Escaping the Power of Rationality: Surrealism and the Uncanny

March 2020

Pictured above, Maiko Matsuda (violin, left) vs. Ricardo Climent (strings, right) at TAMA Festival, Japan, January 2020

During the project design of my Duel of Strings, 2019 (Lüneburg, Morgan, Triviño, Wucher, Kellqvist, Matsuoka), I learnt the effectiveness of navigating two large blocks of media materials to deploy structural meaning. The first block is clearly rule-based; it is fully scored and with a clear focus on very specific musical taxonomies of the stringed instruments (plucked strings, gestures, texture/ roughness/pulse, harmonicty rhythm). It does not play with the expectations of the listener, all the contrary, it works as a catalogue of devices to reinforce the connections and mutual understanding across the non-virtual and virtual elements on stage (humans, instruments and space). It is constructed across rationality and perceptual believes, employing a number of aural Parasemantic tricks and physical illusions to stitch the counterpoint of the musical parts with their respective visual choreographies. The second main part aims to stretch the usual interactive performance experience to a new experiential domain. It is exactly what Fischer-Lichte describes when discussing the power of the voice to disentangled itself from language; It does so when the voice becomes screams, sobs, moans, laughter, etc. This second block embraces Fischer-Lichte’s concept of ‘escaping the Power of Rationality’ where the voice becomes dangerous and seductive.

Maiko Matsuoka, Tama Festival 2020

Pictured above, violinist Maiko Matsuoka and her virtual counterpart

However, it provides the immersive experience with a new approach. As the virtual world is navigated, players encounter new musical instruments that are not physically possible; e.g. a single-bodied violin with two opposite fingerboards and tuning pegs; players have the possibility to trespass the physical boundaries of the virtual instruments and hear them from inside. This aims to provide room for surrealist morphologies to emerge and psychedelic virtual camera angles to dictate the physical flow in the physical stage-space. This awkward passage introduces the listener to a ‘Carroll’s fictional hole’ as in Alice in Wonderland (1951). This is where one starts to believe and experience these worlds at the other side of the rabbit’s hole are real and commences an improvisation within the ‘uncanny’. Players confront uncanny human-like creatures with anthropomorphic shapes, which behave like shrivelled clunky bodies made of violin parts. Stringed creatures with hybrid components (horn, fingers) and materials (metal and flesh) provide an unsettled visual environment to reinforce the harmonic synthesis which gradually becomes timbrally very flustered and complex. Players bring discomfort to audiences as they gradually merge with their virtual forms of embodiment.

Maiko Matsuoka v.s. Ricardo Climent: Duel Of Strings from game-audio

  • Power of Rationality
  • Corporeality
  • Parapragmatic
  • Parasyntatic
  • Parasemantic
  • Uncanny

The Materialities of Vocality: Corporeality, Spatiality and Tonality

March 2020

Pictured above, Donal Sarsfield Live-Acousmatic singing performance (choreography of the hands) at MANTIS Festival: Digital Overlays on Feb 29, 2020.

After a few weeks of focus on some academic matters, I finally found some precious space to dig more into Fischer-Lichte's ideas on ‘The Transformative Power of Performance'. It is the sort of book that needs a slow pace when reading it because almost every paragraph makes you stop and start thinking about how it can apply to your own creative practice.
Notes taken from here and there have been especially significant to provide meaning and answers to ideas I had when starting to design the performative experience for my next musical duel: A Vocal battle. Fischer-Lichte discusses the type of materiality emerging from Vocality (the voice); while Tonality creates only Spatiality, Vocality's materiality include Corporality, Spatiality and Tonality.
The idea of the voice providing some sort of perceptual embodiment in itself, is rather fascinating, as it opens tremendous possibilities for connections (and lack of them) between voice, language and the audience’s experience. I understand that Fischer-Lichte's corporality does not refer to embodiment and representation but the power of voice to penetrate in the listener’s body (Plessner 1970) when the voice is projected in the form of exclamations, screams, laughter sighs and other expressions of hilarity.
A vocal musical drama can navigate and combine many of this grammar. I have recently experienced this when watching Donal Sarsfield’s live performance of his own piece “Glorify the Brick” (2019), for voice and tape. Donal creates a vocal dialogue between the fixed media part and his live voice behaving ‘as a tape’, imitating and producing machine-like transformation of the voice in real-time. Sarsfield carefully hides his facial expression from the theatre lights on stage, to exclusively illuminate the ‘Choreography of the Hands’ (Climent, Carneiro 2003). He does so to expressively craft meaning to the voice, using Parasemantic meaning via constrained physical gesture.
However, this is not in achieved in Fischer-Lichte’s sense which refers to the voice as a tool to link Vocality with Language. Instead, Donal uses the hands as the ultimate tool to construct the live-acousmatic experience, playing around, if not being cheeky about everything we had learnt from Schaeffer and Pythagoras’s Akousma. Obvioulsy, Sarsfield's work triggered some live vocal improvisation performances I witnesses in the past by Trevor Wishart and even Laurence Casserley (in duet with Evan Parker back in the late 90s) or with Jean Michel van Schouwburg. My passion for beatboxing also comes from the choreography of the hands (well, it is essential to the whole hip hop culture) and makes even more sense when a bulky microphone covers the subtleties of your vocalisation techniques.

