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Commissioned by Azabu Alumni Orchestra (amateur orchestra)

Performance duration



August 12, 2019, Tokyo, Suntory Hall Main Hall

Conductor: Masato Suzuki

Azabu Alumni Orchestra

Year of composition



str( - assistant performoers(by wind instrumentalists and percussionists) - audience

Commentary (English version)

I usually carefully observe the changes in the society around me and the community I live in - which can be both short term and long term perspectives - and want to find out why. And if I can see a problem in the structure of the society or country from that, I may create a work of art on that theme, with the desire to appeal to others.

Let me explain the process of experiencing this piece. First, the audience will be blindfolded just before the start of the performance (it's not compulsory, but the composer would like them to do so whenever possible). In other words, the audience will listen to the performance with their vision blocked, and the music coming from the string orchestra (which is supposed to be playing on the stage) is quite low in volume, with only chords, and the changes in the constituent and length of those chords, as well as the changes in the length of rests between chords, are minute. Therefore, the audience (who can enjoy this kind of situation) will naturally have keenly senses other than hearing. In such a very quiet hall, after a short time has passed since the start of the performance, available wind and percussion players (and the composer himself, if he is present) will enter from the backstage as assistant performers, without making a sound, and will be dispersed throughout the hall. The assistant performers will walk around the hall as quietly as possible, read, eat and drink, play games (anything from chess and board games to portable game consoles), blow bubbles, etc. (but only with the hall's permission). In addition, they will take pictures (not only still pictures, but also video) of the hall using a photo application on their smartphones (which does not make a shutter sound), and post them in real time on SNS such as Twitter and Instagram with a exclusive hashtag. After a while, the assistant performers leave the stage offstage, out of the hall, before the string orchestra finishes its performance. With the audience's vision blocked, those with good intuition or sensitivity might be able to vaguely notice that something is going on around them, but they will not be able to grasp the specifics because it is forbidden to take off the blindfold until the performance is over. Accordingly, the audience will then be able to see what was happening in the hall during the performance by actively viewing photos and videos on social networking sites during the intermission and after the performance.

Why did I compose such a piece where the music that the audience can hear is only slightly changing, and where the audience's view is blocked so that they are not shown what is happening in real time during the performance, but are made to grasp what is happening by actively viewing photos and videos on social media after the performance? The reason is that I want people to be more aware and sensitive to the things that are hard to notice in their daily lives, the things that they see but don't think about because they take them for granted, and the things that are slowly but surely changing in our society.

I have lived in Japan for many years now, and the parts of my life that are familiar to me are slowly but surely changing. For example, when I was in elementary school, most of the people who worked part-time at convenience stores and fast food restaurants were Japanese (as far as I am aware). As I progressed through junior high school, high school, and college, the part-time workers at such restaurants shifted from Japanese to Chinese and Korean, and recently, I have the impression that they are shifting even further to Southeast Asian and Arab people. At the time of composing this piece, I was living in my parents' house in Yokohama, where I have lived for more than 20 years, and I saw more foreign people living in my neighborhood than ever before.
As you can see, there are many foreign people working in these easily visible areas, but in fact, there are also many foreign people working in places far away from the city that we cannot usually see, such as plants (lunch plant, plant that pack products, etc.). Many of them are foreign students. The reason for the increase in the number of foreign students is the "Plan for 300,000 Exchange Students" formulated by the Japanese government in 2008 as part of its "Global Strategy" to develop Japan into a more open country to the world. As a result, many foreign students have come to Japan, but many of them come from poor families. Since these people come to Japan with debts, they have to repay their debts and also pay for their schooling. Therefore, they have to work illegally, far exceeding the maximum working hours of 28 hours or less per week allowed for international students (wages are also low). As a result, I spend most of my time going back and forth between school and work with little time to sleep. However, if I don't work, I have to pay school and dormitory fees, and if I can't pay, I will be expelled from school and forced to return home. Furthermore, there are problems such as excessive shifts and non-payment of wages, and when they try to complain, they are usually threatened with being reported to the Immigration Bureau. There are also cases where the workplace is "affiliated" with a Japanese language school, and working at the workplace is a condition for enrollment, and the moment you quit, you may be forced to leave the school and return home. Although many foreign students have come to Japan as a result of the Japanese government's policy, the reality is that many of them are from poor families who are tricked into coming to Japan with debts by statements such as, "If you go to Japan, you can earn 300,000 yen a month". Japan has been inviting a lot of foreign students to Japan as part of its "Global Strategy", but there is almost no support for those who actually come to Japan, and the above-mentioned problems have been erupting.
I will not go into detail here, but in addition to the problem of foreign students, there is also the problem of technical intern trainees. These problems are sometimes reported in the news, but perhaps because of the overflow of information, many people are quickly swept away by other information and forget about it, or perhaps they pretend to ignore it. It has been said for a long time that Japan has a full range of services and that life in Japan is much more convenient than in other countries. However, the things that make these services possible have been changing with time. I sincerely hope that we Japanese need to face up to what makes Japanese services and convenience possible, and what we are sacrificing now.

Commentary (Japanese version)










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