Excited about playing with some great Taiwanese and Dutch improvisers next week here in Taiwan.
Wilbert de Joode, Felicity Provan, Mark Alban Lotz, Onno Govaerts, and Rogier Hornman come over from The Netherlands, and from the local scene we have Lee Shih-Yang, Dawang Yifang Huang, Tung Chao-Ming, and Min-Yen Terrie Hsieh. Oh and myself as well, in a category of your choice. More info here.
I see improvisation as much more than a musical technique. While watching the performance of Joëlle Landrée, solo and with Lee Shih-Yang (November 4, Nankang Theatre, Taipei), half of my attention goes to the mimicry, body language and theatrical techniques of Landrée, who is ‘acting with’ her double bass as much as she is playing it. She talks through it, of course, but also to it. She treats it sometimes as a human being, or perhaps an animal, as she feigns anger or joy towards it. At one moment she gently kicked the lower part of her bass with her foot, as if kicking a dog bothering her.
Joëlle Léandre responds visibly to her own music: almost as if it is not her making that music, but player and played are two; and she responds visibily to Lee Shih-Yang’s music and stage persona. In this way she sets up some sort of loops or interconnected circuits with the following elements:
a body performing, producing sound
a body responding to its own sound
a body playing with and for another performer in/through sound and in/through bodily gestures, facial expressions
a body listening and responding to that other performer in/through sound and in/through bodily gestures, facial expressions
and also, a body playing music and acting out the music for an audience
and responding to the audience (although rarely, in this case).
The music is the central theme of all these actions, it pervades it, surrounds it, generates it, steers it. But looking at the music alone would greatly limit our understanding of what is going on.
Joëlle Léandre’s performance was full of humor in more ways than music only can convey. Music in itself can certainly convey humor (I think of Dutch conceptual artist Wim T. Schippers playing a well-known Bach piece on piano, making all sorts of mistakes, trying to correct himself, repeating phrases, moving faster and slower, in the music-theatre piece Hoogwater voorheen Laagwater, 2016). But sometimes the musician herself becomes not just the medium of the music or sound, but something more like an actor or performer, aware of the fact that she is also playing a role onstage. She might exaggerate musical gestures in more than simply practical ways, she might use the body and facial expressions to convey messages that go far beyond what musicians express ‘as music’.
Léandre’s face showed some sort of running commentary to her own music and to the interaction with Lee Shih-Yang and at times made the audience laugh. By doing that, she puts the musician’s efforts between brackets, distances herself from it, provides some sort of criticism even as she is making music. It enhances the important idea in improvisation that the music itself, too, can be a running commentary on what the performers do.
You could say that some (in fact: many) musicians provide this commentary more discreetly, by only responding in music and not or not clearly in gesture, face, or body. Léandre on the other hand chose to enlarge her response through these means, making it less discrete, less hidden, less vague to the audience. Yet there were also moments when her playing, and her playing only, was a comment: this is one of the most common patterns in improvisation, and certainly so in jazz, where the musicians ‘comment’ on each other, ‘talk’ to each other. They build and exchange phrases, affirm and challenge each other, take the point of one musician further by moving on with it. This too was happening Saturday in Nankang theatre: rhythms, melodic patterns, noises and clusters going back and forth between Léandre and Lee, without obvious physical expression going along with it.
Intense music that requires concentrated listening, and where we can hardly be sure that what I hear is what the musicians intend, but where we still try to figure out what Lee is doing with Léandre’s ideas, and vice versa (of course, a perfectly valid alternative is not to care about this at all, but ‘simply enjoy’ the music, without figuring things out that you cannot know for sure anyway).
Music itself naturally triggers all sorts of physical, facial and other expressions, fitting to the roles of dedicated, serious musicians. We see it all the time, in video clips, classical performances, jazz: any music style has a number of ways in which the musician seeks ways to express music’s manifold qualities. Just some musicians, more than others, go way beyond the musical language itself. One can debate if this contributes to the music or distracts from it: purists might be bothered and uninterested in musicians acting out their performance too much. There are plenty of examples of exaggerated and silly theatricality in musical performance. One that comes to mind is many modern, female pipa players (a Chinese type of lute held upright in front of the player), who excessively sway their bodies and heads. I mostly prefer the old pipa practice where the music does not need all that visual display; it usually sounds better. Certain kinds of theatricality add nothing to the music but commercial value; it sometimes only serves to cover up a lack of genuine musical quality.
