Imagine this: It’s the middle of April in 2020, and you, a musician, have gone to visit Shibuya to capture a sound recording of Shibuya Scramble, the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world. Instead, you find yourself in the middle of totally deserted streets.
This is exactly where musician Shuta Hasunuma found himself the day after former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a nationwide state of emergency in Japan. “There were just these artificial sounds from the advertisement screens echoing. All these videos aimlessly on repeat, speaking to no one,” says Hasunuma in an interview with Metropolis. “It was totally bizarre.”
The sounds of human life are essential to Hasunuma’s creative process, especially as the head of one of Japan’s most unconventional orchestra groups: the Shuta Hasunuma Full Philharmonic Orchestra. The pandemic forced him to rethink how the 26 member collective, which notably includes Black Boboi’s young steelpan player Utena Kobayashi and Sendai-born rapper Tamaki ROY, would continue to create music in this new normal.
“We recorded our latest album FULLPHONY in spring last year ,” explains Hasunuma, “but this album landed in a totally unexpected place amidst the pandemic. So I worked on these songs again, reflecting upon what ensemble sound means while staying distanced and at home.”
Thus, the vinyl version of the album, which was released in October 2020, has the original songs on side A, while the B side includes Hasunuma’s remix versions of the same songs, which he made during the state of emergency.
To Hasunuma, vinyl is still an important aspect of an album despite an increasingly digitized world. “The German philosopher Walter Benjamin once said that an aura doesn’t exist in the reproductive form of a work of art, but I think it does. Vinyl still plays a key role in owning and experiencing music. Having a vinyl of this album on a wall is surely also a good way of enjoying it.”
The album cover was designed by renowned graphic designer and illustrator Tadanori Yokoo. “I’ve always been a huge fan of him and had always thought that he would match the concept of this album. I’m glad I was able to work with him,” Hasunuma says.
The orchestra originally formed in 2010 with 15 artists. “I didn’t intend to make such a huge group,” admits Hasunuma. The orchestra doesn’t follow any kind of traditional style that a classical orchestra would, and so the musical collective doesn’t come across as a disciplined team. It’s rather an epitome of human relationships.
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“We have many different members playing different instruments that a normal orchestra never would,” Hasunuma says. “Each member comes from a totally different background and our paths only cross when we perform together for this project. I think this represents our lives well. I like how disorganized this orchestra is, like the world in which we live.”
“I don’t see myself as the conductor or the leader of my orchestra project,” he continues. “Setting rules and boundaries is not the way to lead such a huge group of people towards the same direction. My role is to create a relaxed atmosphere in which anyone can feel comfortable and respect each other. Humans are all different. It’s important to listen to each other.”
Check out the Shuta Hasunuma Philharmonic Orchestra’s website for more information and updates.