A musical score is the heartbeat of a film. As the faithful heart pumps life with every pulsation, a composer likewise gives a film its feeling, texture, and humanity with every note. Each one of Aska Matsumiya’s projects has a unique pulse, felt acutely by even the most passive listener.
Founder of the Black Cat White Cat agency, Matsumiya’s prolific, genre-defying catalogue has been heard on film, television, and advertising, including Tayarisha Poe’s teen drama “Selah and the Spades” and Hikari’s “37 Seconds,” a portrait of a 23-year-old woman who has cerebral palsy.
Each one of Matsumiya’s albums showcase the dynamism and imagination of the Osaka-born, Malibu-based composer, producer, musician, and visual artist. The classically trained pianist also co-founded the Los Angeles Ladies Choir and performed in bands including Moonrats, ESP, and The Sads. The latter played throughout Europe and the U.S. as a live gallery installation. Given her motley contributions to the music scene, it is no surprise that Matsumiya so daringly revitalizes aesthetic traditions through experimentation.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic’s avalanche of challenges, 2020 proved to be a productive year for the multihyphenate artist, who says that lockdown hasn’t at all hindered her ability to compose, which typically consists of working in solitude, even pre-pandemic. “This time has made me realize how much I feed off and am inspired by being connected to others,” Matsumiya told MUSE by Clio, “but it also [has] allowed me to really work on my heart.”
Most recently, she composed the score for Julia Hart’s drama “I’m Your Woman,” produced by and starring Rachel Brosnahan as Jean, a ‘70s crime wife on the run with her infant after her husband betrays his accomplices, and then vanishes without a word. Praised by AZ Big Media as “a sonic interpreter of genre not to be ignored,” Matsumiya enlivens “I’m Your Woman” with a hypnotic soundtrack that is perhaps just as rebellious as the film itself — her musical storytelling characterized by moments of melancholic, jazzy piano juxtaposed with high-octane, sublime walls of sound that evoke the same bone-chilling terror as the score of a horror film.
As Matsumiya told Gold Derby, inspiration for “I’m Your Woman” struck her quite spontaneously: a melody that would later become the main piano theme came to her just as she was speaking with Hart on the phone. “I actually paused to record a voice memo of the melody,” the composer revealed. “I just felt so synchronized with [Hart] and the ideas that she had and what she was seeing.”
A sonic banquet that showcases her range, the score of “I’m Your Woman” marries film-noir enigma with Matsumiya’s classical training as well as her own contemporary sensibilities. The variety that permeates the score, she says, mirrors Jean’s metamorphosis as she ventures beyond her natural habitat. “[Jean] was going through a transformation of the environment,” Matsumiya explained. “I kind of wanted to mix more of a masculine tone, and that’s where more of the masculine electronic stuff [comes in]. I kind of wanted to find a balance of a very feminine and very masculine score.”
Matsumiya’s composition is not just a centerpiece, but also a propelling force of the film’s narrative. As Gold Derby notes, her choice to represent Jean through the piano was a deliberate one: Matsumiya felt the character has a strong affinity with the instrument, whose sounds are the connective tissue of Jean’s travails, accompanying her throughout her journey as her story reaches its own crescendo.
Other notable projects from Matsumiya from the last year include music for Crystal Moselle’s HBO skateboarding comedy series “Betty” — which features a kinetic, highly addictive “trap-gaze” sound that blends shoegaze with trap beats — and music for forthcoming sci-fi feature “After Yang.”