Whoa! I can’t believe it’s been more than six weeks since I last posted anything here on Chatter. Rumors of my demise are exaggerated—I just had a case of wanderlust. Followed by a kind of wander-bust.
When I last checked in, I was on my way out the door in the middle of May for a trip back to the U.S. to rehearse and perform a new piece for Chinese instruments and computer with Melody of China, the crack music ensemble based in San Francisco. It was great to be back in my (adopted) home town, and great to once again work with the pro musicians of MOC. That we could be joined onstage by the wonderful multi-instrumentalist Wei Wu added to the fun.
All went smoothly while traveling in the U.S., but it was upon my return to Japan that things suddenly took a dire turn. My schedule had me only home for three days before a quick turnaround to go to Europe. But in addition to various personnel woes—my student assistant had to be rushed to the hospital due to a herniated disc (Which he got playing Wii-Fit, incidentally. Watch out for Wii-Fit.), other members of my support team were similarly incapacitated, I had a bad cold—my computer died, irrevocably, upon touchdown in Tokyo. Fortunately, all my data was backed up, but it was touch and go as to whether or not I could even procure a new machine suitably configured with enough processing power and RAM before departure. The backorder came through at the last minute, and I found myself heading to the airport with an unopened MacBook Pro box tucked under my arm. Trust me when I say it is not at all comfortable to find oneself heading out to Europe to do a set of concerts with a brand new and completely untested machine. It was a real tightrope act for at least the first show. Under the circumstances, I appreciated that people refrained from wishing me to break a leg, which could very well have happened, given my luck at the time.
The purpose of the trip to Europe was several-fold:
- Performance of some recent compositions at a concert sponsored by the Centro d’Arte degli Studenti in Padova Italy;
- Attendance at the EMS08 Conference hosted by the Electroacoustic Music Studies Network, conference title “Musique concrète – 60 years later.” I was to observe the panel discussions and give a performance of a new multi-channel composition at the historic Studio 116 in the Maison de Radio France, the domain of the legendery Groupe de Recherche Musicale (GRM); and also,
- Engaging in perhaps my favorite activity of all, sound hunting. Armed with my trusty Octaphone, the highly portable eight-channel recording system designed and built in collaboration with my collegue Professor Oizumi of Chukyo University, I poked around Europe for a few days in search of fascinating acoustics that I hoped to incorporate in an upcoming sound installation I would mount shortly upon my return to Japan.
Italy, of course, has many sonic charms in its many various soundscapes, but I felt I really hit paydirt when I directed myself to the Richard Serra installation at the Grand Palais in Paris—his six massive structures in a huge fin-de-siecle exposition space, literally the size of ten soccer fields, topped by a domed ceiling. Talk about reverberant spaces. How do you say “whoa mama” in French?
As I entered the Grand Palais, the main sonic statistic was the general haze of hushed conversation and human movement in the space, everything amplified acoustically by the echoing architecture. What a beautiful wash of sound it was. Serra’s magnificent sculptures managed to dominate the huge room, no mean feat. Curiously, there was a piano postioned in the middle of the space, but I paid it little mind. Out came the Octaphone, and my recording began. Delicious. I licked my lips in anticipation of the material I would be able to use as a component of my installation.
And then someone started playing the piano. It seemed quite odd, indeed inappropriate, that someone would have been hired to provide background music in such circumstances. Jeez, what are they thinking? I inquired of a docent, who told me it was the sound check for the evening concert. Evening concert? What concert? And then I looked closer at who was warming up.
Lo and behold, who was it playing—for what turned out to be more than an hour—but Philip Glass!
Off went the Octaphone—I didn’t really want a piano in my recording even if there wouldn’t have been serious copyright issues at hand—but I had a great time just enjoying the free concert before the main concert. And after Phil left, I still had plenty of time for my recording work.
The next day I was on a plane back to Japan to begin the final preparations for my first solo exhibition, the sound installation HAN BAT that I’ll tell you more about in my next column. And I promise not to take another six weeks before I write it. In fact—it’s great to be back. See you next week!!