There’s Gold in Them Hills

This is always a unique season in Japan. The confluence of four major holidays over the course of seven days at the end of April/beginning of May leads many people to cancel the rest of their work and take the whole ten days off, the so-called Golden Week.

I’ve always managed to be out of the country in this period and felt it was probably for the best. Tokyo itself is as slow and desultory as Paris in August, with cultural events few and far between, and the cost of travel elsewhere is extremely high. At least that’s what I had heard.

This year, here I stay, and so I took a look at the cultural calendar not expecting much. But to my surprise I did find quite a few things going on which should keep me occupied. There are a few concerts, both classical and jazz, that look interesting, and the museums are all operating. Might be a good time to go and maybe even avoid some crowds. Here are a few things that I am looking forward to:

Friday will feature the launch of a new hands-on musical interface called “Tenori-on”, developed by media artist Toshio Iwai for Yamaha. Iwai is having a busy month. For a peek at Tenori-on, you can check in here. Although the text is in Japanese, you can get a look at the design, and also see some QuickTime movies of the device in operation. Björk and some other famous types have started using the Tenori-on already, but the especially nice thing about the launch that Yamaha is planning is that they have invited a number of more relatively fringe musicians to headline it. Interviews with those musicians can he found here.

I’ve covered events at ICC, the Tokyo media art museum owned and operated by NTT (the Japanese Ma Bell) in the past, and am planning a return visit in the next few days. They have just unveiled their year-long exhibition featuring new, very new, and kind of new intersections of art and technology, such as Gravicells by Seiko Mikami and Sota Ichikawa. This interactive work causes us to reconsider what it means to “sense gravity”. The exhibit also includes world premieres of new artworks by the aforementioned Toshio Iwai, Carsten Nicolai (who made a new piece for the museum’s anechoic chamber) and several other artists using sound as medium. The prospects bode well. Information here.

Later in the week I hope to hop on the train and travel several hours west to the city of Yamaguchi, where datamatics, the first solo exhibition in Japan of electronic composer Ryoji Ikeda, is being held under the sponsorship of YCAM, the Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media. This exhibit, which also incorporates two concerts, features a major new installation commissioned by YCAM, entitled test pattern [nº1]. As Ikeda’s own biography states:

Japan’s leading electronic composer/artist, Ryoji Ikeda, focuses on the minutiae of ultrasonics, frequencies, and the essential characteristics of sound itself. His work exploits sound’s physical property, its causality with human perception, and mathematical dianoia as music, time, and space. Using computer and digital technology to the utmost limit, Ikeda has been developing particular “microscopic” methods for sound engineering and composition.

To which I have to respond: Sounds interesting. What the heck is “dianoia”?

On the horizon: A recital by Tomoko Mukaiyama, the Japanese-born, Amsterdam-based pianist whose musical conquests include pieces written for her by the likes of Frederic Rzewski, Louis Andriessen, even Merzbow.

Look out for a report next week, coming to you from in the middle as Carl “goes for the gold.”

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