Terry Riley came to Unesco Village of Okutama in July 23th, the summer of 1977. It was the first visit to Japan for him and a large outdoor concert. The official name was “Contemporary music today: The Media 3” which was a project of contemporary music, Riley was a main guest rather than a featured artist.
There was a program called “Gendai no Ongaku (=Contemporary Music)” at FM broadcasting by NHK soon after the concert, a late producer Wataru Uenami broadcasted the excerpt of “Contemporary music today: The Media 3”. Although Satoshi Sonoda has uploaded this air check on Youtube, the performance of Riley is extremely short. Because the solo performance of Riley was broadcasted longer as the full duration of the program on another occasion.
I didn’t know Riley came to Japan in last November, because I already lost an interest for him. It has taken 37 years after the first visit to Japan. I don’t believe the information on the website at all, but I glanced what ever was happened. Unexpectedly, Jojo Hiroshige wrote very much. I see, the sound was great, but the circumstance was terrible. I don’t know Yuzin Kankawa at all who invites, projects or organizes ( I wonder he has a relationship with Hammond player, Mr Kankawa). I guess Riley is actually a legendary wizard or the legend for younger generation of nowadays. Although it is usual that the mystique or attractiveness of the legend has vanished as you push your way into that, I guess that he will know it someday.
Well, though “Contemporary music today:The Media 3” was said that a gathering festival of contemporary music and Rock, everyone felt “I wonder minimal is compatible with Rock” somehow. I also did so. I felt I saw Minimal beyond Progressive Rock. Forecasted that day was a fine weather, it was far to arrive at the Unesco Village in Okutama. Guys I went to together were Mr.Geso, Mr. Fujiwara after Ultra Bide and Mr. Sato I often associated with those days. It was already about 4 o’clock PM we reached there. As soon as we arrived at the station, subscribers were given a T-shirt. This was an admission ticket. I forgot whether I wore that soon.
I wondered it took about 10 minutes that we climbed a mountain road from the station. An outdoor theater molded as if mortar was halved and used of a slope of mountain suddenly appeared. I wondered audience seats had 20 steps along with a slope. Audience seats were shaped as steps by concrete, and thick plastic boards was put there as bench. Audience seats were almost full. I remembered a voice of Higurashi (a kind of cicadae) sounded beautifully. The temperature wasn’t so hot that I felt it might be too cool in midnight. Although audience seats were all unreserved, we were directed that audience shouldn’t sit at both ends of benches. It was a trick. In fact, performers supposed to sit here.
At the first performance, “The game” composed by Shigeaki Saegusa was that one hundred percussionists played simultaneously, many of them were sitting at benches in audience seats, furthermore large percussions were set on the stage. The performance started. Performers in audience seats started to directly beat benches by sticks. That wave was directly sent from our bottom. And, that strike was gushed from the edge to the edge as current wave in a stadium. And, a synth player Frank Becker scattered electronic sounds with portamento which the analog synth only can do. I wondered this was highly experimental for Saegusa’s works. It may be good to remember Urban Sax in France for example to feel this atmosphere. Although it wasn’t complicated rhythm, when simple one gathered, they birthed fluctuation. This didn’t make me feel simplicity.
In any case, I was so satisfied with this performance that I expected the performance from that time. The improvisational, interactive and successive performance “As Renga (= one of Japanose traditional poem styles)” by Yuji Takahashi and Minako Yoshida was started from the song and piano by Yoshida. Taking that motif, Yuji started to perform piano, but he didn’t reach a large variation. Yoshida took it again. She focused on improvisation of a song and a voice freely controlled. Yuji stuck to spin the sound for my impression. Honestly, I felt tired.
Next one was the piece written by Soumei Sato with using the lyric “ Eclipse” by Roger Waters of Pink Floyd. A singer was Mari Kaneko, the singer of Rock Band “Bux Bunny” This song was just like Sato. I had known “ Taiyo Sanka (Sun Anthem) ” about him, which was released from a label ALM by Kojima Recordings. I was very fond of that record performed by a composer himself. This was actually minimal music! The performance was what minimal music.
Subsequently, “Recurrence” of Toshi Ichiyanagi, a piano song by himself. Ichiyanagi was a composer who is the one of the represented modern composers in Japan and was influenced by John Cage and a former husband of Ono Yoko. For example, his attitude for the avant-garde and/or the experimental was highly different from guys as Takemitsu, Takahashi, or Kosugi. “Recurrence” was exactly minimal as we can call it minimal. But, his performance didn’t aim it. In contrast, he played the song as if he emphatically refused to indulge. I was really impressed. I wonder “Piano media” resembles to this song among his works.
Then, the group improvisation session named Super Crosstalk. Frank becker, Yuji Takahashi, Taisha Lee, Michael Ranta, Toshi Ichiyanagi, Masahiko Sato joined. Ichiyanagi and Ranta had released a masterpiece “improvisation, sep. 1975” by trio Kosugi had joined, from an independent label ”Iskra”. This was recorded in NHK by Wataru Uenami. I think it is really rare and important that this erformance exists. Because I remembered such thing, I really expected when I saw this member. Moreover, there were Masahiko Sato and Yuji Takahashi who had already met together by improvisation. I could often foresee the sound by member in case of an improvisational session of jazz, but people who gathered here were basically composers. Speaking of improvisation performance groups by composers, “Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza” in Italy and “Musica Electornica Viva” were famous.
Did such groups exist in Japan, didn’t they? No. They had already existed long time ago. Of course, I didn’t know them in 1977. It was “Group Ongaku”. They were formed mainly by students of Tokyo University of the Arts. There were members who joined in Fluxus later, as Kosugi, Tone, Shiomi. And, although GAP by Kiyohiko Sano, Kiyoshi Soga, Masami Tada started to be active in 1977 at last, I also didn’t know at that time. ( I wonder when “Taj Mahal Travelers” started to be active. It may be difficult to call them composer group.)
