I had the pleasure of asking Ms. Aiko Fukushima, Hollywood blockbuster orchestrator and composer some questions about her work. She studied at the Berklee College of Music, attended the Henry Mancini Institute, and was selected for Sundance Institute Composer’s Lab— a distinguishable honor.
V: Your imdb is super impressive, and I see that Changeland is in post! Are you allowed to share any details on that project?
A: I can’t [say anything yet], but it was super fun to work with Patrick Stump, the lead singer of Fall Out Boy, at the recording studio!
V: What is it like to work as an orchestrator on big projects like The Mummy (2017), and Ragnarok (2013)? I've always thought that orchestrating was the puzzle work of composing-- the difficult part that ultimately makes everything sound good.
A: Orchestration is like working as an architect. We take the vision of the artist/composer and put it to paper to be played at the recording session. It is amazing to get to work with a real orchestra, especially if I can be there!
V: What was the Sundance lab like? Was it like an ultra-intensive music boot camp?
A: It didn’t feel like a boot camp— [it was more of] an artist’s retreat. Working with talented Sundance Institute filmmakers and picking the brain of creative advisors such as Thomas Newman, Ed Shearmur and Jeff Beal was a treat. I learned a lot from the experience. When I think back, it was crazy to meet and have conversations with those legends like John Adams, Osvaldo Golijov and Thomas Newman. What I learned from them was “Be an artist.” John told me that he was so inspired by nature and the scenery while he was traveling across the country, that it gave him inspiration to compose. He was so excited to tell the story like a child— being passionate about life and music. One of the assignments was to re-score a scene from Road to Perdition (2002). We tried our best… but Thomas Newman’s approach was entirely different from anybody’s, and much more fun and playful that it added more life to the scene.
V: Let’s backtrack to before the lab— when did you realize that you wanted to be in film scoring and what steps did you take to get to where you are now in your career? How did your family react in the beginning?
A: Originally I came to Berklee College of Music to study jazz composition, then found out that there was a film scoring program that sounded interesting because film music always had a huge impact on me growing up. Toward the end of my college period, I had great opportunities like working with artist-in-residence Jay Chattaway (Star Trek Voyager), and Mike Post (Law & Order) through the BMI Pete Carpenter Fellowship, and attending the Henry Mancini Institute. That led me to Los Angeles to pursue my career as a film composer. Fortunately, my family has been very supportive of what I do.
V: Although we do not like to acknowledge that we are Asian women in the industry, it's something we end up representing anyway. Have you ever felt that this fact has caused any obstacles for you in the industry? Is there anything that you would have liked to tell younger Aiko before she embarked on her path?
A: I would say “Just be yourself.” You can’t be anybody else anyway. You can write the music to sound like somebody else, but that’s not really you.
When I came to Los Angeles, my mentor Jay Chattaway introduced me to Sharon Farber (The Young and The Restless). She told me “There is a place for everybody”. It is a great time to be a female film composer now, finally! There are so many opportunities if your music is good. In the end, you are the person you need to be competing with. Nobody else. If you can present your music with 100% confidence, it will speak for itself. All of the experience will make you grow. I worked at JoAnn Kane Music Service for a while as a proofreader/transcriptionist. I worked on projects for some of the busiest Hollywood composers like John Williams, Alexandre Desplat, and James Newton Howard, and producers like David Foster. It was a surreal experience to be transcribing music together with David at the rehearsal. I am grateful for all opportunities that were given to me!
V: That sounds both intimidating and inspiring! Lastly, I have to ask what kind of music you enjoy listening to for leisure?
A: I listen to all kinds of music but I am more drawn to good melodies that [strike me]. I have to admit that I still love to listen to the classical and jazz music that [I got into during] my Berklee period. I appreciate depth in music. In pop, the Michael Jackson/Quincy Jones duo still blows my mind! And of course, The Beatles and Joni Mitchell. My latest obsession is the album “Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau”. I have listened to it hundreds of times, and I am still not bored.
I would love to speak more with her in person about orchestrating, but until then, I’ll be tracking down her latest projects and checking out the album she recommended. You can listen here too!