Ireneusz Socha talks to James Grigsby
about his latest recording project:
All America City

(September 2000)

Ireneusz Socha: Musically, All America City seems to be penetrating the same vein as City of Mirrors, but going even deeper and broader. This project is subtitled Music from the soundtrack of the motion picture, YU GAKUSEI. Please say something about the film itself. The plot, the place, the characters, the cast, the director, actors, etc.

James Grigsby: The film, for which I wrote the screenplay, has not yet been produced (any courageous producers out there?). Nevertheless, I composed the music, a theoretical soundtrack. The story has elements of a murder mystery, a satire, and a surrealistic fantasy. It involves a young Japanese girl who has come to California to study, but instead of going to school, is working as a hostess in a night club for Japanese businessmen. At the beginning of the film, we see her death in an automobile crash. The film then traces the events surrounding the crash. A local college teacher becomes involved with the spirit of the slain hostess through experiences on the Internet and in his dreams. The underlying theme of the story is the disparity between a person's true character and the personality that is outwardly expressed.

IS: There are lots of small business billboard names used as titles. Why?

JG: Several scenes take place on Western Avenue in the city of Gardena, California, where these signs actually exist. One character is a Japanese businessman on temporary assignment in California. He has brought his family with him, but he is also spending a lot of time and money on a hostess from the night club. He has also borrowed money from a Japanese mobster who has come to collect it. Unable to pay, he fears the consequences. As he drives down Western Avenue in desperation, the business signs become symbols of his failed life.

IS: Could you please translate all Japanese words on the CD (including Yu Gakusei) into English?

JG: YU GAKUSEI is really a slang saying or pun. The term for a student in a foreign country is RYU GAKUSEI (exchange student). The word, YU, means to play. So, a YU GAKUSEI is a student who is playing around in a foreign country, instead of studying. YAMATONADESHIKO is the name of a flower and a term used to describe the epitome of Japanese female beauty combined with inner strength. In my story, it is the name of the night club where many YU GAKUSEI work. IZAKAYA is a generic name for a Japanese bar. HINOKI is the name of a tree, but is also the name of a real Japanese bar on Western Avenue. AMATERASU is the sun-goddess from Japanese mythology. CHA-PATSU literally means "tea-hair" and refers to Japanese who dye their hair, usually to a light brown color (the color of tea) or these days, even blond.

IS: What is your working (composer's) method in works such as All America City?

JG: In general, I divide my work into three phases: research, development and implementation. During the research phase I collect fragments of melodies, rhythms, harmonies, textures or concepts. This is an ongoing process, so these "sketches" could be discarded or perhaps used years later. Much of the research (and some of the development) of All America City took place before I began working on City of Mirrors, which was finished and released first. During development I compose the continuity of events and the arrangement of instruments. These days I often work with a software application to construct musical notation, entering each note, rhythm and articulation into the score. In some cases, such as the piece YAMATONADESHIKO, the score is made up of graphic symbols or drawings rather than the usual note-heads on a staff. But, the process is still the same. The final phase, the implementation, consists of rehearsing with other musicians, recording, mixing and so forth. Often the music can change or develop significantly during the implementation.

IS: What inspires you more as a composer? Images? Sounds? Words? Anything?

JG: Of course I'm inspired by other composers and musicians. But as time goes on, I've heard so much music that it is difficult to find something that sounds unique to me. I also love to listen to birds and other animals, but in an urban environment, most of what I hear is the sound of angry or sick humans, automobiles or someone else's choice of music polluting the air. So, inspiration somehow has to come from within myself rather than from my environment. This is my biggest challenge these days.

IS: What composers (or groups) do you find interesting in today's new music and why?

JG: This is a difficult question, because many of my heroes (Messiaen, Takemitsu, Miles Davis, Zappa) are no longer living. I believe the post-war generation of European composers (Xenakis, Stockhausen, Ligeti, Berio, etc.) set a very high standard, which has not yet been surpassed. The next generation, the American "minimalist" school is now exhausted, though Holland's Andriessen suggests a direction for development of a "minimalist" aesthetic to propel it into the future, a feat that the American originators couldn't seem to do. Jazz became very conservative in the 1980s and is now just like visiting a museum or listening to modern musicians playing baroque music. It can be enjoyable, but not vital. John Zorn proposed a new direction, the "jump-cut" effect inspired by the cartoon composer Carl Stalling. Unfortunately, this school doesn't seem to have any students. I haven't heard much of Zorn's music since the 1980s, so I don't know whether he has managed to develop this approach or not. Most of the avant-garde of my generation seem to be preoccupied with improvisation. Though some have tried to develop unique personal languages, for the majority I believe it is just a convenient mode of operation because it does not require composition or even rehearsal. Great sounds can result from improvisation, but often the result is just boring to me.

IS: You're currently working on...

JG: I'm currently working on a piece for 2 pianos & 4 brass. It combines my interests in graphic and traditional notation: the rhythms are derived from graphics, but translated into notation. The pitches are derived from a system of complementary scales I've been working with for a while, but am just starting to codify. Basically, every 7 note scale has a "complementary" 5 note scale with no common notes, so that within a 12-tone texture, two separate tonalities can be suggested. I hope to finish this piece early in 2001.

© 2000 Ireneusz Socha - All rights reserved