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J-Pop Exchange Exclusive Interview with Kazunori Maruyama

Kazunori Maruyama J-Pop Exchange Radio Show Exclusive Interview


OAD: 4/3/2010 

SeanBird (JPop Exchange): Hi, thank you for taking the time to speak with us, did your interest in music begin in your childhood?  How did you become interested in music?

Kazunori Maruyama: I realized my love of music when I was 3 years old.  I remember spending lots of time in my younger days copying pop-songs and commercial songs I heard on TV; playing them with the organ I had at my house.  It was a very enjoyable time, and those days were before I learned about "Do, Re, Mi" or any chords, but I think I understood those things unconsciously.   I was a kid who loved TV because I could hear many different kinds of songs, and I used to play rhythm by hitting cups on the table with forks and knifes.  When my parents observed me enjoying music all the time amid the background sounds from TV, they took me to the Yamaha music school.

I also loved the songs from Ballet; especially "The Nutcracker" which was my favorite since the first time I heard it, when I was in the 4th grade in elementary school.  The song lingered in my ears after the first time I watched a stage production of it, but mainly I think I was listening to the songs.  I remember that I ran to buy all the LP records with songs from "The Nutcracker".  I can still remember most of the songs with the exact same impression I had back then.  Then my world expanded, starting with Tchaikovsky, Khachaturian and Stravinsky, who then introduced me to Bartók and Messiaen.  Some people might call this snobbism or over-reaching or, what ever... I bought a music score of "Le Sacre du Printemps," written by Stravinsky even though I couldn't read music at all.  I remember it was 5th grade in elementary school; I enjoyed looking at those music notes while listening to my favorite LP records.

SeanBird: Please tell us about your musical studies and training.

Kazunori Maruyama: I was crazy with piano practice when I was in Junior High School.  Mainly I played Debussy or Czerny during my lessons.  Among my favorites were the song writers of the post- Romantic period such as Debussy, Ravel and Rachmaninoff.  I also found my favorite songs among the works of the world-famous pop-song group, the Carpenters, and I also enjoyed playing their songs on the piano without a written note, just by copying their songs with my ears.  In that way, I think I was influenced by modern-music and the pop song at the same time, as the songs left their impression on me.

SeanBird: Was it always your intention to pursue a career in music?

Kazunori Maruyama: Because I loved music so much, my first dream was to become a conductor of the orchestra.  But when I learned that a composer has a higher position than a conductor, I switched my goal and become a student in the Department of Music Composition, to learn about song-writing.  When I was in 6th grade in elementary school, I learned about the existence of a high school attached to Tokyo University of the Arts, which is well known as having one of the best, and highest-level educational systems and environments in Japan.  I started learning about harmonics and TAIKO (Japanese drum) for the entrance exam.  I could pass the exam smoothly after those preparation years, but once I became a high school student, I got bored with the academic studies at school.  Instead, my interest was focused on ethnic music, such as Geinō Yamashirogumi.  They are known for both their faithful re-creations of folk music from around the world, as well as their fusion of various traditional musical styles with modern instrumentation and synthesizers.  — In those days, I was very interested in gamělan, African, and Japanese traditional music (such as Noh/Japanese traditional performing art) — so I attended lectures provided by this group.  Maybe I should have taken more advantage of the school I attended, rather than more from out of school activities.

As a matter of course, I started attending the Tokyo University of the Arts when I became of age, but my interest was still attracted by "out of school activities", more than the academic classes at school.  One day, one of my friends asked me if I would be interested in a job involving writing scores for a TV program that played pop songs.  Thus, I started my job as an assistant for the big band's live broadcast team.  After awhile, I found employment as a piano player for the rehearsal/practice stages at the popular Japanese musical group called GEKIDAN SHIKI.  I had the good fortune to be present as a practice pianist at the first performance of "A Chorus Line" and "Evita" in Japan.  Thinking back about my University student years, I think I gave only half of myself toward my academic school studies.  For my final creation as a student, I constructed an electric piano concerto, something like Chick Corea's sound.

SeanBird: Who are your musical influences?

Kazunori Maruyama: When I think about the most influential artists ... as I already said, I'll start my list with Tchaikovsky; And then, Stravinsky, Bartók and Messiaen.  They all influenced my life greatly.  From the pop sounds field, my interest wasn’t peaked by the Beatles’ sounds, but the music of Burt Bacharach and the Carpenters made a huge impression on me.  When I got interested in Fusion music, Bob James, Dave Grusin and the Japanese band Casiopea taught me a lot about the newest Fusion sounds back then.  I also got into Progressive Rock, when I heard the irregular rhythm of Genesis, and some other groups.

