Miya Masaoka

Doris Duke Artist Award, 2013
Jazz, Multidisciplinary Performance

Berkeley, CA and New York, NY

A classically trained musician, Miya Masaoka has created a large body of work for solo koto, live electronics, and video. Since the 1980s, she has also created distinctive music for sculptural installations, jazz ensembles, chamber orchestra, and mixed choirs. Her works often utilize laser interfaces, real-time processing, and sampling in order to expand the koto virtually. Other compositions involve wearable LED interfaces, and mapping the behavior of brain activity, plants, and insect movements to sound. Leading artists working in jazz and world traditions have sought her contributions, including Toshiko Akiyoshi, Pharoah Sanders, Cecil Taylor, Steve Coleman, Andrew Cyrille, Reggie Workman, William Parker, and Zakir Hussain. Her awards and honors include a French-American Jazz Exchange grant (2013), a MAP Fund grant (2011) and the Alpert Award in the Arts (2004). Since 2003 she has been part of the Music/Sound faculty at Bard College’s Milton Avery School of the Arts. Most recently, she was accepted into the 2013 Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute New Music Readings, co-organized by American Composers Orchestra and the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University.

  • Photo Credit: Nan Phelps
  • Miya Masaoka- Miya Masaoka performing “A Crack in Your Thoughts,” 2011: http://vimeo.com/57916164
    Miya Masaoka performing “A Crack in Your Thoughts,” 2011
  • Miya Masaoka performing Warsaw (2011)
  • Miya Masaoka- LED Kimono Project (2010): https://vimeo.com/134951114
    LED Kimono Project (2010)
  • Miya Masaoka- Pieces for Plants (2003): http://vimeo.com/63343503
    Pieces for Plants (2003)

What are the creative challenges you face as an artist?

It’s scary, but exhilarating, to go to that blank space, that free fall, where new ideas, new inquiries, can find form and be explored and delineated. Sometimes, it feels like you’re in a dark pit, and there is no way forward, no way out. Nothing you do is making this piece work, everything you try, you just slide right down into the pit again. And then, boom, something happens, and it’s working, at least, you think it’s working, and it can be anything that catalyzes that change. And the world is full of light again.

It’s always a struggle, there is always conflict—synthesizing what you know and have experienced, and moving forward to what it is you don’t know and the future with all its possibilities. And, all the while, having to make micro and macro decisions at every turn. And they are not all going to be the “right” decisions, but that’s ok.