As Orbiturtle, Dave Jackson, Ko Omura and I are over the moon to announce the launch of Joganji - the album of improvisations we recorded with the incredible Japanese musicians Michiyo Yagi on koto and bassist/cellist Takashi Sugawa over three days in residence in Osaka's Joganji Buddhist Temple in January 2017. We're deeply grateful to the Australia Council for the Arts for their support to make the project a reality, and the temple master Michiaki Kouno for welcoming us to the use the space - which with its gilded shrine and intricate wood carvings, along with the dustings of snow outside, catalysed some magically connected music making. The music and a short essay on the residency can be found at https://orbiturtle.bandcamp.com/album/joganji, or www.orbiturtle.com! Digital downloads of the album come with an accompanying 16-page PDF photo & liner notes booklet.
Wednesday 8th August, Sydney Conservatorium, Recital Hall East, 6:30pm [free entry]
Judy and I have been improvising together since my undergrad lessons, and this concert marks both a continuation and a culmination of a long-running annual series of two piano concerts we've presented over the last 7 years.
To celebrate this auspicious anniversary, we're recording this one for NZ contemporary music label Rattle Records!
In the past each concert has grown from a tiny conceptual cell; tonight, a series of musical themes will emerge inspired by the five classical elements found in ancient Greek, Hindu, Chinese and Tibetan philosophy. In Japanese Buddhism, these are:
Earth: 地 Chi
Water: 水 Sui or mizu
Fire: 火 Ka or hi
Wind: 風 Fū or kaze
Void (Aether): 空 Kū or sora
Reviewed by Joseph O'Connor, June 2 2018
One of my pet peeves is the tendency of the cultural industry to wedge musicians into narrow stylistic categories, even though many artists practice across multiple styles and disciplines. Categories are convenient, probably even necessary, but categorisation is a reductive business. Categories describe general commonalities with other music, ignoring colourful particularity in the process.
For this reason, I hesitate to call Steve Barry’s new solo piano album Hatch a jazz release, though Steve is an exceptionally fine jazz pianist.To frame Steve’s solo music from the point of view of his jazz credentials would seem to paint his engagement with modernist art music as a kind of tourist venture into the other, belying the depth with which he has clearly interrogated 20th and 21st century classical repertoire in the formulation of Hatch. Whether it is a jazz release, a classical release or something in between really depends on whether you define genre in terms of an artistic process or the musical tropes identified with particular styles. If one sides with the former perspective, the centrality of improvisation to Hatch distances it from classical methodologies, though its musical materials frequently reference notated traditions. I personally don’t think that the distinction is terrible important anyway because the music is exceptional regardless, and is stronger for its bucking of easy categorisation.
I have known Steve Barry for some years now, having crossed paths with him at various gigs, workshops and festivals over the years. We are collaborating on duo piano music later in the year so in the interests of disclosure, I had a lot of admiration for Steve’s music before I heard this album. The present offering Hatch and his recent quartet album Blueprints and Vignettes (released on Earshift Music) demonstrate a striking out into vastly new territory in terms of aesthetic and musical materials. When I first heard Steve play at a piano workshop at the Australian National Academy of Music in 2011, his work aligned with the contemporary mainstream of jazz and he continued to hone this approach on his 2014 album Puzzles. I think it is fairly uncontentious to say that he was (and still is) one of the leading Australian based pianists working in this style. However a couple of years ago, I began to hear murmurs that Steve had been getting deeply into more experimental musicians from the New York scene including pianists Kris Davis and Matt Mitchell. I was surprised by the rapid evolution of his interests because it is rare to hear an artist so accomplished in a particular approach to re-evaluate the way that they do things so comprehensively. Steve opted for the difficult but rewarding path rather than the comfortable one, and this commitment to growth and integrity is commendable.
