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, April 8, 2015

Day 25, Thursday, April 9 – Shinjuku "Nagashi"

I met Kudo in Shinjuku at 9pm and went over to Golden Gai, an area of back alleys lined with bars – tiny bars – bar after bar after bar! We hit about 15 places where I performed for 5 minutes on the Birdmachine and then left. About two hours in total. The responses varied, mostly enthusiastic, but I actually only hit my peak once. Wow, what a process... and what a deeply Japanese form of social, creative outreach. It's called Nagashi – "flow" – and used to be quite popular. Hijikata, the father of Butoh, got his start this way in the 50s, and so did Kudo in the 90s. At one place, a guy gave me 1000 yen! Of course, I politely protested... and then demurred. Sweet. I hadn't expected that. Unfortunately, I have no video of any of this, just photos of the locales and some people, but that's ok. It's a project, like all the other projects here, to be continued on the next jaunt.

Day 25, Thursday, April 9 – Noko's Edo House in Izu

Here, in the land of the rising Birdmachine, it's my last morning in Tokyo.
Up and atom. Packing and last minute scurrying. Kudo will help me get my stuff to the airport. Big help. Yesterday, despite the rain and cold, was a perfect way of rounding out the three weeks. After a day trip to the Izu Peninsula (four hour round trip with Chris and Mika) and a visit to Noko's 200 year old Edo house with a thick bamboo forest, I met Kudo in Shinjuku at 9pm and went on a "nagashi" spree through Golden Gai. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

An Interlude from Kurasic Park

Day 19, Saturday, April 4 – Tokyo Art Museum (Tadao Ando)

I've known Christopher Blasdel, one of a small handful of expatriate shakuhachi players in and around Tokyo, for about fifteen years. I met him when Mika Kimula, his wife, was a Fulbright Scholar at Chatham University in 1999 and Chris came over with an Aomori folk troupe and performed in the chapel. His shakuhachi playing bowled me over and set off a chain reaction of two back-to-back Japan visits in 2000 and 2001. This time around, he invited me and Mika, as well as another shakuhachi player to join him for an "encore" piece at the close of his program. The Ando museum in Sangawa is perfect concrete minimalism. The narrow space we performed in had at least a ten meter ceiling with a concrete stairway going straight up the middle in two reversing sections. I picked my perch at the very top.


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Day 18, Friday, April 3 – Chokoku no Mori, Hakone

Taeko overcame a pulled tooth enough to accompany videographer and photographer, Toshiharu Sasak, Alissa the dancer, and Akinori Matsumoto, the sculptor whose sound installation we were going to see in Hakone, at the Hakone Open Air Museum or Chokuku no Mori (Sculpture Forest).  I had played flute in an installation of his in Yokohama nine years ago and was glad to at least see his new show, if not play in it. Taeko said that the museum was pretty strict about anything that might interrupt museum visitors, but I brought a couple of flutes along just in case. As it turned out, they gave me the go-ahead right at closing time and I got in about a half hour of recording time. Lovely. The best way to explore an installation like this. Perhaps a seed has been planted for future events such as this.

Day 17, Thursday, April 2 – When Joni Calls...

On Thursday, Joni texted me: "Can you meet me at Hachiko, the dog statue at 10am this morning for another unique experience?" When Joni calls.... There were two other Americans waiting for Joni near the famous dog – Melba and Hugh Levick from Los Angeles, Paris, and somewhere in Spain. Hugh is a modern classical composer and Melba does research for Rizzoli art books. They had contacted Joni via a mutual friend who recommended him as the ultimate tour guide. That would be an understatement.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Day 16, Wednesday, April 1 – The Dog House

Kudo and I were expected at Joni's place in Shibuya at 8:00. When we got to Tamachi station, I realized I'd lost another Suica subway pass. That was two in one day, my forty-dollar April Fool's joke on myself. Kudo noted that he'd seen such a pass on the sidewalk in front of the Butoh House, but hadn't connected it with me. We decided to hoof it back there, a fifteen minute walk, though neither of us really expected it to still be there. The foot traffic up that street was pretty intense, and anything even slightly out of place would be cleaned up. Sure enough, it wasn't there. 

Day 16, Wednesday, April 1 – The Butoh House

Keisuke Oka has been working on his concrete masterpiece for fifteen years. It's location between two condominium units near Tachi JR Station, is as unlikely as its haphazard eruption of forms, textures, and surface patterns. His plan from the start was to have no plan. He remains true to that dictum with stunning results. Kudo and I plan to do a performance here in the future.

Day 15, Tuesday, March 31 – Breakfast at Bruce & Tomoko's

To most foreigners, natto (viscously fermented beans) is yikes, no way Jose. The way Bruce prepares it, though, get ready for a seriously delicious, ultra healthy source of ancient power protein. Raw onions, tabasco, and I forget what else. Totemo oishii... I'm a convert now. No wonder Japan has more centenarians than any other country. It's all about natto, miso, and sakana!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Day 15, Tuesday, March 31 – Mitsuike Park

This White-Browed Laughing Thrush wasn't even in our Japan Bird Guide. But he was definitely speaking straight at us. Whether it was laughter or not, however, is seriously debatable! It came across more like: "Mayday Mayday, we've got a situation. Two aliens intent on communication with our avian realm. Mayday Mayday...!"  

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Day 15, Tuesday, March 31 – Yokohama

On my next trip here, I want to do rubbings of the utility covers. This one's a beauty. My parents arrived in Yokohama on the Yamato Maru in April 1941, almost 74 years ago to the day. They had planned to stay just long enough for my brother to be born and then continue on to northern China to catch the Trans Siberian Railway into Europe. The Atlantic blockade had prevented the normal route from America. But when Pearl Harbor happened at the end of '41, they were stranded for the duration of the war. My three siblings were born in Kobe. I came along in 1950 in Germany. Yokohama is a name I heard throughout my childhood.