SeanBird:  What music do you like o listen to?

Kazunori Maruyama: Recently, my ears are more attracted by the new sounds, so-called Club music, Ambient sounds, or Electronica.  I'm not satisfied only by acoustic sounds anymore, and when I noticed this fact, I started to learn DTM/DAW.  I haven't done any work with this new skill of mine, but I'm experiencing this new and weird musical phenomenon, and experimenting, searching for something new, between Pop and Classical sounds, these days.

SeanBird: Can you give us some insight into your writing process?  When you compose music, how do you progress from inspiration to creation?

Kazunori Maruyama: My debut as a professional musician wasn't early.  I worked more in the music teaching business until the age of thirty.  Then in my early thirties, I experienced many different kinds of assistant jobs, such as arranger of songs for TV programs, including Kids TV programs, while still at the university.  The first TV programs that I was involved with were "Chisana Tabi (little trip)” and "BIJUTSUKAN (The Museum of Art)".  I also remember my first songwriting for kids’ animation was for "MAMA WA POYO-POYO ZAURS GA OSUKI (My mom loves Poyo-poyo-saurus)". After these programs, I started to get offers from NHK (the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation) to write songs for the Opening theme of the News, and for the popular short soap opera program called "CHUGAKUSEI NIKKI (Junior High School Students Diary)".  Then they offered me some more little projects for a series of lunch time soap operas.  It was when I was around age forty, that they finally offered me a big project for the well known morning soap opera series called "Chura-san (Ms. Beauty)".  Also at that time, I got more animation song-writing jobs from the other TV station, TV Tokyo.  I was able to express myself through the mixture of my favorite types of music, and the sound came out in a mixture of pop, classical and modern music.  When I was working on the music for the animation called "BOMBERMAN JETTERS," somehow I loved the taste of decadent sound and I played piano accompaniment a lot.  I listened to Chanson and Charlotte Gainsbourg a lot during this period.  So, maybe you can hear how I was influenced through my piano solos and BGM's I made back then.

SeanBird: How did you become involved with composing music for movies / anime? Please tell us about the scoring process behind a production such as Bomberman Jetters.  Where in the process do you, as a composer, become involved?  Do you get to see the animation ahead of time? You also composed the score for the series, Transformers Super Link; please tell us what your experience was like producing music for that series.

Kazunori Maruyama:  Recently I took part in the project "The Harimaya Bridge", a film written and directed by American filmmaker Aaron Woolfolk.  It was a movie filmed in Kochi Prefecture, Japan and San Francisco, California, U.S.A.  The director, Aaron, had a pure sensibility.  Though he was a young American guy, from another country and culture, I was impressed with the way he saw the landscape and scenery of the Japanese countryside, and because of his senses, I could write songs with an objective point of view which was very different from my original Japanese point of view.  I could write songs that express the beauty of Japan, because when I worked together with him, I felt as if I were watching Japan and Japanese culture from the other side of the world.

About the creation of movie soundtracks, I feel very comfortable with writing songs when I can create with an objective attitude toward the movies.  I studied my scenes while working on projects from the special programs provided by NHK,  "GEKIDO CHICHUKAI (Rapid Changes in Mediterranean Sea)", "AFRICA ZERO (Zero Africa)", "Eurasia" and "ISLAM CHOURYU (Islam's Stream)", etc... All of these series are related to one theme, "war".  The program itself contained a message telling the tragic reality of our life that war is still occurring in some places of this world.  I appreciated this series of chances to write songs to express my objective attitude in song writing.  I think soap opera or animation is something to express the inner emotions and I can enjoy such an approach.  But I personally think I am pretty well fitted to work that requires a good balance to see both the music and the movie with an objective point of view.

Last year, I worked on the kids’ animation called "NEGIBOUZ NO ASATARO (Asataro the Leek Bonz/Onion Head)".  The main character of this animation is a Leek boy, and others are garlic, cucumber, peach, onion etc. ... all the characters of this animation are vegetables.  The story takes part in the Edo era in the form of JIDAIGEKI (old kimono style drama), and these characters go out on a journey which takes place on the historical road called TOKAIDO GOJU SANTSUGI (53 Stations of the Tokaido).  I personally thought this animation was a very heart-warming and lovable story.  I was very happy to work on its songs together with the teacher of Naniwabushi Recitation, and it was a very enjoyable project.  The soundtrack is out in CD format, so if you are interested, I think you should try listening to it at least once!