  • Vocality
  • Materiality
  • Parasyntactic
  • Detachment from Language
  • Optimal Integibility zone

10th-degree of Freedom: Immersive Telekinesis with the GoPro Fusion

29 Sept 2019

Gopro in Zen Temple, Kyoto

Pictured above, using documenting visit to Ryōan-ji (ji means temple) with the GoPro Fusion

In the past, whenever I did field recording trips (most notorious my trip to Havana in early 2000 sponsored by Belfast's Sarah Montgomery award), I always travelled with sound recording equipment and documented recorded locations with a standard still camera. I wanted this field trip to Japan to be different both technologically and especialy conceptually when capturing source material. During the summer of 2019, just before the trip started, I investigated the GoPro Fusion 360 camera in combination with Unreal Engine. This is a 5K video capturing device, which has two back-to-back cameras (180-degree wide-field each), two SD-cards and four micro-microphones to records in ambisonics (first order though). I was puzzled about what could I do with that too, alongside the usual sound recording equipment I always carry with me. In the Berlin studio during the summer period, I successfully managed to map 360 videos and 360 images to a Sky Sphere (inner mapping) within Unreal Engine. This opened the possibility to use 3D videos as a switchable background of the 3D modelled environment where I normally deploy my immersive media pieces. I also had some successful tests on the Oculus Quest but only rendering the sky with static 360 images. I could not figure out how to render dynamic video on this Oculus mobile device using Unreal Engine for the Quest. My love-affair with goPro cameras comes back to the goPro Hero5, a wide-eye camera I have used for years on daily basis on my bicycle when commuting to work. I have recorded all kind of things one can imagine, including a kid throwing a stone to my head under a bridge in the Manchester canal. So, always wear a helmet if you happen to cycle in Manchester, UK.

GoPro Japan

Pictured above, my goPro kit and example of tripod use in Takeo-Onsen at Teamblab exhibition

After a few days of thinking, I thought that one of the things I had not explored in depth was the representation of space in the virtual domain. At least, not as much as I had concentrated on the music aspects, the virtual musical instrument and the performers' virtual representations in the form of different avatars. So, I designed a trip to Japan to collect 3D video and audio sources using the goPro Fusion camera as a point of departure. This was my third trip to Japan (2004, 2018, 2019) and I wanted to explore the West of Japan as well and leave some degree of not-planning within each city. Initial Cities / Prefectures where Tokyo, Chiba, Niigata, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Fukuoka and Nagasaki. I went to all of them except for Chiba (due to brutal typhoon 15) and Niigata (as I wanted meet again Nicolas Fournel at Tsugi Studio). On my fourth visit (January 2020) I finally filmed and explored Niigata and the Sado Island and met Nicolas. This included an unexpected visit to Murakami, home towm of composer Haruka Hirayana.

goPro Japan

Pictured above, result of the above capturing session after stitching the two camera views but before rendering.

I have basically filmed well above a Terabyte of 3D dynamic and static visual materials in about 45 different locations but these are rough numbers. Materials need to be revisited, as some involve temples and memorials which I have to treat with respect and according professional ethics. I felt that this is something I can creatively overcome but creating zen-like areas of pray within the future live game-engine navigation experience. This may be the best way to pay respect but need to think about it more.

Sewer plates in Japan are gorgeous

Pictured above, first sketch for in-game navigation. Shrine torii (鳥居) are used as gates to enter Spatial worlds.