In any case, it was the first time that I watched the jam session by composers live, I wondered I didn’t watch such performance later. How was the situation? If there were a recording of this performance from start to finish, I’d like to listen to it. Unfortunately, we can’t listen to only a part of their performance on air later. Somehow, when I listened to at the venue for real, I felt completely different impression from the recording through a mixer. I wondered the performance time was about less than 30 minutes. Going down from the stage and going up briskly the stairs of audience seats, Yuji Takahashi went to somewhere. I’ve asked him the reason about his behavior at that time. But, he evaded it. The next one was “An electric picture story show : the tale of hell” by Yuji Takahashi in a program. I thought this was combined a picture slide show Yuji was used to do at that time with performance. It might be what he drew the miserable situation during the war.
After some years, I watched the same performance of “A prayer of bounded hands” by a poem of Kim Chi-Ha without Yuji. He recorded the poem reading and the performance on a cassette and left it with a slide show to a local organizer to play his gig. At that time, the movement toward the high-handed Korean political system was strong, a poet Kim Chi-Ha who was imprisoned and sentenced to death by an tinational activities was symbolic existence. However, he was commuted, released and devoted himself to religious activities.
I learned such Asian movements from books of Yuji. “Robert Schuman” “Cut off sounds by language” “Struggling music” etc. Political systems in Philippines, Thai, Chili, etc. and musicians against them were much written on those books, when I read those, I come to feel “It may be guilty that I listen to music just as my hobby.” It was impossible to be influenced on his interpretations or essays which swept out the image of historical classic composers, theories which he had an ability to criticize Xenakis while he had been taught him, and commentaries of composing which come from mathematics, a book in classical Chinese or Greek philosophy. If Akira Aida mainly influenced me on my sensibility, Yuji exactly appealed my intelligence.
A guy introduced me such books was Mr. Sato who went to Okutama together. Mr. Sato’s father was engaged in a work of Ro-on (a music conference of workers) in Aomori Prefecture, he was said to contribute Tikuzan Takahashi (traditional local blind Shamisen player) come to be famous. And, he introduced masterpieces of ethnic music because he had a lot of such records in his parent’s home.
Yuji volunteered to be the editor of a magazine “Transonic” which developed music critics edited by Japanese composer themselves. But, he gave it up on the way. Although I can understand that process, finally I can say it is difficult that we think music as struggle in current Japan. And, It could be said that he didn’t bear the compromised situation of Japanese composers’ group. I overlapped such attitude just as an image when Yuji went down from the stage and slipped into audience seats. However, I almost forgot the performance f this ”An electric picture story show”. Perhaps, I’ve slept a little. I guessed this was the time when the date was changing.
Finally, Terry Riley appeared around one o’clock. I remind I drank beer to sweep a night air, we eat octopus fritters or fried noodles together because Mr. Bide bought them. Because of this, I’ve slept within an hour since Riley started to play. Riley played as the title called “Shri Camel Trinity” (Though trinity was erased after that). It seems whenever it’s the same title if he performs to use a specific setting. This resembles to the Raga method of Indian Classical music. As you know, Indian classical music is basically improvisation music. It’s same as voice music or instrumental music. It was not strange that Riley took such approach because he studied Indian vocal music.
The performance was that he used the electronic organ tuned especially. It repeated with extremely slow delay, he overlapped on that sound with changing the sound quality by improvisation. I can say it just simple. If I understand such system, his mystic veil was stripped and I accepted that “Oh, it’s modal improvisation”. Instruments used by Terry Riley were electronic organs at that time. Not a synthesizer. For example, the sound by synthesizer was apparently overdubbed in his hit work “Rainbow Curved Air” (An aside: Do you know a progressive band called Curved Air?) However, why did he use electronic organ when he performed in Japan? Because he needed the especial tuning on keyboard. The pitch of an each key of electric organ is controled by the resistance value of electric current. So, if you change the resistance value, it’s possible that you can tune every key. Although it’s possible to do such thing for digital synthesizer recently, you couldn’t do it at that time. It was an age of Analog Synth.
Changing tune was the main point of his music. The performance with delay repeated sounds and phrases once played. In case of playing with delay device by organ usually tuned, it come to be dissonant when it was modulated somewhere. Whether we permit it or not. If it didn’t modulate, there were a lot of example among jazz or rock including Coltrane as modal improvisation. They continued to play adlib eternally by one chord. Riley tuned the organ called “Just intonation“ which was different from equal temperament of usual keyboard instruments. It is divided one octave as twelve by equal temperament. It’s possible that you can perform with all tones and you can play modulation and transposition freely. On the other hand, sounds of chord come to be bad by just intonation in one pitch. It supposed to be difficult to play modulation and transposition.
Just intonation sounds bad a little for people who has studied severe music education and have absolute pitch. However it’s not rare that it’s especially tuned in current popular music. One people have sense that it come to be an original flavor if they change tunes incidentally. It’s a statistic that we develop improvisation endlessly by just intonation for appealing such generation. If his performance made us intoxicate and dreamy impression, it was done by instruments called organ which never shows a climax or change by attacks of saxes, pianos and guitars as Jazz or Rock. The performance one person expressed it “Like starch syrup” swept the mood swings and aimed at the simplicity as if it made us sleep. Although it’s never bad thing that we become drowsy while we listen to music, it’s sure that there are time and age we want it.
Although minimal music and Terry Riley was an experience of contemporary music for me in the my age, it was one enter for people who were interested in Rock or improvisation to explore music beyond age, region and realm. (cont’d)