Sound Decision
Sixth S.E.N.S.

by Jonathan Mays,
Most of the time when artists are interviewed here, it is because they are visiting or selling a new album in America. In the case of S.E.N.S, the process worked in reverse.

By chance I saw a Japanese drama called God, Please Give Me More Time, and I loved the music so much that I spent about a year trying to find the group for an interview. With considerable help from Soundmen on Wax's Shuji Hirose and S.E.N.S. manager Toshiyuki Baba, I was finally able to pose some questions to writer and pianist Yukari Katsuki.

And now, I learn that Katsuki is wrapping up work on Production IG's xxxHOLiC anime, which premieres in Japan in May and will certainly be released over here. Just like that, my personal quest to talk with the composer of an eight-year-old Japanese drama is relevant and timely.

Katsuki and co-composer Akihiko Fukaura formed S.E.N.S. in 1988 and have since become the most successful instrumental group in Japan's history. Their credits include films Dead Run and A City of Sadness, several NHK documentaries, countless Japanese and Korean dramas, and the Kurau: Phantom Memory anime.

They have toured Japan annually for 18 years. One of their outdoor concerts in 1990 attracted 300,000 and was well received on Germany's ZDF network. More recently, they played at Shea Stadium before a Mets game in 2003. After two years between original albums, their Hotel Asia dropped in December. I believe it, and this interview, were worth the wait.

How did you and Akihiko start working together?
Both of us started individual careers in Fukuoka and went to Tokyo independently. We decided to form a band together when we met in Tokyo.

When did you first fall in love with writing music?
When I was eight, I received a trophy at a school music contest. Since then, being a composer was my dream.

And now you have a Gold Disc award, Japan's highest music honor.
Receiving a prize from school at the age of eight, a prize at my hometown Fukuoka in my 20s, and a grand prize from Japan in my 30s... I realize I'm reaching out to a bigger stage, but the feeling and joy of winning a prize has not changed since my first one.

What is your favorite instrument to compose for?
Piano. I can express my feeling straight as if I'm singing since I can play it by myself.

Your profile says you're a computer programmer. How does that fit in?
Our songs are a marriage of acoustic instruments and electronic instruments. I perform the piano and vox. We use computer for the basic tracks and non-acoustic sounds.

Sorry for the tedious question, but could you give a bit of your musical background?
Ever since I was a small child, I used to put some of my thoughts and emotions which were not possible for me to express verbally (to close friends and parents) into music with messages. And that has led me to my singer-song writer career.

I only started creating instrumental songs after we formed S.E.N.S. I studied classical music at school and popular music from The Beatles and others by my own.

I didn't realize it was so late. How have you learned to relate without words?
I pour my message and emotion into the melody I create. I wish that each listener that listens to my music be touched by my music, feel associated with it, in their own way. Since the songs do not have Japanese lyrics, I guess you found something of your own from our music, too. In fact, instrumental music holds its strength—it will not be limited in its communication scheme and will reach out to all regardless of nationality, age, or sex.

What is your favorite work so far?
We have made 300 songs and over 40 albums. Since we make songs one by one with a fresh feeling, it is hard for me to say which song is more interesting than the others.

Looking back on your first project, what do you think of it now?
Our first project was the "Poseidon" soundtrack album for the NHK (Japan's PBS) documentary program called The Silk Road of the Sea. We were more than overwhelmed and influenced by the absolutely strong and beautiful world. It was the moment we gave birth to a new genre called S.E.N.S., music which was neither Katsuki nor Fukaura.

What is the biggest thing you have learned since then?
Our sound was "born" when we made "Poseidon." Our emotion and style of creation has not changed since, but owing to new technology and life experience, we trust it with the flow. I think our music never stops evolving.

I think your music strikes on a very poignant level. Do you have a way to get into the mood, maybe a favorite place to compose?
If a song I create does not move me and fill me with tears, I will not release it because I doubt a song that does not move me can move another single person.

I try to maintain my health in good condition, and feel the joy of creation as I do not like my songs to be affected by negative emotion. I clean my home studio and change into my outing outfit before I start working. Although I know that the listeners will not see this process, I only believe that a beautiful song can be born from a beautiful environment.

I think you can sense it in songs like Reason from The Key and Little Miracles from Hotel Asia. You spend a long time on the opening note, and then the melody falls softly into itself.
In such a stressful society like which we live in, I think people grow to have a sharper sense—and without even knowing it themselves, tend to reach out to the only “real” music. That is why I believe in the importance of creating music in a purified environment.

Some of your albums, like Wish, revolve almost entirely around one theme. How do you develop the theme, and then stretch it into an album?
A "story" consists of one big theme and some smaller themes. Our albums are also built on a similar structure, consisting of many songs that lead to one message. One story is completed when and only when you totally hear all songs of the album.

To me, some of the qualities that stand out most in your music are the way your instruments melt into each other, and that you are not afraid to go into very high registers, especially with the strings or guitar. I also like how you drift into New Age from time to time.
Thank you very much. If I may, I would like to add the importance I see in expressing emotions in the melody. I aim and always search to find the right instrumental match to perform that certain melody.

I like how you do that—using clarinet or horn to soar above the harmony. Anyway, before I geek out too much, let's move on. How was it different to work on an animated series like Kurau?
Songs I create are influenced by the theme each visual creation holds. Kurau is a highly imaginative animation about space and force. It showed me things I can never see in everyday life. I think this led me to create new songs with new vibes that I was not aware of within myself.

Can you describe what it is like to be at one of your concerts?
You would need to bring a towel with you to S.E.N.S.'s concert. I recommend people not be shy and cry when they feel the emotion. But at the climax, you'll be standing up and feeling the need to wipe your forehead. Our concert is where people sweat and tear, and eventually feel freed and refreshed by the time they go out the door—feeling positive about tomorrow. I'm always making and performing songs thinking this way.

How about one of your favorite concert memories?
In one of the outdoor concerts I had, the organizer decided to cancel the concert due to heavy rain that poured in the middle of the concert. But we kept on performing and the audience of 3,000 did not leave until the end.

That must have been incredible. What about performing at Shea Stadium in New York City?
I was nervous and did not know what to expect from the audience before our performance. But I realized and felt determined that the song and my message that I consign to the instrumental songs reached the audience by seeing the audience cheer at the end.

How did you end up playing there?
A staff member from the Mets liked our song “The Beginning” from the album The Key and offered us to perform the song.

What projects are you working on these days?
I'm currently producing music for an animation called xxxHOLiC, which launches in May.

Is there anything you haven't done musically that you would like to try sometime?
Not that I can think of at this moment. I wish I could continue creating songs in the future just like I do now.

Thanks very much for your time.
Thank you.

S.E.N.S Official Site
S.E.N.S. CDs on CDJapan | YesAsia
Sound Decision reivew of Wish

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