I safely copied the 3D videos to 2 different external drives on almost daily basis and exported a few fragments using Fusion Studio (as I am also carrying a MacBook with me to Japan). This is one of the reasons why I stayed in Capsule Hotels with a co-working space (such as the Millenial Shibuya) so that I could film during the day and night and go to the coworking from early morning until 2 pm or so, when I was going places sometimes until late to film the same place with different day-light conditions. I have reduced the type on visual enviroments to six different typologies (360 beacons) and I want to use the as structural devices for points of encounter to enter different performative scene-like worlds which could stimulate the players ability to respond to materials. Whereas for accessing these beacons, I thought about using the torii as the magic teleporting gate (it has plenty of significance in Japanese culture) and the corridors inspired by Kyoto's Philisopher's path, with quotes and probably a water canal too. I have also a few 360 video recordings inside totally empty long tunnels (in Miyagima Island) with 10 second reverb tails.

Sewer plates in Japan are gorgeous

Pictured above, A sewer plate found in Nagasaki, used as a menu-pie navigator device in Unreal Engine

Believed or not, sewer plates in Japan are works of art. Inspiring, beautifully crafted and beyond their commended serving purposes. Is it not something to learn from? Since I was a kid, I've been always fascinated about sewer plates. I know this is weird but I feel attached to solid metal, steel and bronze. Sewer plates are one of the things that tell me more about a city and their people. Oh well, finally some ideas are starting to get together.

  • GoPro Fusion
  • 9 DoF
  • Zen Garden
  • Sewer plate
  • Ambisonics

NextGen Karaoke: Singing alone with total embarrasment

28 Sept 2019

Karaoke in Kyoto

Pictured above, the omni-present karaoke brand in Japan, Big Echo

Before composing this new piece for vocal stravaganza, I asked myself what are the two vocal styles and singers most neglected by the so-called serious musician. Well, arguably Beatboxers and Karaoke singers come top. So, I thought I had to fully explore why this is the case and why they do have such a strong appeal among people. I had to investigate the potential for discovering NextGeneration Karaoke and why not, add a touch of humour to my repertoire. This may trigger again some healthy discussion about the so called "high-low culture" in music academia, as I intentionally did in 2010, with the S.LOW Projekt in Berlin. I do not advocate for any of the two (high or low) in particular. I simply think that controversy is necessary but I am afraid that it well passed the time for academia and public organisations to think about supporting more the 'low' culture. It is no longer an interesting discussion to have. Institutions have already drained (creatively) too much by preserving their own status quo.

Big Echo ビックエコー is one of the largest Karaoke entertainment companies in Japan and yes, you are right: I went to one of them and sung! ... but most importantly, I went on my own and what is worst, I filmed the whole session in 3D. I have not watched it yet but I already feel total embarrassment when thinking about it. Needless to say, that I rather enjoyed singing alone myself. Embarrassments aside, singing alone is something humans often do (e.g. in the shower). However, going to a karaoke room to sing alone is just another level. Some people may think that it is probably sick but many Japanese people do it, as they take karaoke practice very seriously. People will do things alone more and more (e.g. going to concerts, karaoke bars, travelling). I tend to think that these people are braver than the rest of us, who need the other to stay in our conform zones.

Karaoke in Japan - total Embarrasment

Pictured above, a true moment of Sinatra's enlightment...! A dream-like research field experience in Japan!

The room I booked was one hour is around 1500 Japanese Yen and it includes a free drink. The single booth was quite small and kitch. The sound system was easy to use and multilanguage but the speakers were quasi-terrible.

It probably does more than providing a backing track and the written lyrics but since menus are in Japanese, I've found no way to progress with my singing using this Big Echo device. There must be some sort of Music Information Retrieval Karaoke code that teaches you about your singing style while doing analysis of your voice in real time. However, most singing apps I know such as, Ge Wang's "Smule" correct your pitch (with vocaloid-like algorithms), rather than train you how to intonate and stop abusing vibrato. But is it just pitch and rhythmic accuracy what makes singers to have a voice and presence that communicates and touches you inner emotions? How can this can be measured?

Karaoke in Japan - total Embarrasment

Pictured above, the control device I found in Big Echo's room alongside two wireless microphones. German's Enigma crypto-machine was probably easier to decipher

I came across a rather unsual paper about measuring karaoke amateur singers 'enthusiasm'. In this paper entitled "A System For Evaluating Singning Enthusiasm for Karaoke", Ryunosuke Daido, Seong-Jun Hahm, Masashi Ito, Shozo Makino and Akinori Ito from the Graduate School of Engineering at Tohoku University deep into this feature. The authors clarify that their approach to the term “enthusiasm” in singing comes "nessho" (hot singing) as a measure of the singer’s vocal energy. How can I incorporate real-time analysis of vocal features when designing my next piece, a Vocal Duel? What parameters need to be meassured? Would they be unlocking features to enable players to progress? How can this piece engage with my bizarre karaoke-experience?

