Interview with Giacomo Fiore (April 2018)
How did start the idea to work with Kenji Oh, how have you met?
Kenji was in the first graduate music history course I taught at the San Francisco Conservatory, back in the fall of 2013. By the end of that school year I had heard some of his music featuring traditional Japanese aesthetics (not all his music is along these lines), and I felt that we had to do something together. We worked out a commissioning agreement and he wrote me the piece over that summer; I premiered it at the Conservatory later in the fall of 2014, and recorded it in early 2015.
How did start the idea to release his composition “Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura”?
That was part of the original commissioning deal—I promised a recording of some sort. Because we both believed in the piece we took some time to shop it around and find a label who would see it to fruition in a suitable way. The work is relatively short, but Kenji and I felt that having a physical object to accompany it was appropriate, rather than just send it into the aether as a digital file. Roger at Pinna Records came on board pretty early if I remember correctly, and then it was mainly a matter of finding the right kind of collaborators in terms of illustration and design, leading to the release of the accordion book in December of 2017. The illustrations were done by Shari Arai DeBoer, a Bay Area artist who brought a great blend of traditional and modern aesthetics to the project. Since each of the five miniatures is inspired by a moment or character from the Kabuki play that gives name to the project, we had five individual illustrations plus some “connective” panels. It’s really something to see—and to hold!
What kind of problems did you have playing the prepared guitar?
No problems! The piece, believe it or not, is very idiomatic. I’m not troubled by alternate tunings (even though this one’s extreme, with two strings dropped by a fourth), and the preparations stay mainly out of the way. The main problems lie with the multiple percussion lines and whistling part in movements I and IV, which are a bit of a bear to play!
What kind of guitar did you play?
My 2012 Greg Byers (the only classical I have!). It actually works really well with the preparations due to its clarity.
What are your next projects? What are you working on?
Larry Polansky and I have some more pieces in the recording chute—some done, some to finish, probably this summer. At some point I may do an album of 17th century Scottish lute music transcribed for modern steel-string guitar (a recurring passion of mine). Releasing music is always necessary, but the feasibility of physical formats is being pushed to the limit, at least in my experience and from my perspective.
My last question, let’s try to turn to the music the J.P.Sartre’s three questions about literature: Why do you make music? And again: what is the place of those who make music in contemporary society? To what extent can music contribute to the evolution of this society?
I make music because it’s a personal, psycho-physiological necessity. I get really grumpy when I don’t play or work on artistic projects for extended periods of time. I don’t really feel that the music I enjoy and that I make has a particularly “important” role in our contemporary society, but I still regard the work that I do as essential—all I need to validate it are my own ears. Anyone else who may be inspired, or confused, or intrigued by it, even on a scale of a handful of people, is just an added and welcome plus as far as I’m concerned.