Awards for Artists
Image of Shiori Usui
Photo: Emile Holba.

Shiori Usui

Shiori Usui (born 1981) composes works which incorporate elements from an expansive range of sources, from Bulgarian folk music to Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis, an insect-pathogenic fungus. Usui’s compositions are often inspired by human anatomy, its physical gestures and involuntary reflexes, and by other living creatures and ecologies.

Visceral and corporeal, Usui has composed work based on the sound of scratching her own eczematic skin (from scratch), human laughter, her asthmatic breathing, the digestion process, snoring and blood flowing around the body. Often using the human body as a musical instrument in itself, Usui’s work Into the Flesh uses an Xth Sense biophysical instrument which captures and amplifies the sounds of two musicians’ muscles and blood flows whilst they perform with a double bass and tenor trombone respectively.

Usui also draws from contexts beyond the human body to find inspiration in nature. Her work Microcosmos is inspired by Japanese cicadas and Australian birds, and Deep is inspired by deep-sea creatures. She has also composed a piece based on an insect-pathogenic fungus which controls ant behaviour.

Usui is interested in creating immersive experiences, incorporating audience participation into some of her works, creating sonic microcosms or experiences that reflect the subject of the work. Recent commissions include Subject for Kettle’s Yard, BBC Proms and Staatstheater Cottbus, Germany. Shiori Usui was awarded the Scottish Award for New Music for Large Scale New Work in 2018, and the RicordiLab award in 2016.

I am thrilled to receive this generous award. I am also grateful to the people who have supported and encouraged me in my career. Without them, I would not be where I am now. The award will open up so many possibilities. As a composer, it will help me create a more collaborative working environment. Particularly, I feel passionate about creating works for and with neuro-diverse audiences, babies/toddlers and their carers and people in later life care. As a mother of very young lives, the award will also help me to work more flexibly. I would like to create positive energy cycles that reach as many people as possible.
Shiori Usui

Examples of work

from scratch, 2017

Orchestra, vocal and percussion improvisation (Shiori Usui) and live electronics (Owen Green).

8 minutes 18 seconds duration (extract 1m 25s).

First performed on 7 May 2017 by BBC SSO, conducted by Ilan Volkov at Old Fruitmarket in Glasgow during Tectonics Glasgow festival.

In Digestion, 2011

String orchestra.

1 minute 40 seconds duration.

Commissioned by A Far Cry. First performed on 31 March 2011 by A Far Cry at Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory, Boston, USA.

Subject, 2018

One piano, four hands.

8 minutes 36 seconds duration (extract 2m).

Commissioned by Kettle’s Yard Gallery. First performed on 28 June 2018 by pianists Yshani Perinpanayagam and Katherine Tinker at Kettle’s Yard Gallery, Cambridge, UK in association with Antony Gormley’s new exhibition Subject.

Deep, 2014

Large chamber ensemble, vocal improvisation and live electronics.

15 minutes 43 seconds duration (extract 2m 1s).

Concert recording from March 2018 by Collegium Novum Zürich and Shiori Usui (voice), conducted by Peter Rundel at Tonhalle-Gesellschaft Zürich, Switzerland. Commissioned by Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and Sound and Music. First performed on 27 April.