When Blueprints and Vignettes released in January this year, I was deeply impressed by how completely Steve had consolidated ideas from the contemporary jazz avant garde. The inspiration of Matt Mitchell’s album Vista Accumulation is particularly present on Steve’s quartet music (perhaps a little too present), but Steve’s unique voice comes through on both albums and particularly on Hatch. His music has a lyrical sweep that I occasionally yearn for when I listen to Kris Davis, and it avoids the muscular severity that can be confronting in Matt Mitchell’s music (for instance Veins from Mitchell’s album Fiction or Plate Shapes from his recent release A Pouting Grimace). The compositions on Hatch are consistently inventive and varied. Steve has an impressive ability to improvise with intricate pitch structures and pianistic textures without ever sounding constrained by compositional parameters. Having struggled to achieve similar ends in some of my music, I can attest that this is a very difficult effect to carry off. It can only be achieved with a mountain of diligent study and practice. I was not surprised to read that this collection is the musical outcome of Steve’s PhD research. There are seventeen tracks on Hatch of varying durations so I will focus on just a couple to capture an impression of the territory covered.
The opening track Microcosm grows out of a sketch for improvisation. It is an etude in crisp, free tonality articulated by lyrical, freewheeling melodies. Steve’s Improvisation expands from three sets of modules, linked by recurring contours and a consistency in the pitch organisation that is difficult to account for without close analysis. The modules that make up Microcosm are rich with information. The harmonies imply cadences in isolation, but their tonal allusions are dispersed when the sonorities flow swiftly from one to the next. his type of modular sketch, which is able to foster both improvised flexibility and conceptual focus, suggests the influence of approaches favoured by some of the leading exponents of New York’s jazz avant garde. Piano virtuoso Cory Smythe’s solo pieces Blockchain from AUTOTROPHES and moon:Glow from Pluripotent are vivid points of comparison, though Steve’s sensibility is a little more romantic (think Schoenberg’s Six Little Piano Pieces, Op. 19). A sophisticated harmonic sensibility persists through all the transformations and brings to mind a miniature called Proem from Tim Stevens’ 2002 album Freehand (another Australian master of the solo format), though Tim’s composition resides a little more comfortably on the tonal spectrum. Steve’s improvisation in Codify, which appears later in Hatch, also responds to a notated modular template in a similar manner to Microcosm.
Other tracks are more compositional in their construction. Spire is primarily notated, though it includes textures that are filled out with improvised elements. The form is sonata-like. The pitch materials and textures that are developed throughout the piece are defined within the first thirty-five seconds of the track. Spire begins with a sinuous arpeggiated melody that opens into a chordal passage, during which the arpeggiated movements continue in the left hand. These figures seem to repeat throughout the opening section (the exposition?) though they are actually already transforming. Spire is freely tonal rather than atonal. Many of the sonorities have triads embedded within them, made colourful by their combination with tones from other harmonic areas. The middle section of Spire (the development?) transfigures the opening materials in a variety of ways. Melodic cascades reference the opening gestures, and flow together to form more expansive linear passages that transpose and evolve. There are fleeting glimpses of tonal centers but the music swiftly moves in directions that defy their harmonic gravity. This impression is partly due to the predominance of melodic fourth and fifths, which appear frequently in tonal music but have a decentering effect when they are used as ubiquitous melodic units.
Steve’s influences are quite diverse and this manifests in the remaining tracks. Tag! and Canon, inspired by Hindemith’s Ludus Tonalis, are lean and contrapuntal, based around two interweaving melodies. In contrast, Meander is inspired by the expressive improvised counterpoint of Fred Hersch’s music, though Steve’s less rhapsodic sensibility seems equally indebted to Paul Grabowsky’s solo music. Other tracks draw their inspiration from the music of American serialist Milton Babbit, the stemless notation of Morton Feldman, and the harmonic approaches of Olivier Messiaen. Hatch covers a lot of ground and hearing these influences filtered through Steve’s aesthetic as an improviser and composer makes for diverse and satisfying listening. The fact that the explorations informing Hatch are relatively recent makes this album particularly exciting for me because it suggests that this music is only the beginning. I can only imagine what will follow as Steve continues to mine modernist and experimental music for inspiration.
Big thanks to John Shand for his 4-star review in today's Sydney Morning Herald.
