Picking up where we left off last week, one of the success stories regarding people who have come to Japan by means of a residence grant such as the Japan-US Friendship Commission, US-Japan Creative Artists, or the Asian Cultural Council’s Japan-United States Arts Program is Gene Coleman. Coleman is a composer, musician, and producer who has focused much of his energy on globalization and music’s relationship with architecture and video. Originally a painter, Coleman studied visual art, music, and filmmaking at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1979 to 1984. His principle teachers were Barbara Rossi (painting), Robert Snyder (music), Stan Brakhage and Ernie Gehr (filmmaking). He also studied music composition privately with Ross Feller.
In 2001 Coleman was a recipient of one of the residence grants supported by Japan-US Friendship Commission, and he used his time to make important connections so as to lay the groundwork for future collaborations. He created the group “Ensemble N_JP”, which mixes musicians from the Tokyo experimental music scene with traditional Japanese musicians, and parlayed this into numerous performances in Asia, Europe, and the U.S. He was then invited back to the country as guest composer at the Takefu International Music Festival in June 2002.
Since his Japan-US Friendship Commission residency, Coleman seems to be able to return to Japan on a regular basis, at least once a year. His last swing through the country was just a week ago, during which he performed at a number of venues with a constellation of local musicians and celebrated his 50th birthday onstage at the Shinjuku Pit Inn. I had a chance to catch up with him the next day and record a 30-minute interview for NewMusicBox (as well as for the edification of my students!). We talk about his musical roots and history, concepts in composition and improvisation, and his wealth of international collaborations with people from Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Have a listen and let us know what you think. The comments section is open 24/7, even during the holidays!