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Interview with Ryoko Akama

How did the 'places and pages' project come about, and what is your particular interest in short text scores?

I had been inspired by short text works like ‘Water Yam’ by George Brecht, ‘grapefruits’ by Yoko Ono, and some other pieces by Alison Knowles or James Tenney. I am also interested in the haiku and the poetry tradition of Japan as well.

The threshold between the defined and undefined in minimalistic word and sound composition fascinates me. I enjoy witnessing the process whereby a score transforms into a different medium, especially when the instructions are open-ended.

I did a series of scores called tada no score between 2013-14 in which I wrote short scores in hidden places in busy towns or in a natural landscape. These weren’t explicitly made for performance purposes, but were more like marking my musical thoughts in relation to passing time. The next year, 2015, I was invited to Chile to play a concert with Cristian Alvear. I had an idea to compile a notebook with many short texts, this time deliberately intended for performance. I gradually accumulated a number of short scores that would relate to ‘place’, ‘space’, ‘time’ or ‘location’, and assembled them into pages of the notebook.

When did you produce the actualisations, and in what context?

places and pages # 4 was performed by Cristian and me at the Tsonami Festival (Valparaiso, winter 2015). It was a pleasant concert but I felt that the standpoint of the score needed to be developed further and dealt with in a different context than a concert situation. I wanted these instructions to be worked upon in connection with the place of performance, making them more site specific, and taking the particular location into account while actualising them. Then we contacted d’incise to suggest a sextet residency in Geneva, inviting musicians who we had performed with a little in the past.

The collaborating musicians obviously make major contributions to the project. Did you oversee what they were doing with the scores, or did you leave them free to interpret the texts however they thought fit?

Cristian and I had aimed to maintain a diversity when choosing the members of the sextet. Apart from that, nothing was overseen in advance of our meeting in Geneva. We had a lot of friendly conversations but never predetermined in detail what we would do with score realisations. We merely continued performing and performing every day. I recently wrote an article for a Polish magazine called glissando with series of interviews with them that explains how naturally the recordings were carried out throughout. These ten days were tender and miraculous.  Read the glissando article here

‘Miraculous’, yes. From the first time I heard the recordings I felt that the music has a wonderful sense of mystery and unpredictability. Is that something you were consciously looking for, or was it simply an effect of the way the actualisations were produced?

The results came as a great surprise to all of us. Day by day, we went to different places to perform, sometimes outside into the city and other times in the INSUB studio. We experimented with different instrumentations that stimulated and motivated our performance procedure. It was remarkable because we just played and each recording came out really unique and different from the others. We naturally acknowledged and accepted these short scores and each other’s musical attitudes. These kind of experimental scores could end up as a disaster and be really tiresome, especially when the performers can’t connect to one another or don’t trust each other. Fortunately, we progressed together and worked things out fairly simply. I don’t find conceptuality, theatricality or artificiality in our actualisations at all. I feel that we concentrated and dealt with ‘how to’ and ‘what if’ very well. When something wasn’t really right, another suggestion promptly appeared and we immediately tried it out. Alongs with nice food and coffee, we had great fun playing together.

Most of the music you have produced in recent years has been both quiet and beautiful in a Wandelweiser-ish way, but some of the 'places and pages' pieces are loud, and some use ugly sounds. Does this constitute a change of direction in your work?

I don’t ever think that I create only quiet and beautiful sound occurrences. My performances vary from ‘almost nothing’ to ‘full of junk noises’. Every situation composes and constructs a unique result. Almost every time things go differently from how I envisaged. I like to be surprised. I continue to experiment with sounding objects in ‘almost nothing’ aesthetics with diverse approaches.

This places and pages album is the outcome of six performers getting together. What I like about the album is that I can’t distinguish who made which sound any more. Our participation is here, there and everywhere.

We experienced places and pages in each moment of performing and will experience it differently in each moment of listening. We would never be able to re-make the same realisations. And our experiences will never be the same each time we listen to the CD either. This is the beauty of places and pages.

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at110x2   ‘places and pages’

Text scores by Ryoko Akama

actualised by  Ryoko Akama, Cristián Alvear, Cyril Bondi, d’incise, Christian Müller and Stefan Thut

Double CD, CD#1 79:35, CD#2 79:31

Youtube extract disc one

Youtube extract disc two