Saturday, April 23, 2016

Otomo Yoshihide's "Project Fukushima" at Northwest Film Forum & Chapel Performance Space: May 2 - 3

Following on last fall's showcase featuring members of the Japanese Onkyokei movement, next month another of the Tokyo scene's founding players presents two nights at Northwest Film Forum and Chapel Performance Space. Beginning as far back as the Jazz Kissa scene of the 1970s, a culture that is still very much alive, "Tokyo's Jazz Kissa Survive" with "Kissaten Culture Still on the Boil", Otomo Yoshihide's own introduction chronicled in his "Leaving the Jazz Cafe: A Personal View of Japanese Improvised Music in the 1970s". He documents the formative experience of witnessing nights of music in this setting from the then-cutting edge of Japanese improvisation, names like Kaoru Abe and Masayuki Takayanagi's New Direction Unit. These seminal experiences, including a notable night of Abe on electric guitar at a Jazz Kissa in Fukushima as a teenager, likely launched Otomo's own decades-long investigations into improvisation and the very nature of sound. Detailing his lifelong love of music in interview with Revue & Corrigée, Yoshihide returns to his childhood of 1960s TV music, Japanese pop and kayokyoku of that decade, his Jazz Kissa experiences in Fukushima as a teenager, and not many years later after entering university, time spent studying under his mentor Takayanagi. A short period of solo, improvisational work followed in the late 1980s, contacts made within the Japanese experimental community leading to the formation of his own ensemble for genre-less exploration, Ground Zero in the 1990s, and wider international recognition with his soundtrack to 5th Generation Chinese filmmaker, Tian Zhuangzhuang's "The Blue Kite". By the time of the latest 1990s, the Onkyokei movement began a coalescence of like-minded experimentation and new approaches to improv around venues like Shinjuku Pit Inn and Bar Aoyama the latter the first of their monthly improvisational gathering spaces. This loose-knit collective of artists and affiliated Tokyo underground cultures, detailed in Clive Bell's "Off Site" article for The Wire found their center with Atsuhiro Ito and his wife Yukari's conversion of a house near Yoyogi station in Tokyo into a spartan gallery and performing space, seating 50 maximum, making room within the confines of it's four walls for a café and book and record shop upstairs. This humble communal space, literally inserted between the neighborhood's landscape of office high-rises, became the cementing meeting place and impetus for the movement's aesthetic. A decade on from the movement's inception, Bell revisited the genesis of what came to be known as the Onkyo sound this past year for Red Bull Music Academy, "Off Site: Improvised Music From Japan".

Working within and outside this scene, Otomo's explorations found him acting as polymath and underground ringleader in both small group settings with Sachiko M and Toshimaru Nakamura producing works of pure sound, often devoid of any source other than electricity like that of the no-input trio, Filament exemplified by the finesse heard on, "Good Morning, Good Night". While concurrently leading medium-size group organizations with Yoshimitsu Ichiraku and Sachiko M, generating some of his most groundbreaking work pushing at the boundaries of noise, musique concrete and improv as I.S.O. Moving outside the fundamental exploration of acoustics that characterizes Onkyokei, the past decade has also seen his captaining of large ensemble forays into post-Be-Bop informed jazz and mid-Century improv. Coming together in groupings of upwards of twenty players to augment the traditional jazz ensemble with an extended instrumental lineup including Sho and Shakuhachi, along with the pure Sine Wave electronics of Onkyo to perform spirited interpretations of repertoire from Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck, Done Cherry, Eric Dolphy and original compositions as the Otomo Yoshihide New Jazz Orchestra. Yoshihide's involvement with Project Fukushima and his own Festival Fukushima! had its genesis in a series of essays and collected interviews on the 2011 Earthquake, Tsunami and ensuing Nuclear crisis. His own work documenting the personal cost to the region's residents, local culture and industry in relation to "Errors Cast Doubt on Japan’s Cleanup of Nuclear Accident Site", the deflection of responsibility and coverup, "Inquiry Declares Fukushima Crisis a Man-Made Disaster" the estimated Century-long cleanup, "Fukushima Keeps Fighting Radioactive Tide Five Years After Disaster" and the damage done to the lives and livelihood of those who reside there, "After Fukushima: Faces from Japan's Tsunami Tragedy, Five Years On". Yoshihide's childhood and adolescent years spent in Fukushima, and his personal investment in the region's welfare are reflected in the dedication to the documenting of the personal, cultural and political effects of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in the publication of his "Chronicle Fukushima".

During the assembly of the collection of Tohoku accounts and writings, Yoshihide simultaneously investing four months in curating a installation, performance and community event at the Art Tower Mito, in the prefecture of the same name, east of Tokyo. This season of performances included his Double Orchestra interpreting large-ensemble works like Karlheinz Stockhausen's "Gruppen" and Toru Takemitsu's "Corona" with guest appearances by Tenniscoats, Ami Yoshida and Seiichi Yamamoto in the museum's water garden. In the nearby grounds of a local Shinto shrine, Ko Ishikawa and Yoshihide combined Gogaku, Sho, Guitar and Gamelan with the natural chorus of cicadas, birds and sound of water. Their time in residency also saw him playing host to wider communal events including a parade down the streets of Mito and sonic workshops at the museum, open free to the public. In the midst of the Tohoku disaster's cultural and civic upheaval, Art Tower Mito extending itself as a place to engage the public and bring the community together around the shared experience of culture, art, sound and play, in the midst of uncertain times. This ethos has been extended to the larger endeavor of Otomo Yoshihide's participation in Project Fukushima; "Bringing into question how we should deal with electricity from now on including that which is produced by nuclear power plants, and more to the point, how we should reconsider our lifestyles that are largely supported by electricity. It is also a chance for us to rethink about this civilization that allows people to be deprived of their land, alongside the histories and cultures that were nurtured there. We believe that this is not a problem peculiar to Fukushima, but rather one that should be faced together with people around the world. We were not simply beset by a great misfortune, but by facing the situation squarely, we became the catalyst for the happiness of the children of our children... We should be allowed the freedom to dream of such a future. And we believe that we have the power to make that dream a reality. One of the role of music and art is to think with others about how to confront reality."