Tristan Ooka is a Japanese musician who has also been a programmer for 20 years. Despite facing numerous challenges, he has never given up on his dream and has consistently strived to overcome obstacles. His determination and persistence have led him to achieve remarkable success, culminating in his recent achievement of winning the Gold Award in the Royale Music Competition.
Now, let's delve into the inspiring narrative of Tristan Ooka......
1. How did you first get introduced to music, specifically the horn and composition?
When I started playing wind orchestra as part of my junior high school club activities, I visited the music teacher's room. By chance, two other first-year students were visiting, and the teacher said, "Okay, you three should play the horn. Nice to meet you." That was the beginning of my horn life. According to the teacher, "Whatever instrument you play, if you keep doing it, you'll like it."
I think my first composition was around the first year of junior high school, just like the horn. I really like Japanese composer Koichi Sugiyama's game music, so I made my own battle music aiming for the same kind of coolness. I wasn't very good at the piano and could only play a single melody, so I used two cassette tape recorders side by side to overdub it. Rather than composing, my heart was pounding as if it was an experiment.
2. Could you share a bit more about your work as a computer programmer? Does your profession influence your music in any way or vice versa?
I have been a programmer for over 20 years. Currently, I am in charge of new business at an e-book company, and in the past, I was in charge of consumer service technology such as auctions, Q&A, avatars, games, videos, and e-books at one of Japan's largest web service companies.
In my private life, I created and continue to use software*1 (not AI) that I use for my compositions. Conversely, examples of how music has been useful in my work include the use of self-made sound effects for the fan lottery software for baseball stadiums, and discussions on a new manga posting service*2 I'm working on recently. In the world of comics, it is not easy to get many people to read your work. In order to develop the service further, if there are authors who are likely to lose their motivation, we have to think about what to provide.
3. Can you describe your experience playing the horn in amateur orchestras? Are there any significant performances or moments that stand out?
I think I was blessed. Because I could enjoy the horn in large orchestras such as Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Wagner, Richard Strauss, Bruckner, Mahler, and Holst.
Meanwhile, I have been watching people enjoying classical music performances in orchestras in real time. Among these people, there are many who are passionate enough to say that the orchestra has become their purpose in life. For me, the meaning of the new work is to increase the repertoire of such people.
As an impressive story, there is the experience of the brass quintet live at a facility for the elderly. We played 2 Japanese nursery rhymes, and they applauded aloud before the song was over. Only two songs, but I discovered that listening to music can be enjoyed so proactively.
4. Despite having to give up your dream of becoming a professional horn player due to age, how did you manage to keep your passion for music alive?
It wasn't always possible to sustain the passion. But a few months ago, the passion reignited.
When I was young, I failed many auditions and gave up being a professional horn player. For several years, I joined amateur rock bands and orchestras, had a side job producing karaoke data, and entered composition competitions. After that, I opened a mobile phone ringtone site in private and released orchestral ringtones, which led me to leave music. I created several information sites and tried to create services such as SNS for camera apps, but none of them produced any results.
The reason I regained my passion for composing was when I thought that it would be OK for me to become famous in 500 years. Originally, there was a barrier in my mind, the small number of works, and a barrier of musical style.
If there are many works, someone may be interested. By thinking that I should spend my whole life working on making numbers, I was able to create a sense of leeway.
As a musical style, I had felt that making songs that were outdated would not be accepted by anyone. However, looking back, many of us seem to enjoy their music as it is, without knowing the story of Brahms's return to the classical music, without knowing the period in which Fritz Kreisler lived, the year in which Holst's sci-fi-like "The Planet" was completed, and the period in which Mahler's symphonies were completed. It's only been about 230 years since Mozart died, so I don't think people in the future, 500 years from now, will care about the age of the songs I composed now.
I thought that if I could become a master, what I should do was to make a lot of good songs and label them.
5. You have mentioned a few great composers - Ravel, Nielsen, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner. Can you share how these composers have influenced your own compositions?
I think it's like a library where I go to find musical charms. However, I don't think the actual composition work will proceed without my own sensitivity.
I have only just started my career, but I think it is very difficult to stand shoulder to shoulder with historical composers. We may feel that there are few elements that can be analyzed in old works depending on the era or composer, but if that is the case, the masters are extremely good at using those elements.
