PULSAR: Interview with Aya Yoshida and James Black

Edition·S has been working together with three composition students from the Royal Danish Conservatory, assisting them with the process of preparing parts for their orchestral pieces to be premiered by the DR Symphony Orchestra during the PULSAR festival. Edition·S talked with Aya Yoshida and James Black about composing their first orchestral pieces.

How has it been working with the orchestral format?

James Black: It was very daunting and challenging at first. When I received the opportunity to write for orchestra, one of the first steps I took was to listen to as much orchestral music as possible, from all styles, genres, and time periods. The next step (which was much more difficult) was to decide which approach or combination of approaches would work for the music I wanted to write. I settled on the basic philosophy of not including anything that I didn't feel was absolutely necessary to the musical idea. For this reason it became a very streamlined piece - for example, the brass are not used at all, the second movement only consists of strings and percussion, and the upper winds do not play at all until the very end.

Aya Yoshida: To be honest, it has been quite hard but also intense and exiting to compose for such a big orchestra. I personally think it has been like dream and a goal for all composers to compose a piece for orchestra and the orchestra itself is quite classical. But there are still a lot of possibilities to make something new, and it has been interesting to think about the proper orchestration for my music."

What lies behind the titles of your work? 

James Black: I often take my titles from scribbles of thoughts I've jotted down – I have a reserve of titles that I match up with pieces (normally after the piece is finished, but sometimes the title comes first). This piece – called Ground Moves – went through several different titles during the working process. The piece was originally conceived of as one movement, so I was toying with the idea of having a title referring to a ritual process. As the piece progressed, it became clear that it needed to be in 3 separate movements instead, so I changed the title to Ground Moves to better get across the idea of several ways of movement, all connected in some way – all these movements are coming from the ground."

Aya Yoshida: I always have fashion terms for my piece’s titles and I am often inspired by fashion, designs and fashion designer’s aesthetics. ‘Double face’ has various meanings though it also means a reversible clothing. It’s not reversible as music exactly, though the climax of this piece is in the very beginning."

How would you describe your work?

James Black: The work is rhythmic, melodic, at times sentimental, but more often aggressive. I have been interested in working with trance states and our perception of time, and how a short time can seem to be a long time (or vice versa) if you can get engrossed in musical material. For this reason, the material is streamlined so that the idea can come across and develop as clearly as possible. 

Aya Yoshida: In this orchestra piece, I have focused on the energy that music and orchestra itself have. I have tried to transform abstract fashion energy into musical energy and push myself by using classical musical materials with an unusual sound.