  • karaoke
  • Big Echo
  • nessho
  • Vocaloid
  • Music Information Retrieval

Co-Presence and Posthumans: The Paradox of the Virtual and the Non-Virtual

27 Sept 2019

Darragh Morgan, co-presence

Pictured above, Darragh Morgan's poster by Manusamo & Bzika. Can you spot the 7 differences? Morgan's original photo by Frances-Marshall. "Duel of Strings" at the MANTIS Festival, March 2019

After creating eleven new compositions and interactive media projects at the intersections of the Virtual and Real, I concluded that I could no longer advance compositionally. I was unable to give birth to another piece without addressing some performance-related aesthetical and philosophical problems. All I felt is that the answers might be found away from musical performance sources so, I had to search on related forms of performance studies and elsewhere. It was in the autumn of 2018, as a result of some discussions during my visit to CCRMA, Stanford and other conversations prior to the GAPPP festival (again with Olli Tapio Leino) when I started to feel some progress. Tapio Leino introduced me to the term 'co-presence' on Erika Fischer-Lichte's book 'Transformative Power of Performance: New Aesthetics'. As a scholar on philosophy of computer games and new media, Tapio Leino argues that Fischer-Lichte's understanding of co-presence unnecessarily constrains 'performance' as audiences and spectators of similar nature (humans).
Leno Tapio at GAPPP

Pictured above, Olli Tapio Leino at GAPPP 2019, Graz, Austria

She conceives the tandem performer-audience as both, being in the same space and contributing to performance experience with every single gesture. However, Tapio Leino argues that 'co-presence' in new contexts of performance - especially when involving technology and new media - has scope to go beyond 'humans' and considers other forms of embodiment including post-humans. As I have deepened in the understanding of Fischer-Lichte's viewpoint, a full new blog entry will shortly be needed to reflect on all this.

Darragh Morgan, co-presence

Pictured above, woodwind instrument parts with rigging, anthrompomorphised as characters of the game space invaders. They work as AR -Augmented Reality solo instruments (Duel of Woodwind instruments in AR)

But how are these different approaches contributing to redesigning the performance experience on my new projects? How have they transformed my approach to explore the intersections between the Real and the Virtual? Firstly, they have helped me to extend the dualism performer-audience to create an additional dualism on the stage-space. I have carefully thought about the nature of the virtual dopplegängers of performers and instruments in the physical world. So to speak, I have redesigned the binary relationships between the 'Physical Presence' on stage (Presence of both both human performer and physical instrument or computer) and the 'Virtual Presence' on the virtual screen (consisting of different forms of re-embodiment and representation of the human-peformers, the musical instruments and the physical-space). Secondly, I have taken the idea even further, after concluding that I have always been driven by the narrow vision of composers and scholars commonly focusing the exploration of the Virtual (performer, musical instrument and space) as an extension of their respective real images. Basically, I was trapped on "first-order dopplegänger thinking".

Darragh Morgan, co-presence

Pictured above, my aural battle against Saxophone Quartet Sigma Project "Duel of Woodwinds" at 'Ara Qué' Festival in Sept 2018. Performer dopplegängers on screen embodied as reductions of their sources in the form of mouth-pieces, which are anthropomorphised as musical snakes.

However, 'Duel of Strings' reverses all this. The piece is largely informed by the philosophical concept of the ‘Reality of the Virtual’ (Žižek, 2003), and Platon's allegory of the Cave. Therefore, it reverses the paradigm and departs from the understanding that the shadows (the Virtual dopplegängers) are the new Real and anything else must be non-Real by definition. Designing the experience this way, has had extraordinary impact on my compositional thinking and has opened new questions for which I still do not have all the answers. If the Virtual is the new Real and what I deploy on stage is its surrogate, what's the nature of the so called 'Non-virtual'? (thus Noh-Virtual)/ Computer hackers experience this feeling all the time. What is for a hacker to be AFK - Away from Keyboard- ?. What is their ontological reality? Is it code or is it being away from the computer screen?

