Japanese Peruvian composer and intermedia artist Pauchi Sasaki trained as a violinist, electro-acoustic musician and journalist. As she has become a composer, performance has remained an important part of how she creates music. This approach towards music composition is manifested through the creation of self-designed instruments, and especially through an unusual form of costume-making: Sasaki also builds electronic dresses made out of speakers. During her year of collaboration with her Rolex mentor, Philip Glass, Sasaki was commissioned to compose a new work for flutist Claire Chase, which involved the design of a dress made out of speakers, titled “Speaker Dress No. 2”. A few days before the world premiere performance at the Kitchen in New York, Sasaki told Steven Thrasher about creating sound and learning from her mentor as she put the finishing touches on her latest electronic dress at a studio in Brooklyn.
What has it been like working with Philip Glass?
It has been a very busy year! I have seen him perform and collaborate with artists in Tokyo, Bucharest, Paris and California. We also got together to talk at his house in New York City and I have visited his office several times to get advice on music management. I also have followed the music production process of a documentary and I found it very interesting since I love to work on film scores. To see him directly working on a film project has been a very rewarding experience.
How do you sense rhythm and time in composition?
My main instrument is the violin, so my relationship to melody is very strong. In my music, time tends to be a very subjective experience. I look to the violin, which is used in so many different ways, in different countries and places: in the Andes, in India, the fiddle here in America. Each type of music has its own magic and its own relationship with time. I’ve studied classical music and other musical traditions such as Indian music. Something that is very strong about Indian music is the rhythm. Its structure is so flexible and powerful. It can start slow, get “under the skin” and then, little by little, start to build up. I love the effect of shrinking the time, how the combination of rhythms creates pressure − and then it delivers, boom! This is something Philip [Glass] has in his music: He explores that freedom of rhythm. He writes his music based on two rhythmic units, one conformed by two beats and the other one by three beats, and from there he creates infinite permutations.
You’re making a dress out of speakers for flutist Claire Chase. Why?
I always wondered about how it would feel to become sound. When I started the Speaker Dress project, my main goal was to achieve a visual manifestation of sound and to create a facilitator for sound embodiment. The dress asks the performer to experiment with another way of being a performer and I felt Claire would enjoy exploring her body as instrument. Musicians, you can see that they are playing on stage, but they always are behind the instrument. The dress asks the performer to relate to the audience in a more direct way.
This is the second dress you’ve made out of speakers. You’ve also made one for yourself. How do you feel when you wear it? How does it change you, especially as you prepare to perform on the same stage where your mentor's work has been performed?
When I perform with the Speaker Dress, I shut down my brain. After a performance, I don’t remember what I performed, because I got into a state. Claire is more present and embodied while performing. She integrates so much of the flute into her body language. It’s very beautiful, the body language she develops with her instrument. I’m very happy to present this piece at the Kitchen, since this space has witnessed so many groundbreaking explorations throughout decades, as Philip’s early works.
Is making the electronic dresses a kind of composition? Tell me about your experiences creating music and creating something visual. Are they the same? Different?
I feel like sound is one of the purest manifestations. In my experience, sound doesn’t come straight from the head, it has to be the consequence of something. My process always has to do with creating the environment or the concept, so that the concept, space or object pushes the resulting sound. So if I create a dress, the resulting sound is influenced by the particularities of each performer, the body language, voice’s tone and range, personality, etc.
Sound as a consequence − that makes sense.
Yes! Have you ever seen little kids when they start moving to dancing music? And they start to move like they are possessed! Like they are not thinking, they’re moving. I’m intrigued when sound awakes a bodily experience. I love that quality of inevitability. I said to myself, I can create projects as seeds, and from each single seed, sound will emanate naturally and inevitably. If I create a seed − here, this dress is the seed − everything will come from that seed. This is something I have been realizing about myself over the past few years.
In 2012, I put together a multimedia opera in Peru. I wanted to call it Muru and I invited several local and international artists to collaborate. Because I am Japanese Peruvian, I ended up choosing names that have meaning in Quechua and that also have a meaning in Japanese. My mother is Japanese, and she also studied Quechua. She told me that in Quechua, “muru” means “seed”, and in Japanese it means a kind of eternal, ongoing dream. So I named this performance Muru: The Force of Inevitability. I wanted to make a work about the environment that artists grow their seeds in. That was one moment where I clarified my process. Now I understand myself, kind of, and that I compose not just by sitting down in front of a paper.