miya masaoka


Miya Masaoka, musician, composer, performance artist, has created works for koto, laser interfaces, laptop and video and written scores for ensembles, chamber orchestras and mixed choirs. In her performance pieces she has investigated the sound and movement of insects, as well as the physiological responses of plants, the human brain, and her own body. Within these varied contexts of sound, music and nature, her performance work emphasizes the interactive, live nature of improvisation, and reflects an individual, contemporary expression of Japanese gagaku aural gesturalism.

Masaoka's work has been presented in Japan, Canada, Europe, Eastern Europe and she has toured to India six times. Venues include V2 in Rotterdam, Cybertheater in Brussels, Elektronisch Festival in Groningen, the Cleveland Performance Art Festival, The Electronik Body Festival in Bratislava, Slovakia, Radio Bremen, Germany, Festival of Lights, Hyberadad, India, and the London Musicians Collective.

Since forming and directing the San Francisco Gagaku Society, Masaoka has been creating new ways of thinking about and performing on the Japanese koto. She has developed a virtuosic and innovative approach, including improvisation and expanding the instrument into a virtual space using computer, lasers, live sampling, and real time processing.

Masaoka has been developing koto interfaces with midi controllers since the 1980's originally with Tom Zimmerman, co-inventor of the Body Glove. Since then, she has she has worked at STEIM, Amsterdam, CNMAT, and with Donald Swearingen to build interfaces with the computer and koto, at times using pedals, light sensors, motion sensors and ultrasound. With the koto connected directly to her laptop, she records her playing live, and processes the samples in real time. This new koto is able to respond dynamically and interactively in a variety of musical environments, and improvise with the processed sounds.

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Insects and the Body

Her work with skin and insects and video uses image and metaphor to explore human and insect societal issues of race, herding, gender and sites of control and explores empathy and the interconnectedness of inter-species interactions. She has performed with live Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches and thousands of honeybees on stage, using their sound and movement as a sound source within sound and video compositions. Medical equipment, including EKG and EEG sensors and fetal heart monitors record the internal body sounds and real-time bio-feedback are integrated into her pieces. Her performances with plants use their output of real-time physiological response rendering the plants themselves as "live performers." These performance pieces have been presented at Le Centrale, Canada, festivals in Europe and the US.

Other projects include her invention of a new language, Kosectese, which is derived from the sound of insects and Japanese and Hindustani phonemes. As part of this investigation, she has transliterated the language of Tabla onto the koto, with consideration to pitch, open and closed hand positions, timbre, and rhythmic systems.

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Recently, Ms. Masaoka has written a full-length ballet for Alonzo King's Lines Ballet which has toured throughout California, New York, and Germany. She is commissioned to write a piece for mixed choir, children's choir and soloists for the tenth anniversary of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. She has written pieces for chamber orchestra which she has conducted, pieces for gagaku instruments, and composed for the Bang on a Can Allstars, Rova Saxophone Quartet and the SF Sound Ensemble, and many other configurations.
(Go to Compositions »)

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Koto: performance and recordings

She has been a koto soloist with Bang on a Can, Berkeley Symphony, The Torrance Symphony, New West Symphony, Toshiko Akiyohsi's Jazz Orchestra and has led her own ensembles including the Masaoka Orchestra, the Miya Masaoka Trio with Andrew Cyrille and Reggie Workman, and collective ensembles sensorChip with Pamela Z and Donald Swearingen, The Transliteration Trio with Amir El Safar and Samir Chattergee, Brew with Gerry Hemingway, Workman, and Maybe Monday with Fred Frith and Larry Ochs and Joan Jeanrenaud, and the all acoustic String Stories with Joelle Leandre and India Cooke and also ensembles with Peter Kowald, John Butcher and Gino Robair.

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Masaoka has participated a leader, guest, collaborator on numerous recordings including solo koto on Asian Improv Arts, Masaoka Orchestra on Victo, Duets with George Lewis on Music and Arts, Miya Masaoka Trio on Dizim, Crespscular music on Rastascan, Digital Wildlife on Winter and Winter, Koto and Jazz Orchestra on BMG Japan (Akiyoshi), Myths, Modes and Means on BMG, (Coleman) Erato (Subramaniam), Tzadik (Christian Wolff) and others.

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Masaoka's films have screened at Artist Television Access (San Francisco) and the Santa Monica Film Festival. Her articles are published in Institute of Studies In American Music; Arcana; interviews with Yoko Ono, Laurie Anderson, Thulani Davis, Cecil Taylor, Meredith Monk, Pauline Oliveros published individually in San Francisco Bay Guardian.

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Director of the San Francisco Gagaku Society for seven years, taught Japanese American Art and Aesthetics at San Francisco State University; taught music composition, jazz theory, species counterpoint at San Francisco Community Music Center. For two years, quarter term faculty at the MFA Program at Bard College. Initiator and founding member of the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival, and founding member of Creative Musicians Collective based in NY. Ms. Masaoka's work is written about extensively by scholar Dr. Deborah Wong in Decomposition: Post Disciplinary Performance and Guillermo Gomez-Pena in Border Crossings. She currently resides in Brooklyn and San Francisco.

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Education, residencies, awards

BA in Music; music theory with Wayne Peterson, counterpoint with Eric Moe. San Francisco State University, MA in music composition, Mills College; Alvin Curran. Japanese music studies with Togi Suenobu, Seiko Shimaoka. On-the-job training with Steve Coleman, Fred Frith, George Lewis, Ornette Coleman, Dr. L Subramaniam and others. Residencies at Steim, Amsterdam, Headlands Center for the Arts, Sausaulito, CA, Mills College Residency, Other Minds composers residency fellow. Recipient of commissions from Alonzo King's Lines Ballet, Bang On a Can All-Stars, Rova Saxophone Quartet, SF Sound Ensemble, Dallas Black Dance and Theater Group, Asian American Dance Co., Jill Togawa and the Purple Moon Dance Project; Recipient of New Langton Art's first Bay Area Annual Award, NEA London/San Francisco time-based artist exchange with the Lab, Le Centrale, Montreal, Canada/San Francisco artist exchange with New Langton Arts, San Francisco Individual Artist Commissions, ASCAP Awards, Asian Arts Foundation, Asian Impro Arts, SFBG Goldie and the California Arts Council Composer Fellowship, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Wattis Residency, Gerbode Foundation, Harvestworks, Engine 27 commission.

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Copyright © 2014 Miya Masaoka. All rights reserved. miyamasaoka@gmail.com