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!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Day 7, Sunday, March 22 – Konno Hachimangu Performance

I'm writing this the day after the performance at Konno Hachimangu. I'll add performance images and quicktime as I acquire them. Kudo was going to arrive at 5:00, and so I asked Yuki to arrive then as well. I, in the meantime, was pathetically lost trying to retrace my steps out of Shibuya Station from two days earlier and was forty minutes late. Somehow I went exactly the wrong way out of the station and up the wrong hill. I asked a couple of women for directions and they went to work on their global GPS cell phones. People in Tokyo are very cell phones savvy and love to help strangers in directional distress. They soon set me straight.

When I got to the shrine, Kudo and Yuki were already there. The three of us were led by the co-abbot, an Austrian man in his thirties, into a changing room in a brand new building on the shrine grounds. We spoke for a while in German about how he came to be here and what the shrine meant to the community, about how they stand on the side of religious flexibility and social innovation. Our butoh performance was a case in point.

In the dressing room, Kudo had to fastidiously lay down newspaper on the clean tatami before applying his body paint. 

Meanwhile, I warmed up outside in order to try out the new Yamaha portable guitar amp with the Barcus Berry internal flute pickup. The Austrian abbot is setting up the lighting. Here's some footage without the amp switched on. Note that I'm playing in the midst of some bizarre juxtapositions. A helicopter directly overhead, sent no doubt by Stockhausen, is flutter-blading my Bach improv in the courtyard of a thousand year old Shinto shrine surrounded by high rises and endless rivers of traffic. That's modern Japan for you!

Now have a listen to the amp switched on. Of course, the change in sound – volume, timber, and directional acoustics – is dramatic, but what is most extraordinary for me playing in an outdoor space is the complete freedom of movement. I have it set on maximum reverb and chorus.


  1. Thank you for adding the additional photos.

  2. The additional sound clips are great! I love the Reverb - outdoors, yet! Wonderful sound, Michael!