An interview on Yellow Springs News
program notes for Wilderness Mute
How many times have I been in Nagasaki in the broiling sun of August 9th….at the stroke of 11:02, the sirens ring, the bells reply, and we citizens offer a silent prayer. Even with all my empathic power, I cannot imagine that August day. A sea of fire, flesh burning— the sudden agonies and depths of despair. We who were not present cannot possibly understand this holocaust.
While checking the final instrument drafts of this work, the copyist asked me if I would like to insert a dedication to be placed under the title. I hesitated, thinking of Sumiteru Taniguchi, a Nagasaki survivor who had died just ten days before. A famous image of his wounded back rose to my mind: a boy with his skin burned horribly and an angry scarlet color. Even as he worked as a postman in Nagasaki, he dedicated his life to activism to prohibit nuclear weapons. A choice for the Nobel Peace Prize, he did not receive it despite his nomination in 2015.
However, for him this was no matter. His message was unwavering for over seventy years:
"No more Hiroshima, no more Nagasaki, no more Hibakusha, no more war".
This phrase echoes in my work.
When he gave a lecture to students in New York, he showed them the image of his ruined back. Many of them exclaimed “oh my God!” and took photos of that photo with their smartphones. They asked if he had ever been apologized to by the United States, but he was resolute in his answer: "I am not here to be apologized to, I came here to insist on the total abolition of nuclear weapons".
Full of passion for his mission, and worrying incessantly about the future, his soul finally left his deeply injured body at the age of eighty-eight. Despite the damage to his body, he always looked so beautiful and calm with pathos.
There was a time when artists could foresee the future. This kind of vision is vital.
We should not be incapable of our own distress.
We need to look to that future, and make desperate efforts for it.
Sumiteru Taniguchi never appealed to pity. He wanted us to never become victims.
So I dedicate my music not to him, but to you. To all of you whom he cared about. His burned body was his testament: “I want you to understand, if only a little, the horror of nuclear weapons.”
Keiko Fujiie at Kyoto September 2017
After the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear accident
In 2011, Ms Chieko Umezu asked me to write a solo piece for marimba, as conceived by Chikuzan Takahashi, the outstanding and much loved Tsugaru-shamisen player. Also, an admirer of his playing, I thought the marimba, however, the wrong choice for the purpose. I suggested that instead I might be able to do something with timpani. After a six month struggle (January to June, 2012), I composed a suite that was, perhaps, very different from which Ms Umezu expected. I also felt that in course of our communication and discussion, I had arrived at an unexpected place. In reality, "solo pieces" constitute not only solo for timpani but also solos for many other particular or unusual instruments. In my mind’s eye, it is easier to imagine it as a part of bigger structure (big ensemble/long piece).
Ms Umezu pointed out that the Tsugaru-shamisen indeed expresses very percussive sounds similar to the flamenco guitar. This brings to mind the old Japanese word ‘hayashi’ (‘hayasu’ meaning to ‘inspire’). A singer is aroused with the spirit, as the giver and recipient of this mutual ‘in-spiriting’ comprise a harmonious, flowing and interchangeable whole. Now, if Chikuzan, Paco de Lucia or other excellent accompanist attract attention merely with the expectation that they are supreme soloists they will leave us, surely, suspended in midair; for who would receive such spirit? This is not to deny the veracity of "solo" performance. Simply, that the precision of the Tsugaru-shamisen solo is already poised for transfer to another particular form, the timpani solo. I considered that these real-world percussion instruments, perhaps, in their core, were made to ‘in-spirit’ or ignite others and must more easily signal the sense of ‘hayashi.’ As the composition progressed, however, the piece became increasingly difficult to play and, contrarily, came to express the shamisen's non-percussive elements!
In order to solve this strangely twisted situation, I tried to walk back the way Chikuzan had walked, to know and to find the things that inspired him, the things surrounding him and what he desired to express. The whole process had gradually moved away from his shamisen but the center of the concentric circle had always been Chikuzan.
