Today we hosted a workshop and performance in such a special, idyllic location—an Edo period house called Tsukubo Katayama in the countryside town of Chayamachi, in Kurashiki, Okayama. Within the walls of this historical compound, peaceful mossy gardens surround the various spaces that are currently used for tea ceremonies, performances and other community events. I'm so thankful to Nozomi Miki for scouting out this location for us and for her generous hospitality over the few days while I was in town.
I've known Nozomi since my days living in Kobe, where we became fast-friends and musical collaborators. She moved to Kurashiki a few years ago, where she followed her dream to open a cafe and continues her work buying and selling antique Japanese swords (a trade she learnt and took over from her late-father). We spent the previous day cycling around Naoshima, an island in the Seto Inland Sea famous for its art galleries and sculptures. Tadao Ando's meticulously designed Chichu ("underground") Art Museum is a must-see and certainly worth a special visit.
Back to the workshop and concert: we had the privilege of performing on a gorgeous noh stage, with all of the room's sliding doors open to the outside gardens. The noh stage is an extremely simple space with a pine tree (the oi-matsu) painted on the back wall. This is said to be the eternal backdrop of noh. We all remarked afterwards on how inspired we were by the pleasant ambiance, scenery, and natural soundscape.
Of the workshop participants, only one was a trained musician and none had tried improvisation before. As a way to bring the focus of our attention to listening and tune our ears to the environment, I started the afternoon with Pauline Oliveros’s Rock Piece. We played outdoors in the enclosed garden among the sounds of birds, insects, frogs and the occasional passing car. It was really beautiful. After moving into the noh performance space, we took some time getting acquainted with one another through an intimate vocal improvisation, taking turns passing sounds around the circle in which we were seated. Next, with instruments in hand—mostly selected from the assortment of objects that Nozomi and I gathered—we continued with a similar exercise, taking turns playing our sounds around the circle, which gradually developed into a free improvisation. I was really impressed with how comfortably and quickly the group tuned in to one another and the environment, approaching the free improvisation with care and intention. It was a lovely time.
Lonesome Hope (a.k.a Nozomi) opened our concert with some of her original songs. It was such a delight to hear her perform again, as it had been a few years since she's been on stage. She was accompanied by drummer Yugi Haraguchi, and occasionally Shin’ichi Isohata on guitar and myself on melodica. Pianist Naoyo Yakushi, Shin’ichi, and Yuji followed with some of Shin’ichi’s original works—part scored, part improv—then I gave a solo piano performance of The continuum of something–nothing (on an electric Korg micro piano). We also presented a delicate performance of Thusness, loveness, I piece for open instrumentation that I recently composed for the A Place to Listen: Gentle Traces Festival, and it felt so appropriate for this venue. Yuji, Shin’ichi and I brought the afternoon to a close with a short improvisation. We invited the audience to join us and many did. It was a beautiful thing. The whole day was so wonderful. Everyone, including the participants, played with such sensitive awareness and the atmosphere was one of pure enjoyment and calm.
Read more about this event on Shin'ichi Isohata's blog