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The Masthead

When I hear the word community I reach for my water pistol, whoopee cushion, anything to earn another Anti Social Behaviour Order to paper the walls cutting contact with whole worlds of activity pitched beyond mere artistic expression for the greater well-being of all. Trouble is, the opprobrium of good people everywhere is no guarantee of remaining tangle-free of goon squads hell-bent on convincing the world and each other that improvising is fun for everybody. Here, honk on this duck-call and see!

The problem’s all mine, I’m sure, and indeed there was nothing noble about my first, abjectly ignorant thoughts on reading Daniel Spicer’s Global Ear from Cork, where sound art and outsider music initiatives designed to break down the traditional transmitterreceiver relationships between audience and performers have helped reconfigure Ireland’s second city as a prime creative intelligence zone resisting the economic depression affecting the rest of the country. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by IT companies looking to turn Ireland into a new silicon valley. By contrast, in her On Location review of Warsaw’s Third Ear Experimental Scene Festival – the ‘avant garde’ strand of the multilayered event celebrating Poland’s turn to play President of the EU – Agata Pyzik remarks on the cynical responses from some sectors to the ‘community building’ aspirations behind the teaming of local musicians with international Improv star Fred Frith at the expense of paying listeners there to hear ‘good music’, not share in a massed group hug.

As someone who has to push hard to hold down my jerking knees, I fully understand the by-rote response that files away community oriented projects as laudable, worthy, dull... Paying lip service to nurturing creative impulses across the artist–audience divide is fine, but is the music coming out the other end really, truly any good? What works for participants in a workshop doesn’t necessarily transfer to the concert stage. In theory free improvisation levels the playing field, but realistically someone’s gotta take the lead, and composer Cornelius Cardew’s The Great Learning remains the best working model. Its graphic score and instructions erase any advantages held by those with specialist knowledge of reading music, while laying out the conditions allowing for meaningful musical interaction between professionals, amateurs, lifers and complete beginners.

Something of Cardew’s spirit appears to animate the recent work of Otomo Yoshihide, who since March has largely devoted himself to raising awareness through music of the full implications of the ongoing nuclear alert affecting the power plants at Fukushima, in the wake of Japan’s recent earthquake disaster and the tsunami that followed. For Otomo, this is personal for a number of reasons, not the least of them being his involvement in a project spanning three months in Mito, northern Japan, a city also damaged by the quake. Called Otomo Yoshihide – Ensembles 2010, it was, writes Otomo, “not to provide completed music, but to encourage people to find music by themselves... The people on the producing side did not provide a beginning or end, not a hint of a clear development for the music. That was up to the listener...”

Utilising the city’s fantastic sci-fi Gothic Art Tower (still closed due to earthquake damage), Ensembles 2010 encompassed solo, duo, small group and large ensemble formations making music throughout the building. Inevitably, the whole thing was filmed and edited for a DVD, Otomo Yoshihide – Ensembles 2010: Resonance Documentation. It serves as an object lesson in how to programme and sustain an event of this duration, binding its key community-driven large scale concerts with a string of lower-key site-specific performances from the usual Japanese suspects (Otomo himself, Sachiko M, Ami Yoshida, Seiichi Yamamoto, Ko Ishikawa, Tenniscoats, Tetsuya Umeda and many more), supplemented by exhibitions and workshops for mentally disabled musicians. Some of the latter participated, along with 75 members of the public, in the Otoasobi and Double Orchestra concerts, brief excerpts of which constitute this DVD’s highlight. Here, Otomo directs, caps and releases the immense energies of his amassed ensembles, knotting musicians and onlookers alike into the act of making of music that remains exhilarating to listen to long after the moment of its creation. Chris Bohn


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