Yoshi Wada & Tashi Wada at Issue Project Room
September 13, 2014
22 Boerum Place (between Livingston and Schemerhorn)
Brooklyn, 718 330 0313
The room smelled like rain-softened wool and leather at Issue Project Room on Saturday September 13th. The tightly packed audience, half of them sitting and half standing — the chairs normally occupying the back of the space were cleared to allow for the performers’ mobility — waited in humming excitement for experimental composer Yoshi Wada, his son Tashi Wada, and their accompanying musicians, David Watson and Jim Pugliese. Yoshi, born in 1943 in Kyoto, Japan, studied sculpture at the Kyoto University of Fine Arts before moving to New York in the late 1960s where he joined the Fluxus art movement and studied with its founder, George Maciunas. Though Maciunas acted as a catalyst to Yoshi’s early experiments in music, Yoshi maintains that he did not carry the movement’s influence into his later career. In a 2008 interview with The Wire, Yoshi commented that Fluxus appealed to him at the time, however his independent interests in sound and music directed him elsewhere. His departure from Fluxus led him to study music composition with La Monte Young, and by extension North Indian signing with Prandit Pran Nath, and Scottish bagpipe with James McIntosh.[i] In Yoshi’s most recent work, Fluxus’ democratic consideration of the artistic potential in objects and actions, the tonal precision of North Indian singing, and the emotive qualities of Scottish bagpipes all merge into a sensory environment thickening with the sense of urgency and approaching danger.
The unnamed performance began with the sound of an alarm. Yoshi churned a low whine from a worn, metal hand siren, which grew to an anxious, undulating howl, then stopped abruptly. He then focused his concentration on a small switchboard. With each definitive press of a button he rang one of the alarm bells installed in various unidentifiable locations throughout the performance space. The warning sounds compounded further as Pugliese’s bass drum and Tashi’s organ drone joined in. Pugliese’s mallet attacked the drum in sporadic intervals while Yoshi watched avidly, waiting to ring the alarm bells precisely in or out of synch with the echoing percussion. Like the slow, elongated footsteps of a giant or an army marching in unison, the drumbeat spread ominously into the air as the shrill bells quivered erratically in sonic contrast. The hum of Tashi’s organ crept into audibility, seeming to emanate from beneath my feet. Watson exhaled a mournful note from his bloated bagpipe, which hung heavily in the air. Later in the performance, Watson and Yoshi — who began playing his own bagpipe — circled the perimeter of the space. As elongated tones followed them around the space like half-deflated balloons attached to their instruments, the growing amalgam of sounds created a formless narrative specific to the evening and location.
In addition to its inextricable link to duration — unlike static two- or three-dimensional objects that can be experienced at various points in time, we only hear sound while the sound waves vibrate — the performance of sound also greatly involves the space in which it is presented. At Issue Project Room, sounds bounced around the cavernous ceiling, and from where I sat, the reverberations created a spinning sonic halo above my head. Further amplifying the sensory experience, the room, crowded with radiating bodies, became gradually hotter and more humid as the performance went on. At the point of swampy discomfort, the climate heightened the effect of the instruments and I became acutely aware of my corporeal sensations: everything blended into a bath of perception. The bagpipe, siren, and organ combined into a polyphonic discord while the drum rumbled on the side. The tones resonated so deeply it became hard to distinguish whether they were being heard or felt.
Yoshi’s composition filled both the walls of the architecture and the bodies of the attendants as it wove periods of intensity with ones of meditative restraint. The interludes allowed my mind to calm and wander, but never for too long as Yoshi continually reintroduced the siren and the corresponding crescendo of the other instruments. The utilization of sound’s ability to resonate within the body, through both high and low frequencies, combined with sounds that connote impending danger, created a foreboding psychological event. The lack of contextualization further disconnected the audience from an opportunity to interpret the elements. The only specific information Issue Project Room gave about the nameless composition is in Yoshi’s words: “I search for deep and ringing sound that travels deep into my cells. Where does this sound exist?” The question posed by Yoshi requires a heightened awareness, not just of what we hear but how it feels to hear. By blurring the lines that distinguish individual senses, Yoshi created an open space for unadulterated sensory perception.
[i]Haynes, Jim. “Piper’s Lament.” The Wire June 2008: 20-22.print