Dai Fujikura: Turtle Totem

, composer


Dai Fujikura’s latest release on his Minabel label covers a wide range of instrumentation from solo works for double bass, Japanese sho and electronics, and clarinet; a chamber piece for electric guitar, trumpet and trombone; his Horn Concerto no. 2 and also an orchestra work. Performers who appear on this album also vary widely: the Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra, Ensemble Three, Nobuaki Fukukawa, Ensemble Nomad, Yoji Sato, Makoto Yoshida, Tamami Tono, with two conductors Norio Sato and Antoni Wit. All tracks are edited, mixed and mastered by the composer himself.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Performer(s) Time
Total Time 77:40
Ensemble Three, Joel Brennan, trumpet, Don Immel, trombone, Ken Murray, electric guitar11:47
Horn Concerto No. 2 (Ensemble version)
Nobuaki Fukukawa, horn, Ensemble Nomad, Norio Sato, conductor18:50
Tamami Tono, sho16:59
Scarlet Ibis
Yoji Sato, double bass4:14
Turtle Totem
Makoto Yoshida, clarinet5:18
Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra, Antoni Wit, conductor20:32


Perhaps this work, which was commissioned by the Australian group Ensemble Three, is the happiest composition I have ever written.

I spent some time in Australia with my family when I was 6 years old. We went there from Ja- pan where we then lived.

My memory of that trip to Australia is extremely happy: Christmas Day on the beach, the gor- geous blue sea, the sandy beach. The sands I remember I could not hold, as each grain of sand was so small and so smooth it escaped from between my fingers. The heat, going to the zoo, hugging koala bears (at the time we could hug the koalas), feeding kangaroos.

I was a small kid, but I remember it vividly. I had not returned to Australia since, until the pre- miere of this work. While composing this work (before the premiere, obviously), I was in my small, cold London apartment with the forever grey sky, spending long hours on the video- chatting with the guitarist of the ensemble who was in Melbourne, experimenting with the pedal of the electric guitar.

This piece is based on the memory of my 6 year old self. My happy time in Australia.

Horn Concerto No. 2:

This work was commissioned by Nobuaki Fukukawa. It is very rare for an individual person to commission a large scale work like this concerto and I think it is a wonderful thing. I previously wrote a work for him for solo horn called “Poyopoyo” in which we experimented together to find a sound which is the antithesis of the stereotypical horn sound.

I looked for sensitive, quiet, soft and poetic sounds to represent poyopoyo. In Japanese the word “poyopoyo” describes something soft and squidgy, with a velvety texture - like the cheek of a four month old baby, which is how old my daughter was when I wrote this work. Over online video conferencing we decided to use a bass trombone harmon mute or a specially made harmon mute for horn to achieve the desired effect. The player can open or close the mute with his hand to make the “wah-wah effect, and throughout this piece the speed of this wah-wah effect varies to represent poyopoyo.

With this decision made, I wrote this concerto closely working with Nobuaki over skype, meeting him in person and together spending hours of experimentation to find unusual horn sounds. I think I did this because I generally dislike the typical sound of a classical horn concerto which often sounds macho and noisy. As before, I wanted to do something totally the opposite of that.

Part one of this concerto is a “Poyopoyo” concerto. The orchestra sounds like the wah-wah mute on a horn. Next, I composed the cadenza part of the concerto, which was very new for me as well as for Nobuaki. The sound is nothing at all like a normal horn, nor of European classical music (nor Japanese). We have no idea what it is, but when I found it whilst we were playing around with Nobuaki with his horn in our friend’s apartment, we looked at each other and I immediately jumped up and down with joy, and started composing on the spot. He tried it and it sounded wonderful to me. I hope you will wait to hear what it is!

The cadenza part has become an individual piece called “yurayura”, a little sister piece to this concerto.


This work was commissioned by and written for Tamami Tono.

Sho - Japanese traditional instrument. This is a mouth organ.

