Visual music: Ayako Fujiki

Japanese pianist Ayako Fujiki has had an eclectic career. She trained as a classical pianist in Japan, Austria, France and the UK, then specialised in Spanish Classical music with Alicia de Larrocha as a teacher and mentor.

Since then she has recorded an album of Franz Schubert pieces, another featuring Goyescas’ Granados Suite and recently released a CD of her own compositions brightwater. In an exclusive interview for IAM she explains how she developed her unique sound, and how releasing a classical album is about far more than just the music.

What are the influences and inspirations behind your new album brightwater?
My influences come from a variety of sources. I have studied classical music from a young age, but while I love classical I also like pop, jazz, rock, world, minimalist, electronic and folk music. When I travel I try to keep in touch with the local music of the places I visit. All of these inspirational sources come together into my head, and I blend these with my Japanese base to make my own unique recipe.

You have described your music as ‘visual’. How do you go about writing visual music?
I want to make music that isn’t just nice to listen to but that tells a story at the same time. As the music proceeds, I try place the story in the mind of the listener. As a result it feels like you are watching my music as well as listening to it. When I am composing I always have strong visual ideas in my head, and these come through in the music.

Ayako Fujiki

How would you describe your brand as an artist, and what elements make up your brand?
I have trained as a classical pianist and I was one of the pupils of Alicia de Larrocha. So, first and foremost I am a specialist in Spanish classical music. My training with Alicia also makes me a pretty good concert pianist (I hope!)

But at a same time, I am a composer. As a composer, my music could be described as classical, neo-classical, world, minimalist – it fits into several categories. I combine my Japanese childhood with these occidental elements from living in the West. My brand is that I mix Japanese and Western elements together in a unique way.

I’d add that my music is not easy to perform…so overcoming that difficulty is also part of my brand as a performer.

Can you tell me about how the artwork for the album came about? Is album artwork still important?
brightwaterMy album artwork comes from the video for the piece Bright Water. For the video I jumped into a pool of water, and the CD jacket and artwork comes from that moment. We had several options, but this was the most visually striking.

The album artwork is quite simple. Lots of people now listen to music on portable devices, rather than buying a CD. This means the artwork is often displayed on a small screen, so simple images work better. Album artwork is still important, but the way it is consumed is different so artists have to bear that in mind.


Why did you decide to make a music video to accompany the album and how was it made?
As I mentioned, I consider my music to be visual in nature, so it is natural for me to make music videos to accompany the compositions. They emphasise the music’s story and help you understand it in greater detail.

When working with the director I first explained the images and feelings that went into the compositions. Bright Water, for example, is inspired by being in water, looking up at the bubbles and the beautiful reflections they create. From there we discussed several ideas and created a couple of stories. I liked the idea of diving into water, so we went with that concept.

The shoot took place in February at the famous minimalist Barcelona Pavilion, designed by Mies van der Rohe. Luckily the management there are fans of my work, so they offered to let us use this fabulous space and bring in a Steinway piano. The door was open so it was cold…but nowhere near as cold as what was to come.

Ayako Fujiki

For the second part of the shoot we went 30km outside Barcelona to a film studio with an outdoor swimming pool. I’m not a bad swimmer, but I’ve never swum in a long dress while wearing makeup – quite a challenge. It is hard to dive into a pool while keeping your eye on the camera and trying to look graceful all at the same time. Also, it was absolutely freezing!

Ayako Fujiki

Even after all the planning that went into it I was still surprised by the result. Seeing how another artist interprets your work is always interesting, and this is another reason why I like to make videos. They are not just a promotional opportunity, but a chance to create a new artistic experience.