How the diversity of forms of mutual representation can become the catalyst for creative expression at the core of the immersive experience? Being these new ‘players’ a combination of audiences, instruments, performers and space in their respective non-virtual and virtual forms.
I believe now, that exploring the differences between the real and non-real should no longer be at the core of the composer's thinking. I fear that this is no more an interesting point of artistic and philosophical discussion. Instead, I propose the creative focus to be shifted towards putting all efforts in dissolving the audience's perception on what is real and what is not. By merging the 'stage-ecosystem' (performer, musical instrument and space) into a single embodied representation in constant flux, we can construct a new form of co-presence (audience | stage-ecosystem) for listeners (of the ears and the eyes). An ecosystem more sophisticated than before, which can address problems of audience alienation (e.g. those created in VR performance) to return to unique forms of experiential interaction (physical, emotional and intellectual) embracing the creative potential of dissolving the human-technology divide.

  • co-presence
  • Fischer-Lichte
  • Virtual Presence
  • Žižek
  • Allegory of the Cave

Structural Devices: Antropomorphism and Technomorphism

26 Sept 2019

xxx

Pictured above, paper given animal form. Origami 3D model test in Unreal Engine. I imported colada models by Chin T.(right) and Tamás X. from from sketchup warehouse via Blender.

I was introduced to Bruno Latour's literature of Technomorphism by Olli Tapio Leino. It was during the composition of my 'Duel of Strings', a response to one of his recent articles, as a proposal by the GAPPP Symposium organisers in Graz, Austria. Tapio Leino (City University of Hong Kong) is a philosophy of computer games and new media art scholar.

In written correspondence, he explained to me that Latour sees technomorphism as a 'counterforce' to anthropomorphism. By reversing the definition of anthropomorphism we could argue that technomorphism is the attribution of technological characteristics or behaviour of modern computers and other machines to humans. He also commented that machines designed by humans for human interactivity often consist of a set of operational technologies in the form of instructions for us to make choices. Concluding that despite external anthropormophism in some machines, there is total lack of true empathy from the machine to the user. I agree that most technology-driven artefacts expect input from humans or other networked machines and they know how to react to it otherwise they would tell us. Embedded technologies do not dare to scratch their circuits to try to figure out why a user selected option A instead of option B. They just deal with it accordingly. It is only with recent forms of Artificial Intelligence when machines are learning about their environment without prior knowledge of it and starting to make decisions and interact with it. Yet away from acquiring consciousness.

In many of my live game-audio pieces such as 'Putney' or 's.laag', I present the musical instrument by introducing a single aspect of it (e.g. a 3D modelled part of the instrument or an extended technique). As the piece progresses, parts are assembled by the players to become more than the sum of its parts. I call this form of re-embodiment "extended reality", should we want to push Milgram's Reality-Virtuality continuum. I use the re-organisation of these parts (physical, musical and conceptual) as a key structural device to take the listener to the next level of the immersive experience. Parts are reassembled to transform the nature of the instrument (e.g. parts of a bass clarinet become a musical mobile) - a transformer - . But it is only when they take the shape of a human body (anthropomorpism) when its connection with the musical materials dissolve the differences between performer, instrument and sound to become a single thing. Technology in the form of matter is finally given a soul, making it no different from any other human being.

Anthropomorphism in Japan

Pictured above, an example of anthropomorphism found at Miyajima Visitor Berth, Hiroshima.

Tapio Leino argues that to feel empathy toward a gameplay performer is a two-way street, and that the little dot moving on the screen must be understood as human (anthropomorphise), while simultaneously imagining what it would be like to be that dot ourselves (technomorphise). I trust the anthropomorphism is a great organisational device because it is easy for humans to identify with objects and pay more attention to it when we see the human face or the human voice. I found the second part more intriguing though. And this is a very strong concept to make audiences believe that our physical world is trully represented in the virtual world. When I enact the vibration of virtual string on stage with a giant string on stage the reaction on the pixel-made screen audiences are driven to believe that these dots on the screen in the form of a string are a representation of the matter-self (technomorphism).

  • Anthropormophism
  • Technomorphism
  • extended reality
  • Milgram's Reality-Virtuality continuum
  • Empathy

Noh: Mastering Time during Play

25 Sept 2019

Kanzekaikan Noh Theatre in Kyoto

Pictured above, Noh Poster of performance attended on Sept 14th at the Kanzekaikan Noh Theatre in Kyoto

My first live Noh performance experience took place at the National Noh Theatre in Shibuya, Tokyo and it was 5-hour long with only a single short interval. It consisted of three Noh Plays with a kyōgen interlude. These included Yoh-Roh, Onigawara, Tanadori, Uneme. At the Kanzekaikan Noh Theatre in Kyoto I also watched three more: Hikkukuri, Hashi-Benkei and Tatsuta, a programme also above 4 hours of live Noh music and theatre.

