Colin Holter interviews Schuyler Tsuda.
On building instruments:
I started taking art classes at some point. My first class was with Chris Larson, and it was a metal sculpture class. I’m not sure why I took it, to be honest, but I was interested in doing some kind of sound sculpture thing. When I first started, I was sort of a fish out of water because I’d never done anything like it before, but Chris Larson would say “just go ahead and do it.” The class was very heavy on conceptual feedback, which was great, because I got to the point where I wasn’t inhibited about working and learning from other people. That’s maybe the best way for me to work, to be able to experiment safely. The instrument I keep coming back to is the steel cello, which is based on Robert Rutman’s steel cello, which is just a huge steel plate suspended on a frame. I just do it on the floor or hand-held, it’s a smaller version, and I use steel rods on the surface with a spring reverb chamber I put together on top of it. Sonically it’s my favorite because I can do so much with it. But of course I think that it’s probably the least sound-sculpture-like; it’s more of just a DIY instrument.
On Shield Your Eyes:
Doug [Geers] asked Mike if he wanted to play a spot on the Twin Cities Showcase at Spark. So then Mike said to Doug that we (meaning Mike and I) had been talking about doing some kind of noise thing. I actually don’t remember having that conversation. It was a surprise to me, and I’d never played in a noise duo before, so it was interesting—and that was the beginning.
I had the opportunity to do a soundtrack for a student filmmaker at the University of Hawaii, and that was a really great experience—I was kind of learning on the spot. It was fun; it was a challenge, and it was something totally different. That work got me other work doing soundtracks and eventually got me into doing my own film work here at the University of Minnesota. I was in the production process and the post-production process, so I got to see how things work, and that was extremely important for me.
On instrumental composition:
I’m a big proponent of learning the instrument. And I guess what I mean by that is not learning how to play Bach cello suites; it’s learning the instrument in a way where you not necessarily forget the years and years of tradition but try to go beyond it to get to something that’s more about the instrument than about the repertoire.
On Kado: The Way of Flowers:
Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower-arranging; it’s also called kado, which translates as “the way of flowers.” It’s a combination of art and flower-arranging and kind of a philosophy of approaching flower-arranging, approaching life in general. Ikebana really focuses on not only the beautiful blossom of the flower but everything that flower is all about: The stem, the thorns, the space around the flowers, the dying leaves. It’s all those things that we ordinarily disregard. Ikebana puts that on the table so we can look at the whole thing. Looking at a different way, we can find beauty in other aspects of the flower that are not traditionally beautiful.