SeanBird: Do you have any current or upcoming projects that you would like to talk about?

Kazunori Maruyama: Last autumn, on September 13 at the Suntory Hall in Tokyo, I released my newly written celebration song for Orchestra which is entitled "KAGAYAKU CHIKYU (The shining earth)".  I expressed my image of future earth, filled with hope, in a 4 and 1/2 minute song, by means of magnificent and universal sounds.  Through this project, I found new ways of expression.  Maybe John Williams’ sound was an influence on this project; I felt that energies inside of me came out very naturally in this work.  On October 25th, I released another new song in Kyoto.  It was a project together with a person from Bunraku's Ningyo Joruri (a form of traditional Japanese puppet theater), 2 persons from the opera and a small group from the orchestra.  We performed a famous scene called "Michiyuki no Dan (道行の段)" from the story "SONENAZKI SHINJU (The Love Suicides at Sonezaki)".  Apart from pop songs and orchestra sounds, I also write original songs that include traditional Japanese sounds such as Koto, and also Koto ensembles.

In future, I'd like to write more songs that make the best use of the traditional Japanese sounds.  And I wish to have my projects linked together with film.  On the other hand, this is still in the experimental stage, but... I want to create a new song with a new sound that no one has ever heard.  Maybe the sound will be in the category of Electronica.  I wish to write songs for film projects with such new types of sounds.

I think there are no big differences between song writing and soap opera and/or film sound track creations.  I manage to fulfill the order the director asks me to match the sound to the screen.  But for the most part, first I get the order and then I write songs that follow the order.  Then as the next step, a 3rd party will choose the songs that can be fit to scenes on the screen, so I don't experience much difference  whether I write songs for animation, film, or soap opera.  However, between these three, I think animation is the hardest one to write songs for.  The reason is, it’s hard to understand the characters just by seeing them drawn on the storyboard.  Not ‘till I see the characters moving on the monitor together with their voices, do I finally start to understand the characters and the world they live in.

As far as animation, I like Power Rangers sort of series, especially after I wrote songs for "TRANSFORMERS ENERGON (Transformer Sparkling)" and "MASKED RIDER RYUKI (Kamen-rider Ryuki)".  After all, I think I like the story that takes part in different worlds, far apart from our real life.  So, when I heard about the offer from the project team of "NEGIBOUZU NO ASATARO", I felt very lucky to have the opportunity.  About 10 years ago, I took part in another animation project called "Takoyaki Mant Man".  The main character of that story was a Japanese traditional food, Takoyaki (popular Japanese dumpling with a piece of octopus inside).  Somehow, I can face with my work with delight and enthusiasm when the situations and the characters are unique/ and or unrealistic.

SeanBird: Recently, I became aware of the fact that you have served as a professor of Music and Fine Arts.  How did this opportunity come to be, and how did you feel about it?

Kazunori Maruyama: Another thing that I've been seriously working on is a musical project for children.   I've been working on this project for about 10 years.  I write songs and teach the children how to sing.  All the performers are children who passed an audition.  By curtain call, everyone who involved in the project starts to cry from a sense of satisfaction.  I think this project is very memorable and important for each child’s life, and I hope this project will be an unforgettable experience of their childhood.  Maybe ... not only for the children.  I genuinely think that I want to continue this project as my lifework.

I've been teaching for years.  I personally don't have my own child, but the students I teach are the children of my generation, they are my generation’s children.  And I think it's my responsibility to send them out to society in the best way I can.  Especially these days, I feel this responsibility quite heavily.

Recently, more song writers are in the music business and it is getting more and more difficult for the students to get jobs that are directly related to what they studied.  I think this kind of trend is happening in many areas, not only in the song writing business, but the balance between the supply and demand of creators and listeners is about to collapse.  I understand that it's a good thing to have open entry for everyone, and I think it’s fair to have equal opportunity for all to tryout, but when I think about the future situation of this balance, to be honest... I am a little anxious.  Though, I always strive to send out positive influences. 

SeanBird: In conclusion, is there anything you would like to talk about that we have not discussed thus far?

Kazunori Maruyama: I appreciate having this chance to be interviewed and to be heard by all the listeners of this program.

Despite the haves and have-nots of this occupation, there are millions of young and excellently talented people who know how to express and create wonderful music in this world.  My wish is that we may give good encouragement to each other, and enhance one another.  I'm not bright about the current music scene out of Japan, but whenever I think about the thousands of millions of bright talents all over the world, I feel encouraged and inspired.  Thank you very much for your listening.

This is Kazunori Maruyama.  Thank you.