Composer In the Land of the Rising Yen

Composer In the Land of the Rising Yen

Ed Note: NMBx would like to welcome composer and professor Carl Stone to the Chatter section. Stone has graciously agreed to jump into the conversation here and bring his extensive experience in computer music and the ex-pat lifestyle to these pages. I’d say more, but he’s about to tell you all about it himself, so I’ll let him take it away.—MS

Greetings from Tokyo! I’m really tickled that Molly and the good folks here at NewMusicBox have asked me to start “chattering.”

A few words of self-introduction. I’m a composer working mostly in the area of live computer music, which I’ve been doing since 1986. I was on the board of the American Music Center from 1986 until 2002, and served as board president for three of those years during which time we laid the groundwork for what has become—due to fantastic work by Frank Oteri and the rest of the Center’s staff—what is in my opinion one of the AMC’s most important and excellent services: NewMusicBox, the site you are currently inside.

I’m a native Californian, having spent the first forty years of my life in Los Angeles before moving to San Francisco in 1993. Aside from stints as the music director of KPFK-FM in Los Angeles and as the director of Meet The Composer/California, I had been an otherwise completely freelance composer since graduating from the California Institute of the Arts in 1975. Living off a combination of grants, commissions, performances, odd jobs, and miscellany, I basically enjoyed the life, however difficult financially it often was. But in 2001, while I was in Japan for a six-month stint as artist-in-residence at IAMAS, a media art center in Japan, I was offered a professorship at Chukyo University. While I truly love Japan and had visited and worked there many times since the mid-’80s, I never imagined pulling up my US stakes and moving there lock, stock, and barrel. Plus, having never seriously considered a life in academia—and, in fact, taking some pride in the fact that I had been surviving without having to teach—I was further ambivalent about the offer and put off giving my answer for quite a while.

In the midst of my dithering, the events of September 11, 2001, took place. I watched the mood in the country turn from good-will and mutual support to a sort of pseudo-patriotic jingoism. The passage of the Patriot Act, and the numerous alarming provisions it contained, disturbed me greatly. I now felt I wanted to put some distance between myself and a country that seemed to be going badly astray. The offer of a full professorship and a lifetime appointment abroad suddenly had a different meaning, and finally I accepted.

Still, I have not left the US completely. I maintain a place in the US and visit a few times a year, both for family and professional musical reasons. My school is pretty supportive of my travel around the world to perform, a fact that weighed in my decision to take the job. But I’m glad to be based in Tokyo, a city which is, to put it bluntly, a total blast to live and work in and one of the most amazing urban soundscapes in the world.

NMBx has asked for my perspective both as a composer of computer music (however outside the mainstream of that world I happen to be) and as a musical ex-pat, and in both cases I’m glad to oblige. I’d love to know any particular things that would be of interest to you to hear about, and I welcome your comments or emails. Douzo enryou naku yoroshiku onegai itashimasu!

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

6 thoughts on “Composer In the Land of the Rising Yen

  1. sarahcahill

    from the other side of the Pacific Rim
    Come back home, Carl! We miss you, and the current administration can’t last forever!

  2. Chris Becker


    “Mom’s” had a big impact on me as a composer. It’ll be great to read your commentary here on Nmbx.

    Does Japan have in its social structure artists who basically juggle day jobs with their creative work without much regard for financial payoff? In NYC, it has become more of a challenge to produce music and dance and manage to pay rent and buy groceries. And yet creative work still gets done – its almost a tradition in the U.S. But is there such a thing as a working class artist in Japan? Is there more money for those involved in the avant-garde? Do parents pressure their kids to avoid artistic career paths?

    Forgive my ignorance about Japan and its culture! I look forward to learning a bit more…

  3. carlstone

    Chris, thanks for your kind words about “Moms”. And here’s a wave to Sarah!

    Chris, I would say that the situation in Japan is much closer to that in the US than, say, Europe. There is a cultural agency, the Bunkacho, that is somewhat like the NEA, and also Japan Foundation. But I rarely hear about composers gettting subsidies or stipends for creative time to work. Foundations are few and far between. Almost every composer has some sort of day job, even Takemitsu did film soundtracks from time to time, although as a film buff, I think he usually enjoyed the work.

    Business sometimes support arts activities in powerful ways that we a rarely see in the US. One of the best contemporary art museums in Tokyo used to be located in a department store. An important theater/music hall/gallery in town is owned and operated by a manufacturer of brassieres. One of the best paying gigs I have had anywhere was a one day panel apperance and performance at a conference on Futurism and the Arts, sponsored by……a zipper company.

    I’ll definitely be writing more about the situation for composers in Japan in future editions of my column, so please stay tuned!

  4. David

    Hi Carl –

    How can there be a whole introduction to Carl Stone which doesn’t mention either oriental restaurants or food?

    Can this be the same Carl Stone I remember from the old Sukothai days?

    What have you been having for dinner lately, Carl?

    And more importantly, can I write an entire comment using only questions?


  5. carlstone

    Here’s one for you – David who?

    Oops, never mind, I just examined your email address more closely. Just how many hours a day DO you spend in front of a computer, David?

    Dinner last night was a Korean soft tofu stew, at a place that, it turns out, has branches both in Tokyo and Los Angeles, and I commend anyone within striking distance of either city to it: BCD Tofu House. And no, I haven’t title one of my compositons after it. Yet.

  6. David

    We’ve discovered two Korean Tofu restaurants in, of all places, Arcadia – just east of Pasadena – a place filled with Chinese restaurants galore. Tofu stew is the perfect meal for those cold Southern California nights.

    We’re a little too far from Korea town to try many places over there – but good Korean restaurants tops the list of reasons to move to mid-Wilshire. Possibly the only reason to move to mid-Wilshire.


    (P.S. I spent ALL my time in front of my _three_ computers. Except for when I walk the dog – but then I might listen to my iPod – that’s a computer too, you know.)


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