2003 Japan

The day starts with a weird episode at Lisbon airport. Having packed my hard case really carefully about its weight, it turned out i'd still have to pay an extra 3 Kg, for the carrying cart. I thought i wouldn't mind and checked…

Harmonic Series


11 Tokyo, ICC
Sounding Spaces exhibition opening (Echo Room installation)
12 Tokyo, ICC
14 Osaka, Bridge
15 Kyoto, Metro
16 Nagoya, Canolfan
18 Tokyo, Super Deluxe


Harmonic Series – Guitar, analog electronics and computer generated sinewaves


Tour Diary
July 2003


8 Tuesday
The day starts with a weird episode at Lisbon airport. Having packed my hard case really carefully about its weight, it turned out i'd still have to pay an extra 3 Kg, for the carrying cart. I thought i wouldn't mind and checked
it in, but at the counter i discovered that weight excess on a trip to Japan is astronomically expensive – i had to pay 160 euro for it, just about 10 times its value, and there was no turning back… (fortunately, i was reimbursed in Japan).
Flying through Paris, i had a lunch of typical airplane food, which tasted ok but i couldn't really tell whether it was fish or meat. I also did a nice aerial photo session, the day was very clear. Later on, already on the Japan airlines' 747, i found some niceties i wasn't used to, such as individual tv monitors on which, other than a bunch of entertainment movies, there were some interesting things, such as two cameras installed on the airplane, on the nose and at the bottom, providing an excellent bird's eye view. A Japanese-style dinner was arriving soon, with plenty of sake…
The sunset was as if suspended, on the left side of the airplane. It was taking forever. I began to wonder, since we were supposed to go east, why were we going north. I realized we were taking an artic route, having the sun actually never set down through the whole flight – it was just a very long day. It was like hopping over the top of the planet to keep an eye on the sun. Watching the solar system and complicated planetary travel geometries at work, flying against the Earth's rotation and through warping time-zones, the clock accelerated 8 hours…



9 Wednesday
Thus Tuesday just merged into Wednesday without a night between them, which confused me for days.
At Narita airport i was expected by one of the coolest persons in Japan, Minoru Hatanaka. Although i was surely tired from the long trip we went straight to ICC to start installing Echo Room right away. I met several of the participants in the exhibition and Alvin Lucier showed up in the room, it was great to see him again. His piece, "Empty Vessels", was really superb, pretty much at the level of his best work. I enjoyed a lot meeting Alejandra and Aeron too.
At ICC, their amazing, dedicated and super competent staff flawlessly carried out multiple work processes. Working there is an artist's dream come true…
Late at night (on my bio-clock already next morning with no sleep), we stopped at a ramen noodle place with a ticket vending machine, just before i crashed at the hotel.



10 Thursday
In the morning i took a walk to Shinjuku, which isn't far from ICC. Definitely one of the most incredible places i've ever been to. If the world has many centers, this is definitely one of them. Neon lights and loud calls, blasting music and video walls, lots of people and lots of noise, food, shoes, photo cameras, smells, books, bicycles, lots, too much, of everything.
Back to ICC for Echo Room precise tuning – it can take hours to get the installation behaving in a good way, with countless millimetric adjustments on the analog gear. In the afternoon the exhibition opened for the press. At the reception downstairs, a very nice mood and lots of cool people. I enjoyed seeing Carl Stone again, and met Cheason; she was very cool. Nobody wanted to leave in the end…



11 Friday
I ventured in Tokyo's (excellent) subway system, taking three different lines up to Ikebukuro, on a rainy day. I enjoyed a walk through some of its narrow backstreets, very quiet and peaceful. So quiet you wouldn't say it's Tokyo. I bought an umbrella to an old lady and she gave me a discount just because i was nice to her (not minding a little spot it had). Anyway, umbrellas are so cheap here, they're almost disposable. Further down the street, i got into a kitchenware store and bought some bowls for miso soup. These places are, and feel, really local, totally different from fancy department stores. I stopped at a food place for a really cheap and delicious lunch, just a bowl of rice topped with very tasty fine-sliced meat with onions and sauce.
Time to return to ICC and soundcheck for tomorrow's performance. The Sounding Spaces exhibition was open to public now, it was enjoyable to spend some time seeing people in the Echo Room, relating to the microphone and having fun with its somehow humorously distorted feedback loops.



