Aska Matsumiya spent her childhood in Japan, moved to California when she was twelve, and presently lives in Malibu, where she makes music and rides waves. I first encountered her work in The Wolfpack, a documentary about a reclusive New York family for which she (and Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurrianns) composed a haunting score. I became a fan, and have since followed her career with great interest.
A composer, musician, and visual artist, Aska works across film, television, advertising, and music production. She composed the score for the feature film I’m Your Woman, directed by Julia Hart; the skateboarding comedy series Betty, directed by Crystal Moselle; and the recent Halle Berry-directed sports drama Bruised. She’s collaborated with many brands in the advertising space, including Porsche, Chanel, Hermes, Miu Miu, and Prada, and also scored the short film I’m Here for Spike Jonze. She recently partnered with A24 and acclaimed director Kogonada on his forthcoming film After Yang, in which she collaborated with the legendary composer Ryuichi Sakamoto.
We spoke over Bulletproof coffees in the tony Point Dume Plaza in Malibu. The sun was hot and bright, the passersby were smiling and fashionable, Aska beamed joy and optimism, and for a moment the possibility of a post-Covid life twinkled.
How did you get into playing music?
My parents loved classical music. We had a player piano that played by itself, so I grew up listening to that, and I was just fascinated by it. It’s the one where the keys go down, so I would sit and watch, and that was how I grew up. My mom got me started on the piano when I was three, so before I knew it I was already playing music. And I learned how to read music before I learned how to read words.
It was only classical, yeah. Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Schubert.
How does it go for you when you’re scoring a film? What’s the creative process like?
Well, I think that my language for music is so strong because I feel like it’s my first language. I truly feel like with every art or everything that we make, I have the feeling that they already all exist. Because I know when I connect to something that exists already, it feels like a strong force.
So it’s emotional and instinctual?
I really just feel like you need to connect to it. You have to be like an open portal to the things that you want to bring to life. And I feel like that with music and melodies. It depends on the project, but for most of the movies, the whole music will come to me. Or if I’m watching the film, I just start to hear melodies or music. It’s a very natural process.
And when you’re in that place, is your head full of music?
If I’m working on a project, that’s all I’m thinking about. If I sign onto a film, my mind and my whole being and my whole life is completely taken. I just live in it. I live in the film.
Of all your work, what are you most proud of?
I’m working on my own music right now, which I’ll be really proud of when I finish. That’s what I feel the most, of course, because it’s my own music. But for projects, I love the albums I created with Alex Somers for Claire Tabouret’s installation. It’s called Light Past Blue. I also love the film that’s coming out from A24, After Yang. That’s music I’m really proud of.
With Ryuichi Sakamoto—how great is that?
That’s crazy for me. He’s like my idol. It’s a drama that takes place in the future, a relationship between robot and human, but through that the main character goes through his own emotional journey. But because it takes place in the future, I wanted to create music that’s actually really human, to create a paradox. Like maybe in the future we’ll crave something that’s really human.
Crave the flesh and blood while it’s kind of all robots out there?
Yeah, yeah, yeah! Like maybe you want to hear just birds singing songs all day. So I tried to make the music really human. But then I had my friend Luke Fischbeck from Lucky Dragons create an AI plugin for me, and I started feeding my music and Ryuichi’s music into AI, and I ended up having many variations that were written by AI in this film.
Wow, what a fascinating process. So you got to leap into the future with the actual technology.
So useful. Great assistant. [laughter]
How did you get into surfing?
I got into surfing because I was doing a score for Kassia Meador for a film that she was making. I was watching her footage, and I was like, ‘Wow, this is so beautiful.’ I’d never watched any surfing footage, and I never grew up surfing. I mean, there was surfing in Orange County, but it was never my interest then. I met Kassia Meador, who really brought surfing into my life. I was maybe 30 or something.
When you go surfing, do you ever feel like you’re kind of processing, percolating, gestating music in your head? Do you ever feel like part of your creative process is sitting on the water on your board thinking about something you’re working on?
I feel like the only reason why it would be creative process is because I don’t think about anything. That’s the only time in my life where I’m only really focused on the present and just being there. I’m not thinking about anything except to watch the waves and how waves form and what wave is breaking where. It’s like, when do you have focus on that, on what’s happening in nature that closely? I love it. Because otherwise, I’m always thinking.