Music has a way of smoothing its own path. Given the chance, our brains readily accommodate complexity that comes via the ears, so the unfolding of even quite convoluted material can swiftly assume an air of inevitability. Of course relentless complexity may ultimately test powers of concentration, but pianist/composer Steve Barry is too savvy for that – and not, I suspect, because he is anticipating his listeners' attention spans. It is more that his own interests are diverse, and so, besides carving some challenging notated figures for his collaborators, he allows the music to unravel into pools of free improvisation in which mood and interaction predominate over any predetermined concepts. The album becomes a dialogue between the concrete and the abstract, and not always with the composed elements fulfilling the former role and the improvised the latter. Perhaps that is partly what makes it so gripping – that and the fact that Jeremy Rose (alto saxophone, bass clarinet), Max Alducca (bass) and Dave Goodman (drums) are attuned to Barry's ever-more distinctive and often diaphanous ideas, and these ideas allow all four players to flourish as improvisers.
John Fenton has been reviewing gigs in and around Auckland for years, and he's been a huge contributor to the ongoing promotion and chronicling of NZ music happenings. Big thanks to John for this review of our show in Auckland on February 21st, 2017.
Good Music always says something interesting; it’s a form of communication where a musical statement begins a process and a listener responds. With any innovative musical form, we need to bring something of ourselves to the equation. The more open our ears the better the experience. Gifted improvisers of all cultures understand these fundamentals and because of this they mostly tell old stories in new ways. Rarely and bravely, musicians hit us with stories not yet fixed in the popular imagination. Steve Barry and his collaborators have a foot in both camps. While this is adventurous material, it is also approachable to anyone with open ears. What we heard at the CJC was innovative but the archetypes of all music were located deep in the compositional structure. A careful listening revealed trace elements from composers like Stravinsky or Bley and perhaps even of indigenous music.
The first piece they opened with was titled ‘Grind’ – a composition inspired by Sydney traffic (much as Tristano utilised every street sound that floated through his NY window). The piece began as journeys do with determined momentum – a degree of clarity followed by a more frenetic stop-start feel as the piece progressed – then reflection. It appealed to me greatly and twelve minutes in, I knew that I was hearing something similar to the approach used by Bley/Guiffre/Swallow in ‘Freefall’. There are moments in musical history when profound change is signalled and that album was one of them. The critics of the time hated it of course but modern Jazz audiences have caught up. The new Barry album ‘Blueprints and Vignettes’ will not be regarded as controversial but as vital and forward-looking. Back then clubs took fright and closed their doors but no club owner worth their salt would miss booking this group.
Barry is an interesting pianist and composer and this project may be his best to date. At the CJC he was confronted with a basic upright piano, but he somehow transformed it into a new instrument entirely. Many in the audience were fascinated and approached him afterwards to enquire how he achieved this slight of hand. Clever miking and a constant repetitive damping of the soft pedal was evident, but I suspect that his rapid-fire staccatissimo touch contributed as much to the effect. I know that Barry has also explored Bartok and the classical modernists and this may hold some clues as well. Whether by happenstance or contrivance, the overall effect was enormously pleasing. There were set patterns and themes, but these altered, developed, as fresh ideas arose from them.
I was delighted to finally catch up with Dave Goodman (PhD), having heard him last at the 505 in Sydney (along with Mike Nock, Rog Manins, James Muller and Cameron Undy). Goodman is an enormously versatile drummer and a popular educator. His role here is varied, but often that of ‘colourist’. Rolling his sticks over the drum heads, or providing contrast with irregular taps on the snare or a muted ride cymbal – and entering these interesting conversations as an equal. The other trio member was Jeremy Rose on reeds (his horns, the alto saxophone and bass clarinet). He was just superb and every bold sound or whispered breath added new dimensions. It is seldom that we hear a bass clarinet and to hear one in a trio setting of this kind is even rarer. The clarinets woodiness and rich harmonics added texture, the alto, a hawk awaiting its moment then swooping purposefully. In spite of the varying tempos and moods, the album imparts a delicacy from start to finish. Live, they got the best out of the acoustics and venue piano. What a perfect sound palette Barry has chosen for this project and whether live or recorded, how satisfying the realisation.