12 Saturday
Curious about Akihabara, Tokyo's neighborhood for electronic gadgetry, i went there and indeed i found several unthinkable items and some interesting places, such as a store full of old analog oscilloscopes!… However, i was a bit disappointed in the overall, i found it too much PC-oriented. The weather was "muggy", as they call it, very hot, sticky and humid. In the street i saw this stand with grilled octopus which looked delicious, and i regret i didn't take it. But, later, i found okonomiyaki instead, a sort of hybrid pancake with egg, ginger (yummy), dried baby shrimp, vegetables and what else, grilled on a plate. Wonderful. This was actually in Asakusa, an area with an impressive street market with lots and lots of people and everything, surrounding a kind of religious park with many temples and shrines, a very typical view of Japan we often see in postcards. I walked too much, my feet were really tired. I went back to ICC, in time to see some of Christina Kubisch's lecture, in which she presented some of her fascinating work; at some point she showed this gorgeous photo of a performance of hers in the seventies, playing flute with boxing gloves. I could barely stand on my feet, so halfway through it i retreated to a sofa in one of the studios. Next to Kubisch's lecture, it was my turn to deliver the first performance of Harmonic Series, which went ok. It's my first "computer" piece…



13 Sunday
Morning walk to Shinjuku and a visit to the incredible Tokyu Hands store, all kinds of stuff there. I had lunch at a place that didn't have a menu with photos of the food, as is most often the case, didn't even have any writing in romanji (japanese with roman characters) and nobody spoke english. So i just pointed to the food the guy next to me was having and asked for one of the same…
Today is Alvin Lucier's lecture at ICC. The staff was feeling a bit stressed out, running out of time before the schedule and doing some kind of seat-numbering on the chairs, putting numbered stickers on the back of each and then leaving a card with the corresponding number on the seat. I offered to help and i got a bunch of stickers, but it appeared that there was no exact order, once different people picked up a row to start numbering. After all the stickers were on, we found ourselves in a somewhat hilarious situation, all running back and forth trying to find the chairs with matching numbers to the numbered cards in our hands… i guess they were improvising, otherwise they'd have been far more methodic. But it was fun. After the lectures, i took a cab with all my gear back to the hotel, dropped the stuff there and went out again to join Shinji (one of ICC's super-cool technicians), David Cunningham, Minoru, Aki and friends Yoko and Sam. We were all going for a sashimi dinner. They kept drinking beer after beer (and me, sake after sake) and ordering more and more food, at a slow and casual pace. Their exuberant (and often naughty) sense of humor gradually surfaced as the beer eroded their "normal" social behavior. It was very exciting and funny to take part in this, it's so rare. The dinner-party went on and on, until we decided to leave. It was dawn already. To my surprise, from there we just went to a breakfast place, which was appropriately surreal. I headed back to the hotel, to pack and get ready for the tour and have breakfast there a few hours later.



14 Monday
I still managed to sleep between 8 and 9am, waking up in a poor shape. Kazumi and beautiful Mika from Headz came to the hotel to help me get to Tokyo station. We took a hotel bus to Shinjuku station, and just crossing it was an odyssey in itself, through a vast maze of underground corridors and halls. It's a whole underground city under Tokyo's surface. With their invaluable help, after the connecting train i finally made it into the Shinkansen, heading to Osaka. It was a grey day, with so much moisture in the air i couldn't see Mt. Fuji from the train. Lots of rice fields, woods and beautiful mountains. I was very sleepy and with a vague hangover, so i fell asleep. I woke up close to arriving in Kyoto, where i should get off and meet Kazuhisa Uchihashi and Aki Onda to ride to Osaka on a local train. I actually realized we were arriving after recognizing the kanji writing on the electronic board for "Kyoto". Fascinating language to learn. The concert was on a building which was actually an amusement park, with rollercoaster and other things. It was situated in a poor neighborhood (whose inhabitants were much less polite and kind than everyone i had met so far) and it was supposed to be a big commercial place, but nobody came after its opening and the shopping mall area just went bankrupt, so the city handed over the space to cultural organizations such as Bridge and Remo. Really weird to be in an experimental music venue and looking out the window it's a sort of disneyland… Nice to hear Uchihashi's improvisation, at least in my half-asleep, half-awake state… We stayed at a really cheap hotel; it even smelled like a cheap hotel – nonetheless, i slept like an angel.



15 Tuesday
Bridge was conveniently located across the street from the train station, it was pretty easy to get on the way to Kyoto. I was looking forward to it, and happy to leave this uninteresting area in Osaka. Aki and i took the same local train back to Kyoto, which did live up to my expectations. It's a very, very beautiful city with lots of really kind and loving people. Alejandra and Aeron were playing too, it was good to see them again and i enjoyed their set a lot. Aki performed another set of his "cassette memories" music. Lots of good feedback from people. The gig was organized by Katsura Mouri, a discretely cool girl who you wouldn't dream is a great noise turntablist.
We stayed at Yamamoto-san's home, being awarded with an amazingly generous, kind and welcoming hospitality. I slept in a real Japanese-style bedroom with tatami (straw) mat and sliding wood-and-paper doors, a thin mattress on the floor. Very comfortable.