It is a beautiful instrument and I always thought that is the problem. Anything played on Sho sounds beautiful. All the traditional Sho music sounds pretty much the same to my ear (apparently it is very different if you know this sound world. How so, I have no idea).

Another unique part of the Sho is that it cannot play fast. Hence, all Sho music is sustained, rather meditative music. Pitches are also very high. Never low notes.

I thought to myself, I imagine “Obi” will be played in a Sho recital (which means no middle or low sounds for the entire concert!), how can I provide a low pitch in the electronics part. All the sounds in electronics parts are originally the sound of the Sho.

I also experimented with Tamami to find out how “allegro” the Sho could play and what I could do if I wanted her to play fast? This is the fastest it can go.

It has a rather meditative feel to it, though I think it sounds vast. Even though all the sounds emanate from the Sho, the actual sound is made by exhaling and inhaling of Tamami’s breath - more natural to human nature than any western classical wind instruments, perhaps.

Scarlet Ibis:

I was originally requested to write this piece with Viennese tuning.

I have written many double bass pieces by now but none of them are for normal tuning. I don’t know why, but I always end up writing for rather unique double bass tuning.

This Viennese tuning, which I didn’t know until I was asked to write using it, creates rather unique natural harmonics.

I have made many revisions to the piece and even during the recording session I wrote a new section working with Yoji Sato, the double bassist who played it in this recording.

Turtle Totem:

I composed this work by researching the historical background of the “Nagara no ZaZa” garden. Turtle Totem was commissioned by the owner of the garden, who also hosted its world premiere.

“Nagara no ZaZa” is a very old garden. I would say it is a traditional, spiritual garden. There is a pond in this garden with a small bridge.

It is believed that when one crosses the bridge, one enters the next world, the afterlife. When you cross back over the bridge, then you return to “this” world.

This ancient spiritual idea upon which the garden was built was fascinating to me. There are turtles in the garden. Not actual turtles, but stones which symbolize the turtle. Some are on top of each other. I read that the turtles travel between these worlds, with little turtles riding on top of them, like totems.

So in this piece, there are two musical worlds. Movements in the low register, often with flutter tongue, to higher, lyrical phrases.

One clarinetist travels between the two sound worlds, very much like the turtle in this garden. The imagery is of going back and forth between the two worlds.


The music is drawn from the score of my opera.

“Umi” means “sea” in Japanese.

Sometimes the strings suggest the movement of sea-waves and the terrifying and unknown feeling you can feel when you are facing the sea.

In the end the sound of this orchestra work has a very different atmosphere from the opera, and I think it expresses a totally different and independent sound world.

-Dai Fujikura (edited by Alison Phillips)

Recording Engineers: Haig Burnell, track 1; Koichi Ishimaru, track 2; Tamami Tono, track 3; Dai Fujikura, tracks 4-5; Mari Yamamoto, track 6

Design: Mihail Mihaylov

Dai Fujikura

Born in 1977 in Osaka Japan, Dai Fujikura was fifteen when he moved to the UK. The recipient of many composition prizes, he has received numerous international co-commissions from the Salzburg Festival, Lucerne Festival, BBC Proms, Bamberg Symphony, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra and more. He has been Composer-in-Residence of Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra since 2014 and held the same post at the Orchestre national d'Île-de-France in 2017/18. Dai’s first opera Solaris, co-commissioned by the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Opéra de Lausanne and the Opéra de Lille, had its world premiere in Paris in 2015 and has since gained a worldwide reputation. A new production of Solaris was created and performed at the Theatre Augsburg in 2018, and the opera received a subsequent staging in 2020.

In 2017, Dai received the Silver Lion Award from the Venice Biennale. In the same year, he was named the Artistic Director of the Tokyo Metropolitan Theater’s Born Creative Festival.

In 2019, his Shamisen Concerto was premiered at Mostly Mozart festival in New York Lincoln Center and there have so far been 9 performances of this work by various orchestras.

In 2020, his fourth piano concerto Akiko’s Piano is to be premiered by Martha Argerich and Dai is currently composing his third opera, which will be revealed to the public in the same year.

