Miya Masaoka

Miya Masaoka is a composer/kotoist performing acoustically and with the Laser Koto

In her solo performances, she uses her background in Japanese court music, new music and improvisation to create a span from 9th-century Japan to sensor and digital technology. With an array of extended techniques that include strumming, bowing, scratching, and thumps, she uses fragments of koto-created sounds to weave an organic synthesis of the acoustic and electronic. Sometimes more acoustic, sometimes moreelectronic, she developes timbre - based motives, textures and loops.
Using various triggering devices in tandem with live samples, ultra sound, light sensors and digital signal processing, Masaoka captures gestures of movement and sound that cross the lines of world music, jazz, new music, and electronics.

She has collaborated with some of the most noted artists of the twentieth century, including Ornette Coleman, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Pharoah Sanders, Reggie Workman, Andrew Cyrille, Steve Coleman, George Lewis, Cecil Taylor and ROVA Saxophone Quartet.

Her music compositions have led her to varied forms of media and performance. In "Ritual," giant cockroaches crawl freely on her naked body breaking laser beams that trigger samples of their own hissing.
Strong imagery, use of the body, technology and a socially engaged impetus are common threads in her work. A site-specific multi-media piece, "What is the Difference Between Stripping and Playing the Violin?" was performed with two erotic dancers and orchestra on Market St. in San Francisco, with Masoaka composing and conducting.
Masaoka has also colloborated with librettist Thulani Davis to create the multi-media piece with string quartet, video and Japanese American interees in "Dark Passages" which premiered at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

Ms. Masaoka holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music from San Francisco State University, and a Masters in Music Composition from Mills College. She has studied with Suenobu Togi, gagaku master who traces his unbroken line in the Imperial music family for more than 1000 years. She was Director of the San Francisco Gagaku Society for eight years.
As a composer, she has received commissions from Bang On A Can, Rova Saxophone Quartet, Meet The Composer and National Endowment for the Arts and others.

The midi-koto interface was developed over a period of years and multiple residencies at the institute STEIM in Amsterdam.
The Laser Koto was developed by Donald Swearingen, hardware by Oliver D'iCicco.

  • The koto is a Japanese instrument with moveable frets in the long zither family of Asian instruments. Its evolution reflects the continuum of change through the epochs of Japanese history, and includes ritual, sacred and secualar folk and court forms. The full name, Kami no koto, means literally, "Oracle of the gods" and was used in Shinto practices that continues in modern Japan. It is made of the rather soft kiri wood, and is over six feet long. The length of the vibrating part of the strings is determined by the placement of the moveable bridges (ji), each string having one bridge. Different placement of the ji produce different tunings. There are some 200 scales in Japanese music. The strings are plucked with ivory plectra (tsume) of varying shape. There are several sizes of modern kotos, including 13, 17 and 21 stringed kotos.  

Selected Discography:

  • Saturn's Finger. Trio with Fred Frith, Larry Ochs. Buzz, 1999.
  • "Sliding" Jon Rose and Miya Masaoka, duets. 1998; Noise Asia
  • "The Usual Turmoil and other Duets" Trombonist George Lewis and Miya Masaoka. 1998 on Music and Arts Programs of America.
  • "What is the Difference Between Stripping and Playing the Violin?" The Masaoka Orchestra. George Lewis, India Cooke, Vijay Iyer, Trevor Dunn, Hafez Modirzadeh, Francis Wong, Mark Izu, Glen Horiuchi, Anthony Brown, Elliot Kavee, Liu Qi Chao and others. Masaoka conducts. 1998 on Victo Records, Canada.
  • "Monk's Japanese Folksong" The Miya Masaoka Trio with Andrew Cyrille and Reggie Workman. 1998 on Dizim Records, Germany.
  • "Seance" Henry Kaiser, Miya Masaoka, Danielle DeGruttola. 1996 on VEX Records, Germany.
  • "Crepuscular Music" Miya Masaoka, Gino Robair, Tom Nunn. 1996 Rastascan Records.
  • "Compositions/Improvisations" 1993 on Asian Improv Arts. Debut solo CD with guest flutist James Newton. Miya Masaoka as a guest:
  • Tribute to Tom Cora, 1999 on Avant.
  • Duets with World Musicians 1999 Dr. L. Subramaniam on Erato.
  • "Twelve Minor" The Sextet Sessions: Ben Goldberg. 1998 on Avant.
  • "Lisle Ellis and Guests" 1996 on Black Saint, Italy.
  • "Steve Coleman and the Mystic Rhythm Society" 1996 on BMG/RCA European Division. Recorded live at Hot Brass in Paris France.
  • "Tribute to Sun Ra" 1996 Rastascan Records. Benefit CD for the Sun Ra Arkestra.


07. 12. 1999: "The Relative Violin - Wien/Vancouver"
15. 01. 2006: "Chironomy" with Francois Houle and Giorgio Magnanensi (Vancouver) and Klaus Filip and Burkhard Stangl (Wien) LIVE