16 Wednesday
After some walking in the streets and visiting one of Kyoto's many temples, we sat down at a coffee place (how i miss home coffee) and later headed to the train station. A quick ride on the Shinkansen (aka "bullet-train"), once Nagoya is not very far from here. Momoji picked us up in his mini-van, straight to Canolfan, a comfortable mix of bar, lounging room and record store.
Before the concert i had a really delicious udon noodle soup with tempura fish, on a surprisingly low-profile cheap place. Nice crowd in the room, but my set was unfortunately plagued by some fucked-up PA noise. I even stopped performing to figure out what was happening, it was horrible. But the rest of it was quite good, especially since we were asked to play at moderate volume – this reflected on the music's dynamics, giving the set a kind of floating quality. I enjoyed Aki Onda's set much better today, maybe his set also gained from the same condition.
After the show we all went to a sashimi restaurant, but this, it was a REAL sashimi restaurant. Beyond the best sashimi in my life, an incredible assortment of dishes, a true flavor rollercoaster that took me to the sky. We had lots of stuff, from a kind of raw giant oyster to things i didn’t even know what they were, and everything was otherworldly delicious. I also became aware of some aspects of the "culture" around sashimi in a place like this. For instance, you can order onigiri (rice balls), but you're not really supposed to order a simple bowl of rice, which is usually just taken for granted in any "Japanese" restaurant… Aki patiently explained all of this to me, because i was really insisting on a bowl of rice.



17 Thursday
Aki and i slept in the lounging room and got up early, going out for some breakfast. We found a bakery and so it was a good time to explore Japanese bread. Most interesting was a kind of bun filled with sweet beans puree. At Nagoya station, Onda picked up a couple of bento boxes (divided trays where the food is very neatly arranged – they usually come in lacquered wood, but ours were plastic, of course) to take on the train. I saw a Nozomi train (the fastest Shinkansen, there are three kinds of them), it looks like a rocketship and runs at over 300 Km/h…
At Tokyo Station, Hashim and the incomparable Nishiyama were waiting for us. After we managed to engineer how to squeeze all the bags, guitar and the four of us into a single cab, we went straight to Super Deluxe to leave the gear. Although the concert is only tomorrow, it's great to get rid of the heavy stuff… On to Headz office – Mika was there, in a room with everything neatly organized in shelves and clean looking. The office next door seemed to be the core of Headz and was in turn a hyper-busy place with piles and walls of CDs everywhere, threatening to collapse at any moment among ethernet and modem cables and at the same time shaping little workspaces where staff members sit at their computers. Amazing how Fader magazine is run by the same people, they work a lot – and very well indeed.
Thirsty for more of Tokyo, i went out for a walk in the neighborhood – the incredible Shibuya – with Nishiyama's kind company. Shibuya has lots of movement, lights and noise, but very different from Shinjuku – lots of young people and youth culture, record stores and instrument stores. We walked up the Meiji-dori up to Meiji-jingu – an important shrine deep inside a beautifully dense (and dark) park. Back in the street, we had a delicious soba noodle soup. Back to Headz – Naoaki Myiamoto was there, very nice of his to meet me there, basically picking me up to go all the way to his place in western Tokyo, where i would enjoy his kind hospitality for the these days. When we arrived there, i met Toshimaru Nakamura, very cool person.



18 Friday
Spent some of the morning shopping in the streets of Hamadayama, the neighborhood i'm staying at. Far from Tokyo center, these stores are for locals only, no tourists come here. So there's a sort of genuine feel to the place. Still late morning, i took the train to Shibuya, heading to Super Deluxe for sound-check. Afterwards, more soba noodles with Hashim, Alejandra and Aeron. I walked to Harajuku, an interesting place, then back to Shibuya to take the bus back to Super Deluxe. I had a hard time finding the bus stop, which i knew was right in front of Shibuya station. The thing was that train stations in Japan seem to have several front sides, all entrances and exits are main ones… back in the venue, Onda was just finishing. Alejandra and Aeron performed another gorgeous set. Harmonic Series went far better today and the audience was incredible, i never had such massive feedback. It seemed like everybody came to greet me and look at the weird machine i was playing – i had a modular rack covered with white feathers, two theremin antennas at the sides. There were some magic moments, while waving my hands around the antennas, in which it appeared i was physically manipulating sound waves in the air, as clouds of harmonics and constantly shifting beat patterns were emanated from the thing.
Afterwards, a big dinner with practically everybody – all the musicians, Headz, Minoru and ICC staff, Naoaki, Toshimaru, and more – another superb round of Japanese food.



19 Saturday
Got some food ingredients at Hamadayama supermarket, before a last visit to Shinjuku area. In the midst of some of the last-minute shopping, i found an okonomiyaki restaurant, at which tables are fitted with a hot plate so you cook the food yourself and add spices to your like. Great, although not as good as the one in Asakusa. I went to ICC, to pick up some stuff i had left there, visit the exhibition for the last time and check Echo Room's dynamics. It was doing fine. Lucier's room continued full of a ghostly, hovering feedback cluster, so beautiful, alive and peaceful. Back in Miyamoto's place, i met Otomo Yoshihide and Sachiko M. This time i had to decline dinner, for i was to get into my session of precision packing for all the stuff i had gotten and keep the case within weight limits – it takes hours…



20 Sunday
Hashim, Nishiyama and Ogi kindly came to pick me up as early as 7:45, it was very nice of them. We had a long way of train lines and transfers before getting to Tokyo station. With a perfect timing, i got into the Narita Express 10 minutes ahead of time. On the way to the airport, mixed feelings of being sad to leave and being homesick. It's very clear now that i must return.