Masayuki Hirano (also known as BIGYUKI), could be today's real life musical equivalent of a centaur. Similar to the mythological half-beast/half-man creature of ancient Greece, Hirano's music also operates as a kind of hybrid by fusing together the precision of electronic music practices with the nuances that arise from human interpretation.
But this amalgamated ethos means more than just dialing up a few patches on a synthesizer and calling it a day. BIGYUKI's latest album, Reaching For Chiron (released on Feb 2 by Likely Records), is the latest example of his superlative skill as a composer and producer.
Aside from his solo endeavors, he has also enjoyed a fruitful career as a sideman, having graced recording studios and stages alongside artists like Bilal, Talib Kweli, Matishyahu, Marcus Strickland, and Mark Guiliana, to name a few. His keyboard stylings also garnered him performance credits in eight of the sixteen tracks in A Tribe Called Quest's critically acclaimed 2016 album, We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service.
In a recent phone interview in advance of his free show at the David Rubenstein Atrium on March 15, BIGYUKI discussed his newfound production and composition process, the joys of collaborating with other artists, and how he's grown from his last project.
DanMichael Reyes: Your last release, Greek Fire, came out back in 2015. How have you grown as a composer, producer, and a musician since then, and what are the differences between that album and Reaching For Chiron?
Masayuki Hirano: When I was doing Greek Fire, I totally believed in doing everything live. I believed in the magic that could only happen in a live performance set-up. But then, this last one (Reaching For Chiron), I discarded the idea and asked myself what I wanted to listen to. I wanted to create something that I generally felt [was] cool within the capacity of what I can do financially and technically.
DMR: Reaching For Chiron does this great job of balancing between electronic music production along with really good live performances. Why did you go to this hybrid method of making a record?
MH: I think it's unnecessary to fight against something that could benefit us. There are sounds that our ears are accustomed to that we can't really go back. To me, it's the drum sound and the bass sound. As technology progressed, those sounds got bigger and bigger. We're so used to hearing certain sounds that when we don't hear it, it sounds really empty.
When I was mixing Greek Fire, I really struggled to get the sound I wanted for drums because it was recorded live. We eventually snuck in sounds from a sample and I felt that it was cheating because that's not really the drummer. It wasn't necessarily the sound that the drummer who was playing at the moment was hearing.
This time, when I was working on Reaching For Chiron, I started with choosing drum sounds that I liked and started from scratch.
DMR: Your album features artists like Bilal, Taylor McFerrin, Marcus Gilmore, and Louis Cato, among others. You're probably able to create an album like this by yourself with a midi controller and a laptop, but how does collaborating with people change the process of songwriting and producing?
MH: I kind of got the idea that my strength is not just playing synth bass and doing something with my right hand, but it's to get the big picture in the music and to assemble the team. It's about getting people that I know that will bring something special on the table. I won't exactly know [who] it is at the moment, but I'm like, "With this person, she's going to bring something very special and that's going to bring good chemistry with this person."
I actually have fun and enjoy the process of assembling the team. Sometimes it's more of an intimate setting. It's just me and the person one-on-one, or maybe three people at most. But I just love the process of creating with a team that I created.
I could do it by myself. But to be honest, I'm pretty computer stupid. The biggest reason is that I always hung with someone who is really good at Pro Tools, Logic, or Ableton. The only thing I would do is show up in the studio with one or two synths and play. I never really got to learn, which I totally should. Because I should be able to create this by myself, whether it's something I want to do or not, it's just a fundamental skill. Especially with the [music] I do. But again, I really love the process of making a team and thinking about what each one will bring in terms of energy.
DMR: Finally, what can the audience expect from the show at the Atrium?
MH: I will perform pieces from my most recent album Reaching For Chiron, which is a deconstruction and reconstruction of the music I think is relevant to our times. The setup will be my usual trio: Randy Runyon on guitar, and Tim Smithsoneon on drums. We also plan to have an amazing artist to do the visuals.