Hybrid Music: a collaborative concert project

Our sense of distance to machines,

as expressed in six works by Japanese and German composers.

Keisuke Mitsuhashi

The visual artist Martin Riches, who is perhaps best known for his automatic music machines, brought some of them to Japan and showed them in a concert entitled Hybrid Music where they played together with many musicians with works by Japanese and German composers. The machines included his Talking Machine, which speaks with an almost human voice; StringThing, a pair of automatic string instruments; the Flute Playing Machine; the 24 Piece Percussion Installation; and a baritone Singing Machine. I was impressed not only by their sound, which is produced entirely without loudspeakers or recordings, but also by the subtle beauty of their machine aesthetic.

The compositions were Essener Trilogy by Dirk Reith, Thomas Neuhaus and Günter Steinke; All Change by Schaun Tozer; For the 24 Piece Percussion Installation by Tom Johnson; hitonokiesari, with a poem from Sadakazu Fujii, by Masahiro Miwa, How to Learn to Talk to You by Tomomi Adachi; and Projections – Technology and Perception by Roland Pflengle; six works, all of them, with the exception of All Change, presented in Japan for the first time.

The relationship of the composers to the machines and the degree of "hybridity" and "distance" to the machines varied considerably with each piece. The concert also provided a strong contrast between the worlds of German Neue Musik and playful Japanese experiment.

In the Essener Trilogy and Projections the machines played closely "together" with the Kammerensemble Neue Musik Berlin, conducted by Manuel Nawri. The machines provided added colour, resonance and their characteristic rhythms whereby their manner of playing was completely integrated with that of the ensemble.

The works by Miwa and Adachi on the other hand were less concerned with the "integration" of the machines with their human partners than with a exploitation of their individuality.

Miwa's work, hitonokiesari (people vanish) uses five vowel sounds and twelve pitches as a precise code for an imaginary Gyac language that is communicated by solely by singing. The work is to be understood as a ritual performed by the last survivors of the Gyac tribe together with their invented machine. The three pipes of Ein Ton provide a throbbing underlying drone while the priest (the Singing Machine) intones the poem by Sadakazu Fujii, accompanied by a quartet of consonant tube players and a quintet with conventional instruments. First the members of the quintet depart, followed soon after by the quartet of tube players, leaving only the drone, the disembodied voice of the machine and an audience chilled by a sense of loss and isolation. The work makes brilliant use of the voice of the machine and this invented ritual.

Adachi's performance with the Talking Machine uses voice, gesture and electronics. As the title How to Learn to Talk to You might suggest, the work is based on an intentional misunderstanding of the well known photo of Martin Riches teaching the voice pipes of his machine to speak. Adachi's performance with voice and gesture is a playful dialogue with the machine, which he concludes, in frustration, by removing one of the voice pipes from the machine, putting it to his mouth and blowing it. The work is at once an exaggerated invention of misunderstanding and an outstanding showcase for Adachi's ability as a performer.

On Stage Weekly, Tokyo, February 2014
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