Time in Noh (as duration) is Parsifal-like but Time at a Noh Play transcends duration, as it is the way we experience time what makes Noh's temporal equation rather supreme. Time is masterly shaped on every aspect of the Noh play and its pace a key component to deliver its many creative artefacts.

When principal actors (including musicians) enter the performance L-shaped stage from the left side, the ritual of time is ceremonial and paused. The curtain is slowly lifted and their body movement is unhurried and still. The embodiment of stiffness combined with a sense of levitation from the floor (especially when feet are hidden) redefines the concept of camera in slow-motion. It becomes frozen-frame Time.

When actors eventually stamp their foot on the wooden floor to reinforce the endless musical rhythmic loops, they do so with a large variation of dynamic range. If a Japanese (with a bit of a sense of humour) were to imitate a Noh actor to you, he would probably do so by loudly stamping one foot onto the floor and would walk slowly with the arms facing forward and singing aloud something which may sound like 'hoowiuuuu! - 'hooooowiuuuu!. Noh's endless variations of rhythms and chants sculpted by the Hayashi ensemble and the Chorus is what makes Time to 'bend' and be experienced in circular motion. The choreography of the hand when performing the Shime-daiko (a leading drum instrument), becomes an hypnotic artefact to anticipate the loudness of its piercing stroke attack, dictating the pulse of the sung and spoken parts. But it is when the absence of music prevails (called 'ma') when Time as sound-memory emerges in the inner ear, invoking the aural ritual again; a privilege that does not always happen in other performing arts where music is often over overwritten and unnecessarily exposed.

Kanzekaikan Noh Theatre in Kyoto

Pictured above, Noh stage at Kanzekaikan Theatre, Kyoto after performance

Another vehicle for the distortion of Time in Noh is the low-pitched register of the voice, found both in the Kataru and the Utai. Its spectral depth and frequency compression have a long-term effect, as it is no longer fully experienced through the ear canal but across the bones, stomach and skin. However, it is thanks to the synchronisation of sound, slow-motion gesture - often using the chinesischer Fan-, the hands, feet and the strategic choreography of the choir, actors and musicians what makes the different parts of Noh's Time-Clock to dictate the pace and harmonic rhythm of each scene. But how could I implement these notions of time in the upcoming Noh-virtual immersive vocal chords experience? Answers must come eventually! Spirits and ghosts lead the storyline of the Noh script embarking the spectator into transcended-Time and this is something that I also felt directly connected to the other theatre, The "Pacific Theatre" (of WW2). A ghost who return to Earth to visit his assassin, not for revenge but to seek dialogue. To what sort of Time-paradox are we transported to? The time of the Living, or the lack of time of the Dead?

  • Noh Time
  • Hikkukuri
  • Tatsuta
  • Bonkei
  • The Pacific Theatre

"Genshigumo" - Hiroshima (The Atomic Cloud)- a Noh Play as a prayer for piece

15 Sept 2019

Genshigumo- The atomic cloud- a Noh Play as a prayer for piece

Pictured above, the Genbaku Dome at nigh under the rain in the Memorial Park

In July 2010 Udaka Michishige's Noh play "Genshigumo" was premiered here in Hiroshima, at the Aster Plaza Noh Theatre. Genshigumo (translated as The Atomic Cloud) was an homage to the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is good to learn that there is ongoing interest in commissioning new Noh Plays, alongside the performance of Zeami's classics. As an artist, it is hard to add anything to what it has been said about the devastation effects of the A-Bomb thrown at Hiroshima (and Nagasaki). Hiroshima is a place needs to be felt and physically experienced to fully understand their people today. This may explain why the city is now seen as a symbol for "World Peace", to teach the world a lesson about how they moved on from 1945 without forgetting it.

On a first visit, it is hard to change the historical significance of that morning on August 6th and suddenly pretend that 1945's lethal 'Black Rain' has pumped the sky with purified liquid. It results impossible to redraw the memory of the aftermath with thousands of dead corps floating on the river paths, and imagine them as colourful butterflies uplifting from the water (as I saw on the survivors' wall of paintings at the Memorial Museum in Hiroshima. But one can try. How am I going to incorporate these shocking memories into my new noh-virtual vocal drama? How do Japanese feel about the perpetrators? How much do they absurdly blame themselves and if so, why? Artistically, how can I avoid to portray and navigate another Threnody’s timbral and textural horror of strings? I do not want to follow that route. I still remember a Belfast performance of "Threnody" in early 2000, with Pendereki himself 'aurally whipping' the players with the conductor's baton held with his left hand. Why did he return to compose boring classical orchestra music after composing such a brutal aural landscape and masterpiece?