Originally published at jazzlocal32.com
This week I spoke to Nikos Fotakis at Australianjazz.net about the story behind Blueprints & Vignettes.
How did 'Blueprints & Vignettes' come to be? What was the original concept? How did it evolve?
There were a few catalysts for the record. The first was coming across set theory in David Cope’s Techniques of the Contemporary Composer and starting to play around with those sounds. In pitch-class sets I found a systematic way of investigating some ideas I’d discovered playing jazz & standard repertoire – approaches to harmonising V7 chords, for example (say using a maj7(b9) as a substitute for a regular dominant) or basing melodic lines on small cells of notes. I’m fascinated by harmonic colour, so the last couple of years of have definitely been a kid-in-a-candy-shop period.
The second stimulus was hearing people like Matt Mitchell (on Fiction and Vista Accumulation), Marc Hannaford (Can You See With Two Sets of Eyes), Kris Davis (Waiting for You to Grow), Tyshawn Sorey (Oblique-1) and Scott Tinkler using pitch-set-like material in really broad and interesting ways - Blueprints & Vignettes is very much a reflection of their influence.
How did you work on it?
I set out to explore the full spectrum of tone colours that could be derived from each individual set, and covered most of the possible unique intervallic groupings of 4 or 5 notes. Most of the pieces on Blueprints & Vignettes are the product of inversions and transpositions of different collections of ‘seed’ sets - in each case around 5-9 members. I discovered that each individual set could be arranged (both vertically and horizontally) to produce a more or less dissonant tonality; each set contained a spectrum between (to my ears) structural stability and volatility. It was interesting how much just swapping the top and bottom or internal notes of a voicing, or expanding or contracting the range of a melodic line could change its character.
There’s also plenty of space for open-ended/free improv on the record, in most cases based on and expanding the themes of the compositions.
When I first listened to the album the first thing that impressed me was its pace and its use of space, both in arrangements and in the compositions themselves; how would you describe your approach to both elements? What was/is your aim?
Pieces like Primed do have very systematic approaches to space – Part 2 is all formed around chord durations based on prime numbers, which contrasts with the soundscape-y/toy-instrument/extended-techniques free improv underneath the rubato melodic line in Part 1. I also wanted to juxtapose different types of musical activity - Mammoth ambles between sections of density and spaciousness, with each section being a different permutation of the material in the first few bars of the piece. The opening of Grind uses a cycling series of semi-quaver durations which gradually shifts through modes of itself, and the solo section is based on the same structure instead with longer durations. In #34 we freely morph the various themes of the head into a sort of collectively emerging hodgepodge. Ultimately my aim was to investigate the type of rule-based composition strategies that were pretty new to me at the start of the project, while allowing plenty of space for the guys to do their thing bring it all to life.
How did you choose the musicians you worked with? What did each bring to the project? What are you looking for, in terms of musicianship?
Dave Goodman, Max Alduca and I started playing together as a trio a couple of years ago and quickly discovered this really intuitive and empathetic way of navigating free improv. Jeremy Rose and I had been playing some duo for a while, and with both his vast knowledge as a composer and his beautiful sound on the bass clari was the obvious choice to round off the quartet. They’re also top blokes!
The guys really got stuck in, and were amiable the whole way through to my relatively frequent edits and additions…I also didn’t write any drum-specific parts, so Dave pretty much just memorised all the material – no mean feat! The whole thing was an interesting process, in the sense that the compositions were very much open to revision after playing them through as a band; sections would stick out as being too formulaic or having an awkward flow, notation may have to be clarified rhythmically for ease of reading, or melodies were added to act as holding patterns as transitions from free improv back into the composition to minimise ambiguity/etc. I even rewrote/added a few things in between the recording and the release.
Everyone put a lot of time into the project, and there’s no way I could have realised it without the guys’ dedication, musicality and mateship.
How would you describe your music to someone not familiar with it?
