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!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Day 5 – Friday, March 20 – Hachiko

My mission today was to visit Konno Hachimangu, Shibuya's oldest Shinto shrine, and get a sense of where Kudo and I are performing on Sunday. I just heard that it's happening outdoors, so my other mission is to find a portable guitar amp for the flute. That may sound like an oxymoron, but the guitar effects, together with a Barcus Berry internal contact mic, is a thing of beauty: The Electric Flute! I'm going to try strapping a small amp to my body to give myself full mobility.

Konno Hachimangu, like many shrines in Tokyo, is surrounded by high rises and full-tilt urbanity. It is an oasis of Shintoism in a sea of consumer profanity. At Josey's urging, I took Colors along to see the sights, including the famous statue of Hachiko at Shibuya, which I knew he would be especially fond of. I had forgotten the story of Hachiko, so refreshed my memory with a quick look on the internet and told him all about it. How could I have forgotten? What a wonderful story! It's easy to see why it captured the hearts of the nation in the 30's, and remains to this day the ichiban meeting place in Tokyo. One waits in a long line to get a picture in front of Hachiko, but Colors was very patient. Finally, after many other people got their turn, Colors actually got to perch between the immortal bronze paws. Not many dogs can say that! Please grab a handful of kleenex before reading the story:

After taking Colors to meet Hachiko, we made our way to Konno Hachimangu, founded in 1092. On the way to the shrine, I recalled that Kudo had suggested we change our trademark "Stray Birds" to something else. Perhaps he felt we were becoming something other than birds. The thought floated around my head for awhile and then vanished. As I was crossing the overpass from Shibuya Station, a small sticker plastered onto the backside of a traffic sign gave me a good laugh.

"Stray Rats," indeed. Frank Zappa meets Rabindranath Tagore... and neither are the better for it! It took me quite a while to find Konno Hachimangu. A policeman finally set me on the right path, telling me it was behind a large police building on the extreme opposite end of Shibuya Station. I  trudged up a long hill in an exclusive section of town and suddenly there is was. I have done more walking in the past few days, than in a month living in the suburbs. 

Colors, of course, did his own exploring. He was quite excited and fearless, as one can see from his bug eyes and toothy smile!

After visiting Konno Hachimangu, I set off for the Ginza and Yamano Gakki, one of Tokyo's most prestigious music stores. I thought I might at least find a portable amp there, try it out, and then buy it somewhere else cheaper. To my surprise, they had a used Yamaha THR10 at half price, the absolute cat's meow of guitar amps. I also tried out some flute head joints and oogled over the mind boggling lineup of expensive flutes: Muramatsu, Haynes, Powell, Brannen etc. It's good to try out high end flutes. The effect is always the same. I end up liking the student flute I've had for twenty years all the more!

At the station, I notice a monk standing with his back to the throngs of people on the sidewalk. He was fastidiously arranging and rearranging his saffron robes, an act of spiritual preening perhaps.

1 comment:

  1. Here's a link to the original 1987 full length movie about Hachiko;

    Hachikō Monogatari (Original Movie 1987) with ENGLISH subtitles [a.k.a. ...: