by John Stoehr
From my notebook after Yumiko Tanaka's recital of music for the shamisen, a three-stringed Japanese guitar.
• She enters the stage wearing what must be the best outfit of the festival: a gray sweater over a red shirt with floral patterns, black slacks with red-trimmed slippers, and the best of all — a purple flounced skirt that bounces as she walks. Oh, and her hair is some kind of bouffant-style wig. Don't know much about hair, but it's cute.
• The performance of her composition Impromptu 09 is a premiere, one of three this afternoon. The piece is a kind of theater performance in which a musician is getting to know her instrument. The result is a lot of plucking, scratching, scraping, and scouring — string against string, plectrum (a big pick made of ivory) against string, plectrum against the shamisen's casing. She even uses what looks like a metal cup and a paint brush to explore sounds the instrument makes. It's a fantasia of textures. Her mastery increases as the piece progresses, like a demonstration of skill from the most basic elements of sound production to the making of music.
• It's so quiet at one point, we can hear a watch ticking behind us.
• She looks at her watch to indicate she's finished. That way, we can clap. She smiles. An impish sense of humor.
• Hidaka River, a traditional piece for puppet theater. Again with the theatrical mode — the story of a priest falling in love with a woman, which is clearly a big no-no for a priest. The singing and playing are micro-tonal, pitches between the 12 pitches we normally hear in the West. The singing is so fluid, soaring, and fiery. I'm enjoying not knowing what the hell is going on and being surprised by the intense emotion behind it.
• She says "finish" at the end to make clear the music has ended. Nice touch with this kind of music.
• The last piece, Yagura Drum Performance, puts everything that came before it in this recital in perspective. Everything we heard with the exception of one piece (which was about mathematical patterns derived from string harmonics) is theatrical. The Drum Performance is only the most obvious illustration of that mode, because it's obviously a demonstration of skill on the part of the shamisen master. She's showing off.
• Can't wait to hear Tanaka perform with Basil Twist in Dogugaeshi.