One foot in the jazz tradition & one foot in contemporary classical music – a board canvas traversing between schematics and watercolours.
Who is your ideal listener?
Interesting question…anyone who comes to the gig? Haha. Really anyone prepared to turn up with an open mind and open ears.
If 'Blueprints & Vignettes' was the soundtrack for a movie, what kind of movie would that be?
Oh man, that’s a hard one – zero idea on any sort of narrative. I can picture a static image though – the music is hugely influenced by Kandinsky’s paintings, particularly pieces like Composition VIII with its juxtaposing of circles and sharp lines – and those colours!
What inspires you?
Many things. At the risk of rattling off clichés…nature. My fiancé and I live just down the road from Sydney’s Callan Park, a fairly large parkland 10-minutes from town littered with asbestos-ridden decrepit old buildings, which is a great place to pretend to escape the city. I spent a couple of weeks at the Arts Centre in Banff last year, and some time in rural New Zealand last week; I’m finding more and more that it’s things like hiking, cycling and generally decompressing away from the city that spawn new creative ideas – it’s easy to lose that open headspace around the usual work and teaching routines.
Developing world travel, abstract art, practical philosophy (e.g. talks & content from Alain de Botton’s School of Life) and good design (especially urban/landscape/architecture) have all helped drive fresh perspectives over the last few years.
Finally and obviously, all of the incredible music that keeps coming out of Australasia.
Who are your heroes?
Bjarke Ingels is the first to come to mind – a Danish “starchitect” revolutionising the way we consider urban spaces, sustainable living and community, particularly in the face of climate change. One project transforms a trash recycling centre into a giant roof top, man-made snow-park and ski-slope, complete with a chimney that puffs a giant smoke ring when various plant-efficiency targets are met. Awesome.
My now old friend and mentor Roger Manins is another – without whom I likely wouldn’t have found the joy in playing music that propelled me to keep exploring it. As well as being a monster musician, Rog has also been a transformative influence on the jazz scene in Auckland, together with his partner Caroline and local saxophonist Ben McNicoll and the club (Creative Jazz Club Aotearoa) they founded nearly 10 years ago.
What does jazz mean to you?
I can only echo what plenty of people have said before: to me ‘jazz’ can be attached to any music that holds innovation, imagination and improvisation at its core, acts as an inter-cultural medium of sharing and dispersing musical and philosophical knowledge, and promotes interpersonal understanding and empathy.
Which song best describes your current state of mind?
My fiancé and I are planning a wedding, so it’d have to be Hakuna Matata from the Lion King.
Full review at http://australianjazz.net/2018/02/steve-barry-music-board-canvas-traversing-schematics-watercolours/
Big thanks to John Hardaker for this nice review of Blueprints & Vignettes - originally published at wordsaboutmusic.wordpress.com
Many a true word said in jest, as some bard said. Barry is not only a musical cosmonaut in the sense of an intrepid and fearless space explorer, but the universe he explores is largely one of his own making.
The new album is a quantum departure from Barry’s previous two acclaimed albums, 2012’s Steve Barry and 2014’s Puzzles. His recent writing has evolved a highly individual and idiosyncratic language that colours the logic of his melodic line. Harmonically he has become even more adventurous, and rhythmically he plays with time and the stretching of time in truly eye and ear-opening ways.
The PR release mentions influences such as Paul Bley and Eliot Carter, but I can hear other musical cosmonauts in there too: Ornette, Bartok, even the spirit of Debussy magical and hazy round the edges at times.
Barry has selected some fellow cosmonauts of equal fearlessness and intrepidity for this trip. Jeremy Rose, who seems to spend as much time digging deep into the earth as he does cruising the cosmic breezes, is on alto and bass clarinet. And, after hearing how they breath as one with these tunes, I couldn’t think of a better rhythm section than the masterful Dave Goodman on drums and rising star Max Alduca on double bass.
The Barry sound is evident from opener ‘Mammoth pt.1’ – a fragmented ensemble line that seems to walk along a swaying tightrope. Pretty soon the group, in the solos, is dancing on that swaying tightrope with sure but light steps. ‘Mammoth pt.2’, which follows, is more meditative and darker, reflecting the yin-yang of the album.