Miyajima on my way to the iconic Itsukushima Shrine's Torii

I was on the old tram to Miyajima on my way to the iconic Itsukushima Shrine's Torii, progressively abandoning the hypocentre of the bombing, where there was total devastation, (probably a ca. 2-mile radius). My eyes could not believe that all this vast area and their inhabitants were reduced to ashes and wasteland in a matter of seconds, (the sky blast followed by the ball of fire and the atomic cloud). Ironically, I was also neglected with the vision of Itsukushima Shrine's torii, as it was under maintenance work. A good reason to come back.

Hiroshima

Pictured above, Itsukushima Shrine's Torii before and during (current) repair work.

An iconic building that did not survive the bomb was Hiroshima's Castle and old village. The castle was completed in 1599, totally destroyed in 1945 and rebuilt in 1958. During that early period in 1600, Performing Arts in Hiroshima, as well as literature, the study of ethics, philosophy and 'Kokugaku' (Japanese classical studies) were highly significant. However, it was a bit shocking to learn that in Hiroshima's Castle-Town it was forbidden to perform any form of entertainment other than Noh theatre. Therefore, Kabuki and Bunraku often performed on Hiroshima's red-light town district and all its theatres were moved to Miyajima, which became a centre of performing arts in Hiroshima. It was interesting to learn that in 1825 there was a country-wide map showing the locations of all Japanese drama, organised by popularity and described in the form of a Sumo ranking chart.

  • Genshigumo
  • World Peace
  • A for Arts
  • Black Rain
  • Kokugaku
  • Sumo Ranking

Manga, oh yeah!

15 Sept 2019

manga - anime at the Fukuoka Tower

Pictured above, Fukuoka tower decorated with Anime stickers!

Manga is so popular in Japan that it is rare not to see someone reading them on a metro wagon in any Tokyo train. In the majority of cases these are displayed as endless vertical comic strips on their smartphones but sometimes they wear small printed versions too (using something called paper). One thing I learnt when visiting Kyoto's International Manga Museum is that Manga is far bigger than Manga's printed industry, as it has extended its creative tentacles to almost every other creative industry (film, tv, games, toys, etc). It is estimated that the multi-industry global industry to be worth ca. 3 trillion yen, which is a lot! Since the mid 70s there is also a strong fan-art movement created by manga fans, featuring their favourite characters. The museum is a bit bizarre and it occupies a former old grammar school which still preserves the room of the latest principle intact with many pictures. Every kid seems to know every manga character's name and their magic powers! Why is it so much into Japanese culture to identify themselves with these characters?

manga - Kyoto International Manga Museum

Pictured above, Astro Boy manga (originally Mighty Atom) Japanese and sample signature at the Hall-of-fame by comic artist Nicolas Mahler (Vienna) both from the Kyoto International Manga Museum.

Although I am only starting to learn about Japanese Manga and its aesthetics, I have to say that I found their main characters and their anime facial expressions not so experimental. They seem to follow clear patterns. One needs to go to the foreign (comic) section of the Manga museum to find more provocative aesthetics; e.g. Pedro Espinosa's "Loco" (crazy)- or the hall-of-fame room with picto-graphs to find more interesting out-of-the-box designs.

manga - Kyoto International Manga Museum

Pictured above, Loco comic by Pedro Espinosa Sáenz (Spain, 1958) found at the Kyoto International Manga Museum

During my visit to the museum, I was fascinated to see so many young people, including kids were sitting around corridors and shelves reading physical Manga books from a piece of paper, rather than using the digital devices, while devouring their favourite Manga visual novels or discovering new ones. Huge contrast with what I experienced at Noh / Kyogen plays where most people were 'not so young'.

  • Manga
  • Animation
  • Manga industry
  • fan-art

The Noh Mask - Transcending the perception of the Self

12 Sept 2019

Pictured above, Onna-men ceramic mask purchased at a shop near the philospher's path, Kyoto

In Western Theatre and Film, actresses and actors are arguably trained to convey emotions throughout facial expression and body language (strictly linked to the text setting). Also in the West, the reason behind the use of the mask is often to hide the real identity of the character (Marvel super-heroes, villains etc). However, in Noh, the mask becomes a creative mechanism to transcend our own perception of the self and make yours the player's experience. It is also a metaphor for the representation of reality and a vehicle to get deeper into the player-in-the-mask's thoughts. When latter are shaped and mixed with the audience's very personal emotions and experiences on the matter the whole experience provides a 'multi-user' interpretation of the role 'in' the Mask (not behind). As a result, the spectators deepen into the Mask and move away from a single-view (best) performance act, often portrayed in Western theatre (obviously this is an unforgiven simplification of the latter!).