By the way, if people get to know a certain historical composer in depth and can stylize it to the level of his personality. In that case, I believe that the result will be an asset for humankind and will create great value, but learning it completely is even more difficult than becoming the composer himself, and I thought I could not do it.
There must be a lot of content, and moreover, the people themselves at that time may have been able to create beautiful things unconsciously due to their unique sense of common sense at the time, and I think there were times when they accidentally incorporated something into the song. I go to the works of great composers to look for hints about the appeal of the songs I want to compose, and I am involved in researching each time what kind of elements make the appeal. In this sense, I think that in the end, I will mobilize all the aesthetics and values that I have at the moment, and compose music based on my own ideas.
6. Could you talk about your creative process? How do you approach composing a new piece?
I make almost all my songs in the following flow.
Determine Instrumentation and Charm -> Create Cadences -> Create Melodies -> Input Melody Instruments -> Input Other Instruments -> Create Score
"Create Cadences" and "Create Melodies" used to be problematic. The melody was floating in my mind when I was making the song, but if you look carefully, you'll find that most of the songs have chords behind them, and I wonder if it's similar to existing songs. Isn't it always the same chords? Can't you use the new chord progressions?
I can now solve this process using homebrew software*1. It made it easier for me to experiment and rework cadences so that they wouldn't sound like familiar songs. Here, I'm just experimenting and working out the chords, bass, and melody, and when I'm satisfied with it, I move on to the next phase. With this software, instead of playing the piano, you can freely arrange chord symbols and modulation symbols with a GUI while listening. It is devised so that it is possible to manage bass voices, soprano voices, hooks, partial melodies, and harmonies to melodies within one chord symbol. Originally, I made the software as a result of worrying about how to come up with the coolness of changing to another key, like the chorale in each cantata of J.S. Bach.
Commercially available DAW software is used for "Input Melody Instruments" and "Input Other Instruments", and commercial engraving software is used to create scores*3.
7. In your letter, you spoke about wanting to create music that transcends eras, much like classical music. How do you try to achieve this in your compositions?
It's simplification. Maybe it's because of my own creative process, but these days I feel that high quality comes from simply cutting out parts that don't make sense, or taking the plunge and remaking things from scratch. If you take a bird's-eye view and look around, there are times when the bad parts simply disappear, and you can grow attached to the work as a whole. Also, I think it's effective to make the texture thinner. One day, when I listened to the master's masterpiece again, I discovered that the part that impressed me the most actually had no accompaniment and was just a mixture of two melodies.
By the way, I don't think it's actually possible to get advice from others. I think it's possible if it's only a few seconds, but I think it's a pretty rare opportunity to have someone enter a larger scale work. For example, if you play music in a room with people who are close enough to have a fight, if the timing isn't right, even if it's a world-famous song, it will be treated as a nuisance. This is even more so when it comes to music that has just been created and has not yet been released to the public. So, I think it's only natural that the evaluation will be thoughtful or harsh. You're the one who knows the most about the songs you make, so you have no choice but to fix them yourself.
8. Can you tell us more about the work "North House”? What was the inspiration behind it? How long did it take to finalize it?
When I was in junior high or high school, I saw Ibert and Danzi's woodwind quintets for the first time. I was happy that the horn was active. The melody was passed from one instrument to another, and the five performers matched their breath timings even though the tempo was strange, and I remember thinking that these people were on good terms. I remembered it 8 months ago and decided to make something similar. When it was completed, it was a suite of 6 songs, and excluding the 5th song that stayed in the middle, it took about a month for each song.
I make music while experimenting with chords, and I wanted to bring out the sounds of Ravel and Debussy, so I chose a lot of similar chords. A funny thing happened when I was editing. As soon as I changed from piano to woodwind, the image of the song changed completely. Especially in the 3rd song, my wife made Stollen just in December, so I used the pp piano treble as an arpeggio to express tradition and something mysterious in silence. However, when exposed to the strong high notes of Piccolo and Es Clarinet, it changed to sound like Japanese gagaku. This sounds more traditional now, so I've left it as is.