If the music still comes first, though, the expansion of the performative language can add many layers of meaning and expression to an already rich, interesting performance, instead of peeling off those layers. In rare cases, performers truly and convincingly embody multiple languages, fluently blending the musical performance mode with other ones, like dance, movement, facial expressions. In India, earlier this year, I had a chance to see a live performance if singer Venkatesh Kumar. He is an absolute master of of his raga improvisations and also of his body. In several long drawn-out pieces he used his arms, hands and facial expressions to express his journey through the dense network of musical connections that makes up a raga. Fascinating stuff!
So far for the non-musical gestures. I guess some of this can be gleaned also from a brand new book that I hope to read soon. It will certainly interest those who want to know more about the why’s and how’s of improvising: Marcel Cobussen’s The Field of Musical Improvisation, an e-book that is free for download since a few weeks.
Last night was the first concert with Makigami Koichi. Tonight is the closing concert of the TIIMF here in Taipei.
Saturday November 25
Zhongshan Hall, Taipei, 19:30
Closing concert of the Taiwan International Improvised Music Festival
With Porta Chiusa; and Makigami Koichi (voice, theremin, Jew’s harp, shakuhachi), Tung Chaoming (guzheng), Mark van Tongeren (voice, sruti box, Jew’s harp), and others
Sunday November 26
Reykjavik Lab /愛雷克雅維克實驗室, Taipei
13:30-17:00, workshop Improvise!
Details and tickets on Accupass, or send a message to 0910382749
This afternoon is for anyone interested in improvising with sound and music, from professionals (voice/instruments) to absolute beginners. Makigami Koichi is one of the special international guests for the second Taiwan International Improvisation Music Festival, doing several gigs around Taipei in this week.
Mr. Koichi is a master at manipulating groups of musicians, from absolute beginners to the most experienced professionals, and to let them create something never heard or seen before.
Powerful yet playful, with a body-language that is at once authorative and disheartening, Makigami Koichi could even turn a group of meek lambs into a fantastic bleeting-orchestra.
This man is breathing music and you cannot help breathing along with him, so that music, noise and theatrical antics will start to pour out of every pore of your skin.
As a (former) avant-rock star, an extremely versatile vocalist, the bandleader of Hikashu for almost 40 years, and as a multi-instrumentalist, Makigami has steered through numerous Japanese musical landscapes. He redefined the horizon of music in Japan, and far beyond.
Most of all, he understands group dynamics and, with few words, can guide people who never met before through a diverse musical landscape.
We asked him for the requirements of those who are going to join.
He dryly replied “no technique”.
Any styles people should know or play?
it’s Mr. Koichi’s first visit to Taiwan.
Join this unique event.
You will not regret it.
Makigami Koichi is a renowned vocal performer and multi-instrumentalist who has been playing around the world for years. He rose to fame as the singer of the New Wave/rock band Hikashu in 1979. Soon thereafter the band sought more freedom, incorporating elements of spontaneity and improvisation into their music.
With some changes, Koichi and his collective continue to play a significant role in the cross-over field of rock-jazz-improvisation in Japan and around the world, with recent tours in Europe, Australia and the US.
Besides solo work, Makigami played with prominent jazz/experimental/avant-garde musicians like Derek Bailey, John Zorn, Ikue Mori and Fred Frith. He has visited Tuva/Siberia since the early 1990s and organised many tours and published CDs of Tuvan and Altai music in Japan. He is also a co-producer and the main curator of the avant-garde jazz festival Jazz Art Sengawa in Tokyo.
In a few days composer/improviser Luc Houtkamp is arriving from the Netherlands. He is a much respected music personality in The Netherlands with a string of accomplishments. Right now, besides playing/composing, he is best known for his work with the POW Ensemble, which he founded over a decade ago. He is the recipient of the most important Jazz Prize, the Boy Edgar Prize. Very honoured to have him as a guest in our house for a few days! Then he moves on for his Taiwan tour. I will join him two times.
6 March 2015, 12:30 Taishin Bank, Taipei, Luc Houtkamp (sax), Chao-Ming Tung (guzheng), Mark Van Tongeren (voice)
14 March 2015, 19:00 Hsing Tian Kong Library, Taipei, Luc Houtkamp (sax) Chao-Ming Tung, (guzheng) Mark Van Tongeren (voice), Shih-Yang Lee (piano)
Other performances by Luc and Taiwanese musicians:
9 March 2015 Lecture at Shih Chien University, Taipei
11 March 2015 Lecture and Workshop at Chiao Tung University, Hsinchu
11 March 2015 concert in Hsinchu, place and line up tba
12 March 2015, 19:30 Tainan University of the Arts, Tainan, Taiwan with Shih-Yang Lee (piano) Fang-Yi Liu (musical saw & voice)
13 March 2015 Lacking Sound Festival Solo concert.
Here is a preview of Luc’s new piece, based on a 1914 novel of Gertrude Stein. Looks very promising!
