The significance the "circle"Hajime Oishi
Last year the Asian Meeting Festival (AMF) invited 10 musicians from across Asia and created a sensation at every concert in the Japan tour. Not all of the foreign musicians were necessarily famous here, but each of their sessions with Japanese artists was a thrill unlike any other in the world. The impact spread gradually, like ripples on the surface of water, and reached even music fans who weren't fortunate enough to attend last year's event. I deduce this based on the event I attended this year--Day 3 of the Tokyo leg. Even before the concert began, the venue at Spiral Hall, in Minami Aoyama, was imbued with expectation and passion that said, "What lays in store for us this year?"
The Tokyo show on this day differed from last year in two respects. One was the arrangement of the musicians. Whereas last year they were scattered across the venue at random, on this day they formed a neat circle. As I will note again later, this variation in setup would present an entirely new musical space for me. I say for me because, from what I hear, the circular arrangement had already happened in Kyoto last year, and the random arrangement is slated for Kyoto this year. This is one reason it's never enough to attend an AMF concert just once--it presents a fresh concept of space every time.
The other difference was the format of the concert itself. Last year the musicians started performing one at a time in their random spots in the venue, layering one sound on top of another and occasionally allowing it to drift away from the layers. The focus was on this process up to the point where the multiple sounds finally joined to form a single mass. This year the show took place in two parts, separated by an intermission. The first half consisted of sessions by either a trio or duo, and the second half a group session featuring all of the artists. The focus was more on the personal style of each player.
Let's start with the first half. The first group was a trio formed by Natalie Alexandra Tse, from Singapore, Yong Yandsen, from Kuala Lumpur, and Okkyung Lee, from New York. The sounds from three acoustic instruments--Natalie Alexandra Tse's guqin, Yong Yandsen's saxophone, and Okkyung Lee's cello--at times resisted one another, and at other times blended together to create a unified flow. As one would expect from the three improvisers with experience in the Western world of music, they put on a wonderfully solid performance.
The second group featured Son X, from Hanoi, dj sniff, from Hong Kong, and Yuji Ishihara. Personally I was curious to hear what Son X would do with the traditional Vietnamese percussion instruments, but he on this night he took what appeared to be marbles and rolled them around in a container. On top of this came the scratching sound of the cymbals from Yuji Ishihara and a highly anonymous noise from dj sniff. The combination of the three unique artists made for an intriguing session.
The third group consisted of Pete TR, from Bangkok, Fiona Lee, from Hong Kong, and Makoto Oshiro. Fiona Lee is Hong Kong's most radial sound artist, and Makoto Oshiro is celebrated for unique live performances with self-made electromagnetic relays. Pete TR challenged their sounds with traditional Thai instruments like the phin and khene, and with his modulated voice. The collaboration that transcended the boundaries of experimental and traditional was distinctly AMF.
The fourth group featured a match between Krisna Widiathama, from Yogyakarta, and Yoshihide Otomo. As a major figure in the Indonesian noise scene, Krisna Widiathama cranked out aggressive noise, while Yoshihide Otomo played a screaming guitar in response. The fierce clash that could only happen between a duo instantly raised the temperature in the house.
The fifth and final group was a trio composed of Yuen Chee Wai, from Singapore, Skip Skip Ben Ben, from Taipei, and Tavito Nanao. Yuen Chee Wai is a member of the avant rock band Observatory, and Skip Skip Ben Ben and Tavito Nanao are singer-songwriters with an experimental edge. In a sense, these three are the least conversant with experimental music among this year's AMF lineup. Their session, though, exploring the intersection between song and improvisation, brimmed with inspiration distinct to the AMF. I let out a sigh of admiration at Tavito Nanao's singing voice, which seemed to spill out inadvertently in the end.
In contrast to the first half, which clearly showcased the charisma of each musician and their powers of expression, the second half, comprising a group session featuring all of the artists, presented the appeal of the project itself. As I noted earlier, the musicians formed a neat circle on Day 3 of the Tokyo leg. The second half of the show shed light on the significance the "circle." The circle effectively eliminates the presence of a central figure. It heightens the anonymity of the individuals, like Japan's bon-odori dance, where dancers perform in a circle around a bandstand. And, again like the bon-odori, naturally the temptation arises to deviate from the circle. In the AMF session on this day, the deviators were Makoto Oshiro, who wandered away from his fixed position and placed relays at intervals around the circle, and Tavito Nanao, who blended in with the circle and yet occasionally strayed from it with a spin of his voice. The cycle of harmony and deviation repeated itself, and each cycle created a fresh musical space. In the end, when the music stopped, a natural, warm round of applause came from the audience, and the expression on the musicians' faced turned into one of relief. Both house and stage were clearly imbued with a sense of fulfillment that could only have come from a scenario-free session.
On a side note, according to dj sniff and Yoshihide Otomo, the foreign artists grew a lot closer with one other this year than last. They went out for drinks on countless occasions and forgot the time and chatted away. The closeness helped on stage, too. It went from groping in the dark and being timid in the first sessions to producing rich, dense sounds later in the tour. This is another reason it's never enough to attend an AMF concert just once--witnessing the process of refinement is part of the fun.
As with last year, the artists were introduced not by the country of their nationality but by the city in which they are based. Cities are fluid, as are the identities of the people living there. The AMF provides a place to meet for diverse artists from Asian cities as well as a new image of how Asian cities ought to meet through music. Day 3 of the Tokyo leg was an incredible show that presented the joy and significance of this meeting.
Hajime Oishi (writer/editor/DJ)