Saturday, August 8, 2009

Tokyo Music 3

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When we looked at the listings it happened that a Japanese artist I knew of was playing at the Pit Inn whilst we were in Tokyo. His name is Otomo Yoshihide and back in the days when I was living in the UK he was well-known on the avant-garde/free improv scene. At that time he was doing a lot of CD cut-up sound collage stuff and although his stuff was experimental and so not always successful it was, at least, always interesting. So when I saw he had organised some gigs in Tokyo whilst we were there I thought that if the 'shot in the dark' gigs didn't prove to be that great at least this was pretty much guaranteed to be interesting. Of course, as is the nature of these things, it didn't really work out that way.

Otomo talked on the website about how he had become interested in experimenting with the use of space in recent performance (having the performers positioned around the audience, amongst the audience, in a separate space etc) but when we arrived at the Pit Inn in Shinjuku the audience was seated in rows behind desks, mainly I guess to maximise the space utilisation in the small venue, but I'm not sure if it felt more like a primary school classroom or perhaps a church with pews. Probably the church metaphor works better as the 'congregation' seemed a pretty dedicated bunch.

The first set was a Zen-like sound poem kind of a thing with a combination of traditional instruments (although unconventionally played) as well as piano, marimba, electronics and some particularly listless percussion. I don't know about you but personally there's only so much Zen tranquility I can take in one sitting before I feel the need to balance my yin/yang by giving someone a clip round the ear but I was happy to see that as a psychological failing on my part and wait for the next exciting installment.

The next set, unfortunately, was even worse. Totally predictable straight-ahead hotel lobby jazz with some superficial 'avant-garde' elements such as pre-recorded sounds and abrupt finishes to tunes that seemed completely tacked-on rather than part of the musical dialogue. The band was led by the pianist from the previous set, playing her compositions of advertising-jingle melodies accompanied by her own vocal witterings. She was joined by a bass player, guitarist and drummer. At one point the guitarist briefly cut loose for about a minute or so and it was clear that he could really play and for a moment I thought that the whole thing had been an elaborate joke and now we were going to hear the real shit but after his brief foray into the world of the living it was back to the plodding jingle-jangle of before, under the watchful eye of the schoolmarm band leader.

After some discussion we decided to stay for the third set, surely things could only get better? Oh no. They could get even worse. The same quartet came out but this time accompanied by Otomo, the listless marimba and electronics players from the first set and, joy of joys, that old chestnut, a vocalist who can't sing for shit. My, how we laughed.

Otomo, Otomo, what the feck happened to you Otomo?

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