Ushio Torikai is known for her highly individual musical voice, developed over many years of research and compositional experience in diverse musical fields including European classical music, traditional Japanese music, ancient Japanese music and computer/electronics.
Ms. Torikai is an alumna of Matsumoto Fukashi High School who was raised in Matsumoto, Nagano. Then she moved to Tokyo and graduated from the faculty of Economics at Keio University. She started a concert series of her own music in 1979, and was invited to the Paris Biennale in 1982. Concerts of her music have since been presented in major cities in Europe, North America and Japan, including at Georges Pompidou Center (Paris), the Museum of Modern Art (San Francisco), and Walker Art Center (Minneapolis).
Her compositions vary considerably in instrumentation, ranging from Western orchestral instruments to traditional Japanese ones; computer/electronics to reconstructed ancient Asian instruments; and Western Choir to Japanese Buddhist monks’ chants.
Ms. Torikai has received commissions from Ensemble Modern (Frankfurt), the Modern Art Sextet Berlin, the Kronos Quartet, the Ensemble Continuum (New York), the Canadian Electronic Ensemble, the City of Los Angeles, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation, and Japan National Theater, to name only a few. Commissioned pieces range from works for concert music and opera to a permanent music installation in a public park.
Her career is also characterized by a variety of multidisciplinary collaborations. She has a long history of involvement as composer, in theater, in dance and in multi-media projects.
Ms. Torikai's albums have been released on JVC: GO WHERE?, the compositions on which were realized at IRCAM (the computer-oriented musical research center in Paris), and A UN, a seventy-five-minute work for a choir of forty Japanese Buddhist Monks, Son Bou no Toki, featuring a Native American's poem, “Many Winters”. Her newest album REST (chamber works for strings, piano and voices), dedicated to the victims of war and terrorism in the world, was released on Innova Records.
In the early 1980s, Ms. Torikai spent a significant amount of effort to introduce Shomyo (Japanese Buddhist monks' chants), and ancient Japanese music and instruments, to the Japanese contemporary music scene and audience. For example, she is responsible for the reconstruction and reintroduction of the Kugo, an ancient Asian angular harp whose origins can be traced back more than three millennia and had been unused for over 1200 years. This ingenious yet clumsy instrument (ancestor of modern string instruments) has such a quirky personality (it’s so hard to control because of its design) that it rewards only the most dedicated. The mission to bring it back to life led to her philosophy of “positivity” — the fundamental human desire to follow our incredible imagination — and that individuals possess their own kind of “music” and beauty unique to themselves.
The intense experience of reconstructing, composing for, and performing on the Kugo taught her very strikingly that the capacity for wisdom is at the core of humanity. From simple resonating strings, to musical forms, to entire cultures – harmonious and dynamic – this creative impulse is the powerful source of all human activity and interaction.
The New York Times has written: “Ms. Torikai has a wide ranging musical imagination….[Her] music was exuberant, radical and dense.”
She occasionally writes about Japanese social phenomena for Japanese newspapers and magazines.
Ms. Torikai divides her time between New York City and Tokyo.