The use of the Mask in Noh plays broadens and multiplies to provide the actor's chances to exist in the staged world. It is like giving a human being with a second opportunity 'to be', to defy time and to abandon the given 'carbon-self' at birth, as the only form of embodiment, which is later shaped by life. Although in the Noh repertoire Mask roles were reduced to three core types; the old man, the woman and the warrior, initially, there were very many other ones; e.g. priest, deities, Chinese person, young male roles etc. My impression when experiencing the Noh Play was that the possibility for a single actor to interchange roles using the different Masks was not so much like in my previous experience when an actor is given more than one role in a film. It was more like if someone had reprogrammed their neural functions and code to fully provide new forms of body-controlled movement at cell-level. For instance, watching the graceful moves of the woman mask (onna-men), it is hard to distinguish whether this is just acting, re-incarnation or re-embodiment. It is a window to that person's affects, fears and emotions, inner-tempo and being in the world and I want that for my new vocal character.

  • Noh Mask
  • re-embodiment
  • Digital identity
  • re-embodiment

The Noh Play - a Temple of Stillness

11 Sept 2019

Pictured above, an illustrated Handscroll of Noh and Kyogen Plays for the Noh Play Kashiwazaki (Edo Period, 18th century), Tokyo National Museum.

Noh Theatre plays are to me both, 'temples of stillness' and a framework to stimulate deep thinking. Especially in an era where ideas move fast and things and cultural artefacts are not required to last. I have been to six Noh plays since I arrived to Japan in early September (well, 5+1 Kyogen). No matter what I read before about Noh theatre, the performance needs to be experienced to grasp, at least, the surface of this cultivated form of theatre performance.

The first time the art of Noh plays 'clicked on' my creative imagination was after reading the article entitled "How to Write a Noh Play Zeami's Sando" by Shelley Fenno Quinn (Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 48, No. 1. (Spring, 1993), pp. 53-88). This was a tremendous guide to Zeami's formula to write a Noh Play, which remained secret for four centuries. But it was also a clear revelation of the strong connections between Noh and my research enquiry on co-presence in performance, battling visual dominance through sound and the blurred nature of the (digital) self.

My Noh posts following this one and in relation to my Noh play research findings are by no means, an analysis of this theatre genre, (or any other related, such as Kabuki or Bunraku). That would be not only naive but also disrespectful, as I only have enough knowledge at this stage to get my head around it. These posts are mean to provide bridges between Noh aesthetics and performance practice (including music) and current questions in composing immersive experience performances with virtual and augmented technology.

  • Noh theatre
  • Zeami Motokiyo
  • Sando treatise (Noh)
  • Kabuki, Bunraku

Beatboxing Culture and the Last Castrati

21 July 2019

<Pictured above Grand Beatbox Battle Solo 2019 by Swissbeatbox (top 10 Drops)

Pictured above Grand Beatbox Battle Solo 2019 by Swissbeatbox (top 10 Drops)

My research on human vocal extravanganza started in 2004, looking at the Castrato voice (last castrati, 2005). I explored the potential of the castrati register and their spectral restrictions, due to the imposed cultural aesthetics. Their overdeveloped chest of these humans where capable of much more. Years later I became fascinated by the Beatboxing culture but I did not find the opportunity to focus on the task to compose the best (and only?) non-virtual beatboxing versus virtual vocal cord duel.

  • Castrati
  • Beatboxing
  • Alessandro Moreschi
  • MEGMAR @MEGMAR_BEATBOX

Research Leave Proposal in Japan

Sept 2018

Back in 2018 I submitted my proposal for academic research leave to SALC, University of Manchester in UK and it was accepted. I've been refining the ideas for this project since. Here is a rough resume of the original proposal:

"Since the 70s, Japanese digital culture has consistently been first to adopt and rapidly develop the concept of Digital Human to transcended embodiment from the Virtual to the Real and vice versa. Examples are found in its videogame culture, j-Pop bands, Digital Companions and robotics, e-mascots etc. My new interactive composition for Vocals and Virtual Reality singer, is informed by Japanese karaoke culture and Tokyo aesthetics. Technically, it learns from Karaoke inner complex vocal tracking system."

I will formally start my semester leave in September 2019.

  • Research Leave in Japan
  • Digital Human
  • Embodiment
  • Digital Companion
  • Beatboxing