I didn't give the 4th movement a title, but I wanted to express the gentleness of the music. In the 4th movement of Elgar's "Very Easy Melodious Exercises in the First Position (Op.22)", there is also a piece in fast triple time. There was a moment when I felt glad that I was doing music while playing the bright and gentle melody. Remembering this, I was trying to compose a song with the same appeal, but halfway through I realized that I hadn't included an expression with a gradual change in tempo, so I added a middle section with a fast tempo and added it to the end of the melody. I tried to connect it as if rushing.
The 5th song "Horseshoes" is aimed at the majesty of Holst's Jupiter and tried to make it in a similar format. On the other hand, the music expresses the supple and powerful appearance of the horse with materials such as marches and mid-bass melodies. Up until now, I had thought that I hadn't fully incorporated the charm of the woodwind quintet, where the breath timing of the five players matched perfectly with the tempo changes, but now I've got that chance. When I put it in, I felt like the horse started walking.
By the way, my wife's parents' house is in the north, and I often visit there with my family. I ran into a problem here. When we all decided to go out, the cat was gone. The cat is usually kept inside the house, but when he gets a chance, he goes outside to play. We searched all over the house, but he was nowhere to be found. And it became my fault. I didn't remember the cat passing by, but it was because I had the window open. However, when we all returned from the outing, he was back on the sofa as usual. All the windows were closed, so he was hiding somewhere in the house. For the 6th song, I wanted to express a cat that is capricious and has its own world. When I tried to give it some contrast in the Rondo format, it turned out like a day and night sandwich, and I thought it looked like the world from a cat's point of view.
9. What was your initial reaction when you discovered you had won the award? How has this recognition affected you and your music journey?
I thought I'd be in high spirits like a YouTuber, but it wasn't. Similar to when I became a father 16 years ago.
As a father, there are times when I feel joy through each and every event, but I am even more moved when I look back on the occasion. What a glorious day it was to go to kindergarten with my child from the front door. Little by little, I'm telling the story of the award to the people who inspired me to start making music. At first they were surprised and called out to me. But then we started talking about who to talk to and what to do next. Again, I couldn't feel it in real time, but when I suddenly turned around alone in the middle of the night, I realized that I was cared for by the people around me, and I burst into tears. Over time, these experiences, including winning the award, will make me feel even more that music was a special existence for me.
10. Has this experience changed your perspective on composing music? If so, how?
It took me back 500 years into the future. Until now, I thought that I could not get many people to listen to my work until I made a large number of works in my lifetime. Having my work evaluated by experts gave me an opportunity to reconsider that I can create that opportunity even today. I think I'm going to be brave little by little and take action.
11. You talk about the joy of discovering there are many friends in the world, both with similar and dissimilar musical styles. Could you expand on this? Have you had any memorable encounters or collaborations?
Looking through the Royale Music Competition results and posters, I found pictures of several other people who received the same award as me. I haven't actually been able to communicate yet, but maybe we can actually get along. I'm trying to figure out how to proceed. When I look at the page where the poster photos are lined up, I feel like I'm a classmate at a music college. When I was in high school, I was aiming to enter a music college, but I didn't have enough concentration and patience, so I couldn't go on to a music college.
12. What advice would you give to those who, like you, are balancing their passion for music with their professional commitments?
I think it would be great if you could treat people at work with the utmost gratitude and respect. Among those who have studied composition professionally and are active in their work, there are those who are too busy with music activities for money to compose music for themselves. If you find time for writing or other musical endeavors, you may be very lucky. But it's all thanks to the people you work with who eat from the same cauldron. I think it's beautiful to see them giving back to each other.
However, I think that what is more difficult and important is to notice love from people close to us. For many years I've been working on opportunities and hobbies that I believe in, such as music and system building, but the truth is that there's someone who cares for me in a way that I can't see, and I've been oblivious to a lot of their feelings. I think I may have overlooked something today, too. We want to be able to find these thoughts, right?
13. What are your plans for the future in regards to your music journey?
I would like to make other woodwind quintet suites and turn them into a series, and I would also like to try a brass ensemble. I would like to recreate the horn concerto I made a long time ago to a higher degree of perfection, and make No. 2 like Richard Strauss. I think it's a long way off, but I want to grow to be able to compose symphonies and film scores like the great masters.
I am grateful for the composition that gave me a lifetime's worth of boredom.
*1 Andsample Protosong. Sale.
*2 YOMcoma : Japanese manga posting and viewing service by booklista Co., Ltd.
*3 I use Cubase and Finale.