Seeing Inside: An Interview With Shuta Husanuma

From the earliest moments of Shuta Husanuma’s Unpeople, his first new album in seven years, we’re drawn into this intricately fractured sonic landscape. It’s overwhelming and beautiful and otherworldly all the same time as the Tokyo-based artist deconstructs various tonal elements before putting everything back together. He works with a host of collaborators from Keiji Haino, Greg Fox, Jeff Parker, and so many more. Together, they create something truly special with Unpeople. It’s out now and can heard or purchased HERE.

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Going back, what are some of your earliest memories or experiences related to music or sound? What are some of the real formative things from when you were young that have stuck with you?

When I was a child, I loved the sound of thunder. Thunder can be described as an electrical sound.

Did you always want to be a musician or play music?

No. I want to be on the side of listening to music forever.

When did you start composing your own music and was there a specific moment or experience you remember that really sparked that interest?

My mother says that I have been humming and composing since I was in kindergarten. I started composing music in earnest before I graduated from university.

Photo by Riki Ikeya

You recently moved from Brooklyn to Tokyo. How has that change impacted and influenced your creative work?

I was born in Tokyo, so it feels like I’m returning to the place where I grew up. However, as my environment changes, so do I. Japan is also an island country, so it seems like an isolated place. It may be a place where you can concentrate to create.

What is the story behind the name of your fantastic new album, Unpeople?

It doesn’t mean denying humanity. There is a feeling that there was a human being in a certain place and at a certain time. My theme is that kind of absence.

Among the many striking and memorable aspects of the record, the varied and dense nature of the songs stands out. There are so many different things happening on Unpeople, but it all feels like smaller parts of a more cohesive, larger picture. How did you approach the overall construction of the album, and the concepts behind it, to bring all these elements together and create this vision?

Thank you. I usually start composing music after deciding on a concept. 

However, this time, I didn’t set a concept in advance and started recording music little by little when I had time. Therefore, it can be said that the concepts of individual songs come together to create the atmosphere of the album as a whole.

Thinking about the track, “Emergence,” which is one I have returned to over and over. What inspired you to create this piece by combining fragments of five different pieces of music? And what were some of the surprises that happened through this process?

I tried to forcibly connect five different sound materials. In the world of complex systems in science, this is sometimes called “emergence.” 

This means that different roles are created by connecting multiple disparate organizations. I applied this theory to create a single piece of music. By connecting elements that could not be utilized if they were separated, we were able to revitalize them musically.

You work with a lot of incredible collaborators on Unpeople. Generally, how important is collaboration to your work and how does working with all these various artists help push you and help your sound grow?

Collaboration is very important to my creations. I’m always trying to surpass myself, but when others enter into my work, it suddenly takes off to unexpected places. It’s important to have control over my own creation, but I also enjoy being betrayed through collaboration.

Specifically, I have to ask about working with Keiji Haino, who I consider one of my biggest influences and an artist whose work has had a profound impact on me. What has it been like working with him and how has it impacted this work?

When I met Keiji Haino for the first time, We played Japan’s national anthem “KIMIGAYO.” There was no rehearsal, it was improvised. I only played Buchla Music Easel, and Mr. Haino only played vocals. We have continued to collaborate ever since. In fact, we have about an album’s worth of new songs completed. Collaboration with him is always new.

There’s also an exhibition for the album in collaboration with photographer Riku Ikeya and graphic designer Seri Tanaka happening at POST in Tokyo. How did that come together and what has the experience of collaborating across different mediums with Riki and Seri been like?

Based on the title “Unpeople,” Seri Tanaka did the art direction of a photo of a window with no people in it. Following this direction, photographer Riku Ikeya took pictures of the scenery reflected from the window. 

It is very difficult to visualize invisible music, but we succeeded in making “unpeople” visible.

How do you think working in different mediums has pushed the boundaries of your sound practice?

I also create sound installations. This is a form of work that takes place in a time domain that is different from typical live performances or recorded music. I feel that there is potential for new sound practices in this field. 

However, it is precisely the presence of traditional recorded music forms such as “unpeople” that allows for the development of art from sound forms. The development of each sound is always important, and I believe that having them will expand the scope of my practice.

What were some of the biggest challenges you had to overcome with Unpeople?

Going beyond my habitual composition process.

What kind of emotional or sonic experience do you hope listeners will have with this piece?

A story is created by combining the 14 songs into one album. I’m glad that the story is a narrative for the listener.

Also, as for my sound experience, I am currently mixing sound construction with 3D sound instead of 2ch output with my production. 

I am confident that these efforts will create a new experience with this album.

Foxy Digitalis depends on our awesome readers to keep things rolling. Pledge your support today via our Patreon or subscribe to The Jewel Garden.