The construction of the suite comprises five sections: 1. Prelude 2. Hon-choshi 3. Ni-agari 4. San-sagari 5. The call. As a traditional Japanese instrument, the manner of playing the shamisen is akin to ‘recitation.’ Thus, I hoped to preserve its characteristic intervals and grooves. However, regarding the first piece, the Prelude constitutes the process of building up, feeling the intervals in the body: put differently, ‘the first memories of sound’ involving a maximum dynamic range from ppp (an omen) to fff (a pole) and overtone singing.
Ms Umezu’s purpose was not merely to provide an hommage to Chikuzan. She was desirous also of a ‘chinkon,’ a calming of the spirit, a requiem, a prayer for the repose of the souls for her home region – in the northeastern region of Japan - which suffered from the Great East Japan Earthquake unleashed in 2011.
Chikuzan found time to sit in the mountains listening to the whispering of the woods and the never-ending songs of birds and his mind would flit back to the painful memories when he was begging door to door, with his shamisen, throughout the seasons and the changing landscape of the north. If only he knew how his stark and beautiful mountains, the rivers and ocean had been polluted, radiated, in the ensuing nuclear power accident. How would he feel now?
It is a great consolation that old Chikuzan passed away before his heart burst with grief. What can be done in response to the travail of those who raised him, rebuked him, made him cry, the things that pleased him? Can we offer a prayer, a heartfelt mass for the repose of a soul?
"Chinkon" is not only for departed souls. It is also urgent desire to enshrine the souls of the living, those who feel powerless, helpless in their bodies. Above all, surely now is the time to offer up prayers with heart, mind and strength for the repose of the soul of nature, its living greatness, which has embraced and nurtured all creatures.
‘NAMU’ is likewise conceived of as ‘seeking refuge’ or ‘the everlasting.’ For example, the Buddhist chant, ‘NAMU AMIDABUTSU’ means to be united with AMIDABUTSU (Amida Buddha) where AMIDABUTSU and the prayer disappear into ‘the one.’ A self beyond individuality must break through individual consciousnessness to cry ‘Here I am!’ This powerful exclamation is ‘spiritual intuition,’ the self-awakening of ‘NAMU AMIDABUTSU,’ as the Buddhist philosopher Daisetsu Suzuki taught us.
The thing that the Kung People of the Kalahari Desert refer to as ‘NUM’ is somewhat similar to ‘NAMU.’ Around a blazing fire, women sing and clap, men dance. The more they dance, the more their ‘NUM’ becomes activated. At its quivering zenith, the soul departs, consciousness is transformed, expanding beyond individuality. The dancer at this stage is, the Kung maintain, empowered with healing.
Let us now proclaim this, “Brothers, form a circle, organized only by this essential, life-giving power.”
„LA-BAS OU ICI…“, projet interdisciplinaire en cours d’élaboration est un opéra en plusieurs langues, produit par Keiko Fujiie au Burkina Faso. Commencé en 2019, le projet en cours rassemble plusieurs cultures, langues et formes artistiques, tentant de créer une oeuvre d’art globale et ouverte. Keiko Fujiie et ses partenaires nous livrent en avant-première mondiale le premier acte de cet opéra.
Composition: Keiko Fujiie
libretto: Moyi MBOURANGON
Musiciens: Keiko Fujiie, Maboudou Sanou, Ibrahim Dembélé, Boureima Sanou
Video-art: Hervé Humbert
Keiko Fujiie est une compositrice internationale auteure de plusieurs opéras. Elle travaille actuellement à sa nouvelle création, un opéra en collaboration avec plusieurs musiciens traditionnels burkinabè. Avec ce projet, son expérience et sa connaissance profonde de la musique classique occidentale mais aussi de la musique traditionnelle de l’Asie de l’est, dialogue et se fond dans la musique ouest-africaine et son esprit.
【More information about this Project】
A Vermilion Calm
premiered in September 19th at Grotowski Institute, Wroclaw
©Keiko Fujiie (all rights reserved)