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 8, Tuesday, March 24 – Tokyo University

R left for Bali yesterday morning. He'll be back on April 4. Home alone until next Monday when CL flies in from Vancouver. I spent much of the afternoon sleeping and blogging. The jet lag comes in waves of opportunity during my schedule down times. Before I knew it, it was 6PM and I had to be at Tokyo University at 6:30. Kudo had invited me to a dance theater piece called "Bach/black and white" starring the legendary saxophonist and composer, Yasuaki Shimizu; the renown dancer, Setsuko Yamada; the beloved philosophy professor, Yasuo Kobayashi, and Kudo. I hightailed to the subway and got to the university in under twenty-five minutes. Even before the train arrived at the university, I sensed a change of scene and suddenly felt very much at home. I was among students and professors – universal types universally recognizable. But finding campus building #18 was a different matter. No one seemed to know where it was. Finally, someone did and I was standing right in front of it! 

The performance had already started when I opened the door of the large black box theater. I was ushered to a seat on the floor of the performance space. It wasn't exactly comfortable, but the vantage point was perfect for sneaking a couple of still shots and a video. Setsuko Yamada did some hybrid of butoh and modern dance, all spidery and angular in her movement.

In the background, Kobayashisan was reading French philosophy in French – Derrida and Foucault, or was it Augustine's Confessions all the way through? It was so endearingly affected and yet true to his metier as an academic in sea of avantgardists. 

Kudosan, in contrast to the spatial challenges he faced at the Shinto shrine the night before, was performing in an ideal interior space – "theater in the square." He was at the top of his butohnic improv game, rising and falling, tension and release, crawling and skipping about like a demented child. He is a thing of beauty when it comes to encapsulating the human condition and doing it with complete grace and power.

Afterwards, there was a retirement party for Kobayashisan – the beloved TU philosophy professor – at the Shibuya Cultural Center. I tagged along with Kudo. We took a taxi with Kobayashi and arrived to find an ultra fancy place buzzing with his admirers and well-wishers. There were giant spreads of raw yellow tail, roast beef, vegetables, and lots of Italian food and wine. I located myself next to a table off to the side as Kobayashi seized the microphone and began working the crowd. I had no real idea what he was saying, but, like a seasoned standup comic, he had people laughing in an almost predictable cadence. 

Shimizusan and his wife and Kudo soon joined me, followed by a parade of characters out of a Fellini movie. especially memorable was the hour-glass-shaped ballroom dancer who had recently performed in Vienna. The wine was flowing freely.

It soon became clear that Kobayashi had a fetish for things Italian, including a long list of Italian songs that the group was being exhorted to sing. Shimizusan's Italian wife from Padua was somewhat distressed about that prospect, but no doubt joined in at some point. By then, however, Kudo and I had left. 

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