‘Primed’ is also a two-parter: Part 1 has a backdrop of Alduca’s percussive, bowed and scraped bass effects under Rose’s conversational bass clarinet; Part 2 has that slightly giddying sense of stretched time with Barry’s piano stabs under bass and bass clari.
‘Grind’ and album closer ‘#34’ both move across a bed of suggested swing. The melodies have a Monk-ish neo-neo-bop leap and shout to them the obvious rhythmic paths tug at Goodman and Alduca but they dont go there, preferring to blaze their own trails. Nice work.
The lovely (and evocatively named) ballad ‘In the crepuscular forest of forked paths’ best serves to bring together the strands of Barry’s parallel interests – it has a dark lyricism and painterly harmony, a jazz approach in the freedom of the improvised sections, and a sense of searching for a new beauty that much of the best 20th century classical music possesses.
Searching for a new beauty. It is what musical cosmonauts do. And, if they are all as lovely, challenging and revealing as Blueprints and Vignettes, I look forward to further Steve Barry communiques from the outer reaches of the universe of music.
I'm happy to announce Blueprints & Vignettes will be launched with an Australasian tour throughout February 2018.
The album grew out of a period of exploring pitch-class sets, intervallicism and serialism during my PhD, and represents an attempt the synergise the jazz and new music worlds that I find myself at the nexus of. The album dances back and forward between intricate compositions and free improvisation in an exploration of harmonic hues and the spontaneous re-imagination of pre-set structures.
10th Feb: SIMA, SYDNEy
(featuring special guest & rising star Thomas Avegnicos, tpt.) DOUBLE BILL with Jenna Cave & Keyna Wilkins.
15th Feb: Wellington Jazz Co-Op, WELLINGTON
Pyramid Club, 272 Taranaki Street.
16th Feb: Brew Craft Beer Pub, ROTORUA
1103 Tutanekai St.
20th Feb: Jazz & Blues Club, AUCKLAND
Pt Chevalier RSL, 1136 Great North Rd.
21st Feb: Creative Jazz Club (CJC), AUCKLAND
The Thirsty Dog, 469 Karangahape Rd, Ponsonby
27th Feb: The Jazzlab, MELBOURNE
27 Leslie St, Brunswick, $20/15.
I'm looking forward to being a part of Martin Kay's epic work The Deep End, premiering at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music this Wednesday the 1st of November. 6:30pm - free entry.
The Deep End emerges from the resonance of a Tibetan Gong Martin bought during his travels in India. The internal soundwaves of the gong transform the ensemble through scordatura harp, prepared piano, and modular synthesiser, saxophone and drums. From epic soundscapes to extended climaxes and rhythmic twists and turns, this multimovement work uses the experience of surfing, the unpredictability the ocean brings to a surfer's manoeuvres, as a metaphor for improvisation negotiating the composed backgrounds. The Deep End features five of Sydney's most innovative improvisors. Be tubed. Be dunked: Catharsis.
Martin Kay: saxophone/clarinet
Emily Granger: Scordatura harp
Steve Barry: Prepared piano
Ben Carey: Modular sythesiser
Jamie Cameron: Drums
I met Judy back in 2009 in my first year at the Con, fresh off the plane from NZ, and was instantly struck by the immense sound she extracts from the piano and the seemingly bottomless depth of her musical vocabulary. We improvised a lot for each other during my lessons, bouncing ideas back and forth, and it was always a feeling of "yes, and...!" as we switched places around the piano. We put on our first duo gig back in 2011 and found a pretty special organic connection improvising together, which we've been exploring every year or so since. I still get a schooling every time!! Hope you can join us next Tuesday at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music - West Recital Hall at 6:30pm, $25/15.
***Thanks to all who came out! For those who missed it - here's the gig in its entirety.
Thanks to John Shand for a nice review of Jay Rodriguez's gig at 505 last week!