His works are recorded by and released mainly on his own label Minabel Records in collaboration with SONY Music and his compositions are published by Ricordi Berlin.




An Earful

This expansive collection puts Fujikura's expertise in nearly every setting - from chamber to orchestral - on full display. Each piece is so assured, with architecturally solid structures, inventive melodies, and innovative instrumental approaches, that he makes everything sound fresh. Even something as hoary as the horn concerto gets a new injection of life from Fujikura's dedication to never taking the easy way out. The first piece, THREE, for trumpet, trombone, and electric guitar, is also a lot of fun, with Fujikura reveling in the sonic possibilities of each instrument. It was commissioned by Ensemble Three, an Australian group whose work I'm now looking forward to exploring. His hand is also sure when it comes to electronics, as on Obi, where he
samples the sound of the sho, a traditional Japanese mouth organ played by Tamami Tono, creating drones and echoes to accompany the instrument. A quick look at his discography finds that Fujikura is remarkably prolific as well. Start here and then dig further into what's sure to be a rich seam of music driven by emotion and skill.

— Jeremy Shatan, 7.19.2020


New York Music Daily

One of the most eclectic and consistently gripping new instrumental albums of recent months is composer Dai Fujikura’s surreallistically titled Turtle Totem, streaming at Bandcamp. The image was inspired by the historic Nagara no ZaZa garden in Japan, where a bridge over a pond supposedly allows visitors to visit the afterlife and then return. All around, there are stone figures of turtles, some piggybacking on others who carry them to the next world (and presumably back as well).

The material here is a mix of orchestral pieces, unorthodox solo works and an opening number that’s essentially jazz. Will all this transport you like a turtle? With a little imagination, yes. As diverse as the sounds are here, Fujikura’s passion for strange tonalities and translucent tunes is contagious.

That first number, Three, is a triptych, which Australian trio Ensemble Three (trumpeter Joel Brennan, trombonist Don Immel and guitarist Ken Murray) tackle expressively in a live performance. The first part is lusciously Lynchian: Murray’s grim chords, awash in reverb, pulse in and out as the horns filter uneasily through the mix. The second part has the horns doing faster wah-wah than the guitar; the third part begins as muted psychedelic funk and ends with a long, acidic guitar solo that brings to mind Gordon Grdina. The composer calls this the happiest piece of music he’s ever written.

The performance of Fujikura’s Horn Concerto No. 2 by Ensemble Nomad with soloist Nobuaki Fukukawa was also recorded live in concert. Fujikura found other horn concertos rather strident, so he and Fukukawa experimented with special mutes for unexpected wah-wah and whale-song effects. And the ensemble mimic them as well, throughout calm, atmospheric passages, chattering acidity, shivery suspense and artful echo riffage for playfully astringent variations on a wobbly sound.

Tamami Tono plays Obi, for sho and electronics. In the liner notes, Fujikura boasts that this is the fastest that the Japanese reed instrument can be played. As he discovered, the answer is midtempo: Tono performs this trippy, immersively meditative piece in her natural upper register, echoed in the lows by what’s essentially a pitch pedal.

Ensemble Nomad bassist Yoji Sato plays another solo work, Scarlet Ibis, in an alternate tuning, evincing natural harmonics and overtones with a mix of fierce plucks and bowed echo phrases (and a ton of reverb). Clarinetist Makoto Yoshida plays the album’s title track, an unexpectedly brisk, circling solo work utilizing plenty of low register and gritty extended technique.

The album ends with a third concert recording, Antoni Wit leading the Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra in Fujikura’s Umi for Orchestra, an oceanic new tone poem based on an excerpt from his opera Solaris. Opening with nebulously atonal vastness, the ensemble shift between waves shiveringly reaching onto the shore, bracing swells that suddenly subside, and a twinkling nightscape anchored by bassoon and cellos. It’s a calmer Hebrides Overture for a new idiom in a new century.

— n/a, 8.14.2020

Related Albums