There was a point during poet Gozo Yoshimasu and experimental musician Otomo Yoshihide's performance for Voices & Echoes at PSU's Lincoln Hall when Yoshihide started throwing loose change at his modified turntable— the contact mics inside it amplifying the metallic collisions— and I was reminded of this time that I asked a Japanese graffiti artist to explain wabi-sabi.
“Wabi-sabi?” he asked, considering the question for a slow second before giving his explanation. “Your shoe. Right now, it is wabi.”
Before I knew what was happening, he pulled my shoe off my foot and threw it across the parking lot we were standing in.
“Now, it is sabi.” He had no further explanation.
“Oh, okay,” I responded, trying to judge if he was messing with me or not. Then I hobbled over to my shoe.
Wikipedia translates this experience into boilerplate American English: “Wabi-sabi represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection.”
Loose change thrown at a turntable sounds a bit like that, though I bring up my wabi-sabi story not to describe the intentions of Voices & Echoes' Japanese performers, but to illustrate my unfamiliarity with the Japanese cultural identity, and to segue into the disclaimer that I'm sure there's a lot of referential stuff in the performance that I missed.
Limited cultural understandings aside, I'm gonna try my best to describe what I saw at Lincoln Hall.
The night started with a performance from Akio Suzuki. Suzuki builds his own instruments— notably, the De Koolmees, two black cylinders attached by a spring, and the Analapos, a series of parallel glass tubes arranged on a frame— which he plays with mallets, sticks, hands, and voice.
He started off on dual De Koolmeeses, the black cylinders and springs attached to a central, vertical pole. Switching between various sticks and mallets (and bare hands), Suzuki scraped, tapped, and banged the springs and cylinders, exploring the various textures and tonal qualities available. He then switched to a single De Koolmees, which he sang into— yelping and howling and allowing the echoes of his voice to travel down the spring and exit the opposite cylinder (this was intense and awesome!). Moments later, he picked up what appeared to be a glass flask in a fabric sack, striking the object with mallets while tilting it from side to side— the liquid in the bottle sloshing around to produce varying tones. Lastly, Suzuki spent some time on an Analapos, drizzling water over the glass tubes before rubbing them with his fingers to produce high-pitched hums and drones (occasionally holding his open mouth above his busy hands, puffing his cheeks in and out, which rendered his mouth and throat an echo chamber).
After Suzuki's jaw-dropping set, Gozo Yoshimasu and Otomo Yoshihide took the stage. Yoshimasu blends the act of writing with performance, while incorporating recitations of pre-written poems. Yoshihide, a musician who's done a lot of work in noise and jazz circles, played prepared guitar and modified turntable for the duration. The performance started as Yoshimasu tapped away with a hammer and chisel on a metal sheet. Thanks to curator Aki Onda, who prowled the stage with a video camera, I was able to watch on the big screen as Yoshimasu inscribed the word “Oregon” into the metal sheet (in the same font as the Made in Oregon sign!), the word finding its place amongst various Japanese characters.
The taps themselves became a sonic performance, and Yoshihide soon added to the rhythm with his prepared guitar (the strings deadened with little clips and things, re-voicing the instrument with buzzes and pangs). Yoshihide built a simple drone loop before switching to turntable, which he played in various non-traditional ways, pressing a credit card against the spinning plate— the friction of the skittering card sending out pulsating squeals— dragging a wire on something or another, banging the metal enclosure like a drum, and, as mention previously, throwing spare change at it.
Yoshimasu read his poems first in murmurs; in hisses and growls. His inflection grew increasingly emphatic, soothing the ears before building up for an attack. At one point he tore a sheet of paper into a microphone, at another point, he shuffled through a stack of his handwritten poems, apparently just for the brushing sounds created. He continued bouncing between his reading and his engraving— as Yoshihide did between guitar and turntable— eventually ending with a poem in English, a hypnotic loop of references to silver snow, silver horses, silver castles, etc..
At the end of the performance, Yoshimasu told the audience that he wrote the final poem that very morning, while watching the river, which he spoke of fondly, describing how he could see the recent tsunamis in the moss.
All in all, a totally captivating program. I'll be thinking about it for a while.
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