It was an absolute privilege to be a part of the 2017 Ubud Village Jazz Festival - it's not everyday you get to play in exquisite traditionally designed grounds of an Art Museum set amongst lush green forest and rice paddies. Huge thanks to Australian Embassy - Jakarta, Indonesia and Yuri Mahatma, Astrid Sulaiman and all those behind the festival for inviting us and showing us the meaning of Balinese hospitality. #ubudvillagejazzfest #jazz #orbiturtle
It's an amazing two weeks of hikes, hangs and music making at the Banff Centre for the Composer-Pianist Collaborative, amongst an inspiring group of composer/performer/improvisers from around the world. Huge thanks to the incredible faculty of Steven Shick, Nicolas Hodges, Phyllis Chen. Winston Choi, Vicky Chow, Cory Smythe and Craig Taborn for making it such an open and engaging environment.
Here's some music that came out of a new collaboration with drummer, composer and Columbia PhD candidate Vicente Hansen Atria.
Over the past few weeks Dave Jackson, Ko Omura and I had the great pleasure of collaborating with two of Japan's leading improvisers: koto player Michiyo Yagi and bassist/cellist Takashi Sugawa. Thanks to an Australia Council for the Arts development grant, we undertook a three-day workshopping and recording residency in Osaka's Joganji Buddhist Temple, and an 8-date tour of mainland Japan. The products of the project - over 3 hours of improvised music - will be available soon; in the meantime below is a brief overview of the collaboration.
We founded Orbiturtle with a mission to facilitate cross-cultural dialogue within the arts, by curating new collaborations that explore the intersections of east & west, the sacred & secular, and the ancient & modern – dialogues that are becoming increasingly present and significant in the globalised world.
By applying contemporary techniques (electronics, wall-of-sound improvisation, etc.) to the koto – the national instrument of Japan – and collaborating with leading figures of contemporary experimental music, Michiyo herself personifies this nexus between the old and the new.
As Orbiturtle we had performed at the Joganji temple during a previous visit to Japan, and had been inspired by the serene atmosphere of both the temple room and its surrounding gardens. It was the logical place to base our collaboration with Yagi san.
Each workshop day in the temple consisted of a series of free improvisations of different lengths. We took several approaches to beginning each performance – either choosing one member to begin solo, two members to begin together, or removing any pre-planning entirely and just starting to play as a group. There was an atmosphere of mutual respect within the ensemble which led to us thoroughly investigating the many timbral combinations and effects possible with our instrumentation – 17-string and 21 string koto, cello and double bass, tabla and drum kit, saxophone and piano. In some performances we pre-emptively decided on an approximate timeframe for the improvisation, and in other cases let the flow of the emergent music dictate the length of the performance. We took this open-ended approach to the workshopping process in the hope of consistently coaxing out new creative insights and pathways as a group, which also meant the improvisations varied in length from three minutes to half an hour.
Improvised music is a lot like verbal conversation. As such, we’ve found that the success of group free improvisation is often affected by the personal affinity shared between the members of the ensemble, and the capacity of each member to respond spontaneously and empathetically to the decisions or statements made by theother members. With this in mind, our three days of workshopping were buoyed by the meals, drinks and conversations we shared with Michiyo and Takashi outside the temple – in particular through the late-night, post-live-gig hang outs (often hosted by the venue owners) that are one of the incredible mainstays of Japanese hospitality.
It was chilly with scatters of snow in Osaka during our rehearsals, and our improvisations often reflected this and other aspects of Japanese culture and spirituality we absorbed during our time in the country. For example, sections of fragile minimalism evoke the monochrome landscape of the Japanese countryside in winter, while loud and chaotic periods reflected the disturbing deities and masks of Japanese surrealism and theatre we frequently encountered.
Our collaboration with Michiyo and Takashi was immensely fruitful, and between three days of low-fi recordings of rehearsals, a day of studio-style recording and two live recorded gigs produced musical outcomes that are many and varied. We quickly discovered kindred musical spirits in Michiyo and Takashi, and greatly look forward to releasing the consolidated recordings and continuing the collaboration into the future.