japanese new music festival


On January 25th I met up with Akita-kun at The Bridge for the Japanese New Music Festival, a collaboration between Yoshida Tatsuya (Ruins), Kawabata Makoto (Acid Mothers Temple), and Tsuyama Atsushi (AMT/Omoide Hatoba). Between the three of them they presented seven different “units” or “projects,” each one a deep exploration of the possibilities of sonic space.

1. The first project was called Shrinp Wark (I think) and consisted of Yoshida on drums, Kawabata on violin and guitar, and Tsuyama on bass and flute. They started off with a mellow, droning introduction before kicking into pure sonic wall-of-sound bliss. Kawabata sawed on the violin in a kind of Velvet-era Cale-inspired frenzy while Yoshida created sonic backscapes from electronically prepared drums while chanting.

2. Akaten is a collaborative project between Yoshida and Tsuyama and it involves the creation of music from everyday commodities. Instruments used in these pieces included a camera, empty plastic water bottles, zippers with contact mikes, red wine, and a daikon radish. Yoshida processed the acoustic sounds that were being generated through an effects box that was controlled by hand, essentially transforming the box into a second instrument rather than just a supplementary accessory. Best moments in this set included 1) the incredibly complicated, yet totally precise, processed and amplified rhythms of the camera’s winding mechanism; 2) the transformation of a plastic water bottle into a virtual tabla; 3) the visual interplay of Yoshida pulling an anorak zipper furiously up and down while Tsuyama was working the zipper on his pants like a maniac; and 3) the folk-inspired “daikon song” sung by Tsuyama with accompaniment by Yoshida on amplified daikon grater.

3. Zubi Zuva X involved all three musicians singing a cappella chants, usually with nonsense lyrics. They started off with a piece that referenced DooWop and then evolved it by 3,000 generations, and they finished with a piece in which they raised the microphone so that they had to leap into the air to produce a fully amplified vocal sound. This resulted in an effect that was like a kind of swooping mixing board volume adjustment, but all of the adjustment was done physically via the propulsive force of their leaping bodies.

4. The fourth project, Seikazoku, was a manic jam session that had Tsuyama playing flute and bass while Kawabata simultaneously played violin and guitar.

5. Ruins Alone is Yoshida’s solo project. I’m not quite sure how he does it, but somehow he wires up his drum kit with contact mikes that are then run through some sort of processor that adds/accesses various prerecorded snippets of music that include guitar and bass tracks, chanting, and even a few sections of Bolero. Depending on the force of attack and the duration of his strikes, Yoshida would produce different patterns of pre-recorded material. The absolute perfect synchronization of Yoshida’s drumming and the incredible syncopations he was able to generate — the vocal surprises and lightning fast tempo reverses — all of this bordered on some kind of anticipatory sublimity, as if one step further and you’d be off the edge into nothingness. Really, it was that good.

6. The sixth project, Zoffy, brought Kawabata and Tsuyama together to play their own strange versions of classic rock standards. This was a bit like musicians’ comic cabaret. They would introduce songs with dialog that went something like this —

T:“Now we introduce to you, very, very, very famous song from the early 70s. Not 1978, or 1979, because we hate 80s.”

K: “We are very traditional.”

T: “Maybe 1972, or 1973. We play, ‘Smoke on the Water,’ by Deep Purple.” Pause. “But, of course, my guitar is not old. This is new-style guitar.”

K: “From the 80s.”

T: “First part will be Beefheart style, second part will be Dylan style.”

They then proceed to play “Smoke on the Water” alternating between Captain Beefhart and Dylan voices. It reminded me a lot of Zappa’s mid-70s comic insanity. Then they played Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” in “Mongolian style” with Tsuyuma practicing his throat singing and Kawabata bowing the guitar. Finally they made fun of late Miles Davis recordings with Tsuyama blowing precisely one quick trumpet note in any given song.

7. For the final project, Acid Mothers Temple SWR, the three musicians fell into complete psych-rock mode. But not crappy “go nowhere” psychedelic rock. Instead, they used psychedelic rock in the original sense of the term — as a method of exploring the sonic space of consciousness. They seemed to be playing something that said, “Where shall we go from here? What kind of mind can we create in music?”

(Please note, the photo at the top of this entry is taken from the November 2005 Japanese New Music Festival CD, recorded in Spain.  All videos are from YouTube, and were shot at a variety of locations.)


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