The Birdmachine & Michael Pestel
Tokyo’s bird population has declined drastically in the past 75 years. I’m told that’s due primarily to pollution and loss of traditional thatched roofs where many birds nested. Enter the crows, or kurasu, the world’s greatest synathropes, masters of what we do best: produce garbage. There are upwards of 150,000 of them terrorizing the populace with their brilliant antics and survival strategies. It's no wonder that one calls their flock a "murder" of crows. Enter the Birdmachine, a multiphonic, multi-timbrel musical instrument designed to attract and jam with birds, butoh dancers, and anyone else dedicated to avian sound and movement. That includes crows.
From March 17 to April 9, 2015, I'll be in Tokyo performing and jamming with avian butoh dancer, Taketeru Kudo, as well as with vocalist, Mika Kimura, and expatriate shakuhachi players, Yohmei Chris Blasdel and Bruce Huebner, among others. For his April 4th performance at the Tadao Ando Tokyo Art Museum in Sengawa, Chris has invited me and Mika to join him in an unusual acoustic concert space. The performance with Kudosan at Konno Hachimangu, Shibuya's oldest Shinto shrine, on March 22, is the event that set all this in motion. But mostly, I'll be busy exploring the urban soundscape by visiting places where birds used to sing, places where they still sing, and places whose bird names celebrate a particular species. As a kind of shamanic ornithologist bent on discovering the soul of Tokyo's bird life, I'll invoke an avian past of lost sounds in order to connect with the present. I know the crows will be listening!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Day 3 - March 18 – 13 Hours

Today I dedicated mostly to jet lag. I wonder whether I am coming or going. Am I a Connecticut Yankee in the Emperor's court, or a samurai lost in the New England of my topsy-turvy mind? Sir Cadian tells me that I am thirteen hours behind on the day before.

Awake on futon
Must be on Planet Crouton
Crows in Tokyo!

And that's the thing. There are more crows here than any other kind of bird -- maybe 150,000. Crows, unlike wild birds, are synathropes. They aggressively live off of what humans provide, namely, garbage. They are twice as big as their American counterparts, and are pack savvy. Their jutting foreheads makes one think there's something like a neocortex going on here. Hitchcock was definitely on to something. If this were Los Angeles or New York, though, there would be hundreds of millions of them, not hundreds of thousands. Japan is far more fastidious about garbage than we are.

Large-billed Crow, Tokyo, Japan.
Michael Cornelius 30 October 2008
I also walked around Nakano getting my bearings. There’s a pre-school directly outside my window on the second floor. It's lovely to watch toddlers racing around the courtyard, being ferried around in wagons, or led across the street in groups organized by hat color. Crows and people alike are very organized in Japan.

1 comment:

  1. Michael, as you were contemplating Japanese crows, I was watching the following clip:

    Are crows the ultimate problem solvers? - Inside
    the Animal Mind: Episod...: