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

Transit from Hartford to Tokyo - Monday & Tuesday, March 16 & 17


The flight from Hartford was mostly an opportunity to get some desperately needed sleep. But right before we landed, approaching and then flying over the tip of Lake Huron, the landscape woke me up with a series cubist images in the style of Georges Braque... only to morph gradually into a Kasimir Malevich or Robert Ryman. Your choice of political kind of "white on white."














In Detroit, I almost missed my flight to Tokyo. The fountain in Terminal A slowed me down. (see the video below. )* Perhaps I wanted to turn around and come back home. I was beyond exhausted after packing and re-packing too many bags too many times, and finally, at 2:00 AM cleaning up the mess I’d made in the process. I went to bed at three and set the alarm for five. 

Actually, it was the soba noodles that I slurped down in the Japanese restaurant at the terminal that kept me to the task of pushing forward. Whet my appetite. But the flight itself was miserable. Up diagonally through Canada, then sweeping down along the Aleutians, Sakhalin and Hokkaido, and finally landing smack dab onto the Naritian tarmac almost 90 minutes north of Tokyo. Delta flight 275 had been filled to the gills with 400 souls of God, mostly from the Philippines, headed for Manilla. Of course, the thought of death is never far away when it comes to flying. Not that I have anything more than the average trepidation of being stuffed inside a winged tin sausage spewing jet fuel at 30,000 feet over the dark arctic tundra. 

There are few things more depressing than arriving at Narita, except perhaps arriving at Kennedy. It is rare that anyone ever gets met coming into Tokyo. Nobody wants to make the long trek out to the airport. Who can blame them? So one does one's bleary-eyed best to retrieve luggage, get through customs, and get oneself into Tokyo. One enters feeling vulnerable and leaves feeling relieved. In fact, the only time anyone ever met me at Narita was the first time I flew here while studying Japanese at the University of Munich in 1973. A limo from the Ministry of Economics picked me up. H held up a big VIP sign that said “Wilkommen: Michael Pestel.” I was 23 at the time and she was 19 or 20. But that is another story from another time. Now, 42 years later, I felt anything but VIP.

Fortunately, R, noh master and professor, whose house I’m staying at, has been the quintessential host. He met me at Nakano-Sakaue Eki and helped roll my luggage over to his place not far away. After unloading, we went to a noodle place nearby and compared notes. I had arrived in Japan the same time he did in the early 70s. How different my life would have been had I stayed in Japan as he did after college. We have many friends in common here in Tokyo. By the end of the week, there will be another person arriving at the house from Vancouver, and by next week a third from Australia.


* The Water Fountain at Detroit Metro Airport 


video


I was so mesmerized by the huge, circular water fountain at Detroit Metro that I almost missed my flight to Tokyo. Well, not really, but in a parallel universe that would have been quite possible. I asked the manager at the bar nearby who designed the fountain, and he walked back over with me to point out the bronze floor plaque tucked under the curving black granite base. It was done by WET Design, a group out of Burbank, CA which has computer-programmed fountains at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, Nev., EPCOT Center at Walt Disney World, Orlando, Fla., and Dubai’s Hotel Burj al Arab. 

OK, so it’s a slick, expensive piece of plaza plop that no modern museum of art worth its weight in salt water would ever commission. But here, at the architectural focal point of two immense public hallways, it offered a moment of repose in the midst of peoples’ frenetic transit. The bartender proudly announced that the piece cost taxpayers 1.5 million dollars, and that the individual spigots represent all the regions of the world which converge in this place. Of course, it could just as well be a representation of the lunar Sea of Tranquility bursting forth with sprites of H20, proving that, not only is there water on the moon, but it’s calibrated to dance in balletic arcs and digital pulses… squirts of moon juice appearing and disappearing without warning. 

In a closed, walled-in space, this fountain would not have been all that special. But here, parabolic lines of water superimposed over endless linear paths of human and machine motion, cast a magical spell over Terminal A. We are all terminal. But have we fully lived until such a fountain has stopped us dead in our speeding tracks? The last fountain to have done that to me was Duchamp’s, but his was quite dry, fortunately.  

- Michael Pestel

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