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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.

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


“The Another Timbre label has been on quite a creative and successful roll lately and the newest batch of five releases continues that happy trend. My favourite of the bunch might be Ryoko Akama's 'places and pages', a 2-disc set of 45 actualizations of her scores that maintains an amazing level of variety and imagination over its course, endlessly surprising and enthralling.”

Brian Olewnick

“Written by the British-based, Japanese performer and composer Ryoko Akama, Places and Pages is "a collection of fifty text scores to be performed at random places". In late 2015, Ryoko and Chilean guitarist Cristián Alvear performed one of the pieces at a festival in Chile. Based on that experience, Ryoko felt the score needed to be developed further and realized in a context other than a concert situation. She wanted the scores' instructions to be worked upon in connection with the place of performance, making them more site-specific. This double-CD contains actualizations of forty-five of the resulting fifty, recorded at the INSUB studio or sites in Geneva, Switzerland, over ten days in June 2016. Despite each disc being close to its full capacity of eighty minutes, the album could not accommodate all fifty, so the other five are available online as free downloads. Alongside Ryoko herself, the actualizations were created by Alvear plus Switzerland's Cyril Bondi, d'incise, cellist Stefan Thut and clarinetist Christian Muller. Across the forty-five tracks, performances were given by every size group from solo performances (by all except Alvear) right up to several sextets, with duos being the most common and quartets the least.

Contents of the scores are neither provided with the album nor online, so it is impossible to judge the success of these pieces as realizations of them. In interview Ryoko has said that the group of musicians, who felt they had a lot in common and accepted each other's artistic characteristics, shared many friendly conversations but never predetermined in detail what they would do with score realizations. The end results are entirely consistent with that comment. Based on the personnel playing on any track — the only information given — it is practically impossible to predict how that actualization will sound. For instance, there is no certainty that a musician will be playing their usual instrument in their usual style, if at all. Another relevant factor was the time pressure that the musicians were working under. This resulted in some very brief tracks. For example, the album's shortest track, at five seconds, is a token solo piece by Ryoko herself. Track durations are unpredictable, too; the longest, at over twelve minutes, is a d'incise-Muller duo, but one of the sextet pieces lasts just seventeen seconds, barely long enough for each of the players to be heard once. The album's opening track, "CB", an enjoyable minute-long Bondi solo, features the percussive sound of stones being struck, and could easily be taken for a realization of Christian Wolff's Stones.

Taken together, the fifty realizations vary a great deal both in the style of playing and also in the volume of the sound; some feature the players alone, others include ambient sounds, included deliberately or otherwise. The pieces are diverse and surprising, sometimes by design and sometimes by happenstance. Interestingly, after the recordings were complete, Ryoko commented that she could not distinguish who had made what sound. It seems that each recording was a snapshot of a particular group at a particular time and place, resulting in a unique result that could never be reproduced exactly; while that is true of any performance, here it is far more pronounced than ever. Individually, the tracks make fascinating listening, but they were not designed to be heard together as a suite. Consequently, they can be heard in any order and be just as effective together. This means that each disc can be played on shuffle, giving enough permutations to provide a lifetime of listening. Recommended.”

John Eyles, The Squid’s Ear

“Places And Pages is a two-CD collection of varied & moody modern composition/electro-acoustic works from this British-based, Japanese performer and female composer.  The release appears on the always worthy & dependable Sheffield based label Another Timbre.

The idea of this release was to realize fifty of the composer's texts score- then play them in various random places. Forty-five of the compositions are featured on these two discs- with the remaining five tracks been found online. Each disc is packaged to its limit with nearing eighty minutes, and each disc is varied, often unsettling & unbalancing with its selection of tracks.

