a true extension of those relationships. Even if two different ideas are happening, they are still in tandem with each other.

There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you?

Having an open mind for possibilities is the ideal state for myself … but it can be hard!! I still sometimes struggle with this where I’ll have an idea of how something is supposed to sound or how the group is going to play and when it comes out differently, I dismiss it as not a success. I try my absolute hardest to enter each setting as something new and take my Zoom recorder so that I can listen back and study what happened several days after.

Can you talk about how your decision process works in a live setting?

I like to sit out for a couple minutes before jumping in. From there I can kind of gather how I can and want to begin contributing to the music as a whole. Of course, there are times when I’ll take liberties and push a sort of melodic or rhythmic phrase, but for the most part I’ll listen for what the other musician(s) are doing and try and build off of that even if doesn’t sound apparent.

How do you see the relationship between sound, space and performance and what are some of your strategies and approaches of working with them?

Performance I don’t worry about too much as there aren’t any synchronized moves or backflips during my sets (laughs). But the space is crucial as to how I’ll be playing. I think just being aware of what your sound is doing is all you need to do, even if you are entering a new space right before playing.

How is playing live in front of an audience and in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally?

To be honest, I have not spent a lot of time in a professional studio. The few times I have, I’ve been very nervous as I was didn’t want the studio time to go to waste/throw away money. It also took me a little while to relax and get into the “zone,” but the quality of the recording makes it worthwhile especially if there is a drummer involved.

I love playing in front of an audience, it really makes me feel like I need to focus to give the listener my everything. I still get nervous before every single show and try and meditate a few minutes before starting to play.

Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career?

An event that really meant a lot to me was when I was able to play at the Museum of Contemporary Arts here in Los Angeles. Growing up and long into adulthood, my parents were sceptical of the music that I was playing and would frequently ask when I would stop or focus more on my employment career. I never thought that I would be able to live off music (and still do not) but I wanted them to know that I was serious about music and the music that I was making with my peers. Up until then a lot of shows were at DIY venues and they’ve come to a few, but the MoCA was a completely different space and an institution that they are familiar with … I think when they came and saw the people there to watch us that they understood a little bit more. I am happy to report that they have stopped asking me when I will stop playing.

In a way, improvisations remind us of the transitory nature of life. What, do you feel, can music express about life and death which words alone may not?

I 100 percent believe that music can. My first two solo records were direct responses to my grandmother and grandfather passing away … music allowed me to help process my feelings and emotions. They still do, as I find my music reflecting what they went through in their lifetime, as well as my parents and my own experiences mixed in.