I am excited about this invitation for the Lacking Sound Festival, a mostly-monthly event currently held in the Digital Arts Centre in Taipei, to be precise in the Noise Kitchen. This meeting point for sound-art-buffs is a wonderful space with various ingenious instruments that can be played – reminding me more of a Museum of Musical Machines in the Netherlands than a 21st century Digital Arts site. Anyway, I have invited Serge Onnen to join me in creating something analog that sounds and feels digital (and quite different from the Cloacinae sound-shadow-video performance we do/did the 15th of March). Both of us favor the kind of old-fashioned manual-vocal-labour forms of artistic expression, but then, we do use computers, digital recorders and the occasional effects apparatus to manipulate our creations. So here is the press-blurb:
Mirroring Mark van Tongeren (sound) and Serge Onnen (image) dissect our everyday perception, enlarging our ordinary vision and audition to include the unseen and unheard. Mirrors, opposites and negatives of our everyday sense world.
Mark van Tongeren is currently fascinated by the voice as an instrument producing numbers, namely, the strict numerical ratios of overtones. When this is made audible through the technique of overtone singing, the voice almost loses its human identity: its sounds seem like pure sine waves. Digits, that is, whole numbers or whole-number ratios could be considered the DNA of our voice. In this installment of his theme The Digital & The Vocal, Mark offers an electro-acoustic performance where the distinctions between the digital and the vocal are blurred. Environmental recordings, extended vocal techniques, Jew’s harps and a Kaosspad further link the physical, everyday world with the digital, and the archaic with the hypermodern.
Artist Serge Onnen, currently holding a solo exhibition at MOCA Taipei, simultaneously provides a live visual performance. He will mainly use mirrors: echo’s of images, stretching the reflection, face reality, double the sight and confront the audience with their image.
I’d like to announce a couple of concerts in The Netherlands and in Poland in the coming week:
Monday 18 november, AMSTERDAM, Het Poortgebouw, 1st Floor, Tolhuisweg 2: Oorsprong Curator Series, start at 20 o’ clock. Free-improvisation with flutist Mark Alban Lotz and guitarist Bram Stadhouders and vocalist Mark van Tongeren, and several other exciting music/dance impro-combinations in two other sets that same night.
Thursday 21 November, AMSTERDAM, Mediamatic/Fabriek – Echokamer, 20:30, Superstringtrio (Rollin Rachele, Mark van Tongeren) and Daphne van Tongeren (light/performance).
Echokamer is a series of events during which composers, musicians and other sound-makers experiment with sound at, and with the sound of, Mediamatic Fabriek. The giant industrial hall reverberates and erodes, and produces quite a bit of sound all by itself. The perfect place for noisy experiments. Read more details about Superstringtrio’s sonic excursion next Thursday on this link: http://www.mediamatic.net/357851/en/echokamer-12-superstringtrio
Sunday 24 November, KRAKOW (Poland), Audio Art Festival/Bunkier Sztuki, 19 o’clock, Superstringtrio. We have been invited by Marek Choloniewski, founder of Audio Art Festival, one of the most long-standing festivals dedicated to Sound Art in all its beautiful, radical and weird manifestations, to join the ranks of many artists who have performed there in past decades. Superstringtrio will present an updated version of its performance Incognito Ergo Sum, premiered in Amsterdam earlier this year at the occasion of the PhD-defense of Mark van Tongeren’s Thresholds of the Audible- thesis at Leiden University. See a short clips of it on Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/64866998. For the full program of the festival, which has already started yesterday and continues next week, check this link: http://www.audio.art.pl/
(with our thanks to Horst Rickels, who gives a workshop and concert in Krakow tomorrow with his Lesley-speakersystem, together with Robert Pravda).
In a couple of hours I am leaving Taiwan. If all goes well I might join Oorbeek tomorrow, Saturday 16 November at the opening of The New Institute in ROTTERDAM. Set 1 at 17 o’ clock, set 2 at 17:45. 6th floor, Museumpark 25, 3015 CB Rotterdam,