Runtime wise the tracks fall between thirty seconds and nearing nine minutes. And the tracks run to sonic gambit from sparse & angular drone studies, onto wavering & sourly slurred pitch shifts. Through to strange & unpredictable sonic landscapes built around texture pitter-patter ‘n’ grain, sting picks ‘n’ scuttles,  and whiney harmonics. Onto creaking & slurred field recording unwell-ness sometimes alive either sudden piano darts or string simmers. Though to simmering & angular mood works.   There’s a very distinctive atmospheric open-ness about all of the pieces here, with Ms. Akama showing a clear understanding of creating mood, as well as creative & surprising compositional make-ups.

I’ve now played through this albums nearing three-hour runtime on numerous occasions. And it still retains both it’s keen sense of surprise & unpredictability, with an air of freshness & invention always abound. So in conclusion if your on the look-out for unbalancing & often unpredictable modern composition with an often stark & moody tilt I can well see you enjoying what’s on offer on Places And Pages.

Roger Batty, Musique machine

“I like to be surprised”. Ryoko Akama expressed this sentiment in an interview published on the Another Timbre website. It handily explains why a composer might devote herself to scores that don’t necessarily specify how the music should sound, and also why this 50 track record, spread across 2 CDs and a bonus download, sounds so diverse.

Places and Pages documents the realisation of a notebook full of text scores that Akama originally prepared for a concert with classical guitarist Cristian Alvear at Tsonami Festival in Chile. The concert went well enough, but the duo decided that they needed a different place and more hands to do the material justice. They joined Swiss musicians Christian Müller (clarinet), Stefan Thut (cello), Cyril Bondi and d’incise for a ten-day residence in Geneva, playing the pieces around town and in the studio in combinations that range from one to all six musicians. Since the scores aren’t reproduced, listeners can’t know what provoked the musicians to make these generally short but quite diverse pieces. To compound the guesswork, the annotation tells you who played but not what instruments they used. There’s no mistaking Müller’s clarinet, Thut’s cello or Alvear’s guitar, but the other three are disinclined to confine themselves to a single instrument, or even to musical instruments at all.

But with such process oriented work, it’s hard to resist the temptation to try and decipher what’s going on. On ‘#27’ it’s pretty clear that Thut is dragging his cello on the ground while cars drive past, but is the joke in the score, or his interpretation of it? Why did Akama, Alvear and d’incise confine themselves to long filaments of feedback on ‘#28’? One suspects that d’incise is processing the others’ playing, since on several tracks where he is credited only one instrument is audible, but it is subject to King Tubby-level hard panning and reverb manipulation. We may never know, but in the process of guessing the listener gets to share in Akama’s pleasure.”

Bill Meyer, The Wire

“The place could be an empty room; a quiet street corner; a fountain or waterfall; a huge echoey space. The sounds: reverberant cracks, lush organ drone, quiet whoosh of distant traffic, tapping and banging, whistles and squeaks, accordion chords, low, rough gurgling, high-pitched whining, fast chirruping, guitar and clarinet notes, footsteps and voices, ringing like an old telephone, ringing like a fire alarm. The durations: from three seconds to around 12 minutes. The volume: mostly quiet, with some crescendos and diminuendos, and some bolder amplitudes here and there.

The structure of Ryoko Akama’s “places and pages”, consisting as it does of a large number of mostly short, seemingly unrelated pieces, suggests a collection of scribbled notes and brief jottings accumulated over time. An interview with the composer on the Another Timbre label website sets the record straight: the text scores behind each piece were each carefully developed and thought through with performance in mind. Reassembled here are the crew who performed Taku Sugimoto’s ‘mada’ so beautifully — Akama, Cristián Alvear, d’incise, and Cyril Bondi — with the addition of Christian Müller and Stefan Thut. Together they perform the pieces with the sort of balance between sensitive openness and calm precision I’ve come to expect from these musicians.

There is some wonderful music here: at the moment I’m especially taken by the unhurried two-note pattern of ‘places and pages 11’, the rough minor-key tonality of ‘places and pages 24’, and the rushing of water and distant voices of ‘places and pages 32’. “

Nathan Thomas, Fluid Radio

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