Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Yasunao Tone/Tomomi Adachi - Roulette, 5/25/10

Tomomi Adachi is a boyish looking fellow, a vocalist/electronicist who specializes in a branch of sound-poetry that often incorporates devices worn on his body and clothes and triggered by his movements. He opened last night's performance with eight pieces, one by Dadaist Hugo Ball, four 1960s works by sound poet Seiichi Niikuni and three self-composed works.

Ball's Gadji Beri Bimba, composed of nonsense syllables (adapted by Talking Heads for their "I Zimbra"), was spat out furiously by Adachi, a bit in the manner of a particularly vicious Diamanda Galas excoriation, his voice enhanced electronically, processed via a strap wrapped around one hand. The electronics within that strap, which was used several times last evening, seem to be sensitive to its orientation in space. By choreographing his movements, Adachi can summon a bewildering display of effects, sometimes used to great advantage, sometimes tending toward mere ornamentation. The Ball piece was quite effective, however--brief, tough and to the point.

The four works of concrete poetry by Niikuni were a varied lot, though the first, "Opus Ki", was quite akin to the Ball, a rapid-fire string of nonsense words (in "Japanese"), here performed acoustically with a sing-song aspect and a percussive tinge. "Second Hand" used no words, only visual elements, incorporating the electronic gear, beginning softly, increasing in volume and complexity along the way, very much a stationary dance piece It was rather fun to attempt to puzzle out the relationships between a given gesture and the sounds that emerged synchronously. "Rain" was, in some ways, the loveliest piece of the evening and a disarmingly simple one. Adachi took the "score", which I believe consisted of several rows of Chinese characters, held it in front of his face, and, using a forefinger to count, clicked his way down the list, sounding something like a typewriter. Each "click" consisted of from two to four sound elements, which one could hear separately or as a cluster and were repeated virtually identically, down each of perhaps eight rows containing about 24 characters per row. After making his way through the score once, he paused, removed his red shirt, buttoned shirt to reveal a white t-shirt with a large Chinese (maybe Japanese--I'm terrible at this) character and went through the process again, perhaps imparting a slightly different emphasis to the clicks. He then removed the white tee, revealing a blue one, re-donned the red over-shirt, calmly buttoned it up and finished. Very satisfying in an odd way. The Niikuni portion closed with a delightful piece utilizing a homemade instrument, a metal frame looking something like a music stand, strung with rubber bands and other pluckable detritus, all amplified. Adachi stroked and struck the various surfaces, occasionally emitting a soft vocalization. At one point he, à la Rowe, used a small hand-held fan to excite the elastic. Nice work.

Adachi's own pieces included "Face", wherein he enunciated, in English, parts of his face, tapping them to generate sound (for example, cheek, head) or otherwise toying with them (holding his nose while saying "nose", scratching hair, etc.) soon mismatching them humorously, "Sekannoshu" another very quick reading, this time of an ancient poem and the finale, "Voice and Infrared Sensor Shirt". As indicated by the title, this involved a wired garment which reacted to his every move. Reminded me a bit of Laurie Anderson circa 1985, though of course, more technologically advanced. Still, for all the "wow factor", the music generated was less than gripping, a bit too much flash for my taste. He ended it well, however, removing the still actively yowling shirt, draping it over his laptop (the shirt "protesting") and folding it neatly, shutting it up.

An intriguing set, all in all, though I found the "simpler" works more rewarding than the elaborate ones.

While I was certainly more highly anticipating the Yasunao Tone performance, I found it oddly anti-climactic. Tone is a delightful looking gentleman, reminding me of Eddie Prevost (no doubt due, to some extent, to his activity with Group Ongaku in the early 60s) with his gray brush cut and beard and compact physique. The piece was called "MP3 Deviation" and involved degraded mp3 files which (how, I've little idea) served to generate further electronic sounds, many of which outside of Tone's direct control. Source aside, what the listener was presented with was a wall of noise, but noise of a particular character which, to my ears, was all too digital. There's a certain slithery, smoothly-bumpy (!) aspect that we're all familiar with from fast-forwarding discs (mp3 files as well, I imagine) and a basic underlying pulse at a similarly recognizable tempo. I tend to vacillate between enjoying the surfaces textures so encountered and losing interest when hearing nothing much of any depth. Tone's music, when I concentrated fully, struck me this way. It was like peering into a vast, randomly fluctuating electronic process, everything a-glitter but mostly surface, like staring into a "snow" pattern on an old TV. The sounds, complex as they were, seemed to have been scrubbed and sanded clean, all the grit and meat removed.

When I relaxed my concentration a bit and just allowed it to wrap around me, it fared better. There were tiny stutters, small gaps of digital silence, that popped up throughout, rather like happenstance white spaces on a page filled with randomly distributed markings; these were quite welcome. Still, I couldn't help "relapsing" into a state of attentiveness and when I did, I felt the music needed to be both louder and denser. Tone, behind his, laptop, was continually making apparent adjustments though, save for some subtle rhythmic elements that emerged toward the very end of the work, I couldn't pick up any overt changes those adjustments might have triggered.

As can often be the case with sound forms that emulate, intentionally or otherwise, natural or mechanical processes, I find that sitting in a venue, listening to it as "art" often detracts from its merits. Had I been wandering around a particle accelerator or the like, turned a corner and been confronted with such a maelstrom, I doubtless would have greatly enjoyed wallowing in it. Perhaps my problem more than Tone's but it's the type of piece, at the least, I would have preferred encountering "in the wild".

(I just wanted to add that one of the small pleasures of going to shows in NYC is sitting in the same audience as people like Robert Ashley...)



crow said...

Your comment about the pleasure of sitting in audiences with Ashley reminds me of a recollection by Irene Aebi, found in Steve Lacy: Conversations.

She was interviewed about her experiences in the 70s and 80s in San Fransisco and cities in Europe, and said that fairly frequently she'd attend the odd play or performance art event, and Samuel Beckett would be in attendance, sometimes seated on the floor, raptly attentive. Aebi said, "Beckett liked to attend these odd performances, he really enjoyed that." At one such event, Lacy gave Beckett a bunch of records.

I like that image of Beckett enjoying the off-the-grid, sparsely attended, goofy gig.
I'd stare at him. I'm sure you're much cooler a customer than that, Brian.

Brian Olewnick said...

I've spotted Ashely several times in the last few years--I guess he makes it out to shows pretty often, very nice to see. Sat alongside he and David Behrman at a Christian Wolff show a couple of years ago, trying not to eavesdrop too much on their conversation.

No, didn't stare. There were actual a few new music luminaries in attendance the other night, including a few I recognized but couldn't attach a name to. Met Steve Swell, in fact, maybe not the first person you'd expect to see at this sort of thing.

Richard Pinnell said...

The most famous people I have sat next to at a concert (a LaMonte Young performance at the Barbican in London) were Jarvis Cocker and Damon Albarn, who both seemed pretty into the music, even if I wasn't...

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The Niikuni portion closed with a delightful piece utilizing a homemade instrument, a metal frame looking something like a music stand, strung with rubber bands and other pluckable detritus, all amplified. Adachi stroked and struck the various surfaces, occasionally emitting a soft vocalization.