Oral History Interview with Shiomi Mieko

Date: December 1, 2014
Place: Shiomi Mieko’s residence, Minoo, Osaka
Interviewer: Kakinuma Toshie and Takeuchi Nao
translator: Reiko Tomii

Mieko Shiomi (1938- )
Born in Okayama prefecture. When she was a student of musicology at Tokyo University of the Arts, she co-founded “Group Ongaku” with Takehisa Kosugi and others, and involved in improvisation. She also conceived her original event works. In 1964, she went to New York to participate in Fluxus. Since then, she has conducted a variety of activities including event, inter-media, performance, and composition. She is currently based in Osaka. In the interviews, she talks about her activities as a Fluxus member, musical works, and her original concept “trans-media.”

Interview : 2014/12/1 / 2014/12/2

Kakinuma: I would like to begin with the time when you entered Geidai (Tokyo Geijutsu Daigaku; Tokyo University of the Arts). At that time, you did something called “action poem” and “action music.” Did you coin these terms?

Shiomi: No, not at all. The word “action music” was commonly used among avant-garde musicians. “Action poem” was mine. I went back to Okayama, away from Group Ongaku, and did some sort of act in nature. I thought that was no longer music. Nothing to do with sounds. I thought those acts were poetic, so I called them “action poem.” I shifted from “action music” that focused on sounds to “action poem” wherein I performed some act in nature.

Kakinuma: And your Mirror Piece embodies the idea of “action poem.”

Shiomi: Yes. Mirror Piece is the first one I wrote. When I first met Paik (Nam June Paik, 1932–2006), I told him that I had written an “action poem.”

Kakinuma: Then, he told you, “Send it to me.”

Shiomi: Yes.

Kakinuma: What did you send to him?

Shiomi: Mirror Piece. I didn’t tell him about its instructions when I met him, but he said, “I want to see it. Just send it to me. After I read it, I will send it to George (George Maciunas, 1931–1978).” At that time, I also told him about Endless Box. The more I thought of the essence of music, the more conceptual I became. The element of sound disappeared. I thought “Feeling duration itself is music.” If so, you don’t need any sound, you can use something visual. I told him, “As a visual diminuendo, I am making such boxes.” Paik’s reaction was not so much a crackle as a daze. He uttered, “You are a Fluxus!” And I asked, “What is Fluxus?” He told me, “I had a roundtable discussion about Fluxus in the magazine Ongaku geijutsu. Please do read it. Fluxus members also make boxes.” I was very intrigued. He told me, “Send it to Maciunas,” but I said, “Maciunas, who?” It was the first time I met with Paik, somebody introduced me to him. Since I was back in Okayama at that time, I came out to Tokyo only when there was a program to attend. To me, Paik, Fluxus, and Maciunas were all new words. And all of a sudden, they all connected in me.

Kakinuma: Was it after your graduation from Geidai?

Shiomi: Yes, after my graduation. After I completed the special course (senkō-ka), I went back to Okayama in 1962. This meeting was 1963. Summer of 1963. I think at the New Direction concert, No. 2.

Kakinuma: So, you met him at the concert.

Shiomi:. Right.

Kakinuma: In 1962, when you went back to Okayama, you had a solo recital in March at Okayama Prefecture General Culture Center (Okayama-ken Sōgō Bunka Sentā).

Shiomi: That is correct. I merely vaguely remember it, but this is the program.

Kakinuma: May I photograph it?

Shiomi: Please. This recital was a summation of all my studies. People often do “homecoming” recitals. So mine was like that, too. I had studied in Tokyo for five years and now that I was back in Okayama, I wanted people to know and respond to the result of my study.

Kakinuma: In this recital, you presented Event for the Late Afternoon, in which you suspended a violin, didn’t you? You suspended it from the roof of the Culture Center in Okayama City.

Shiomi: No, not this recital.

Kakinuma: Some other time?

Shiomi: Some other time. Photographer Hirata Minoru photographed this work.

Kakinuma: This is the photo.

Shiomi: Yes.

Kakinuma: Is this you?

Shiomi: Yes, it’s me. I suspended a violin from a third-floor pilotis. He was on the ground and shot me from there. It was immediately before going to New York, or immediately after coming back from New York. I cannot recall.

Kakinuma: It is noted, “1964, from the rooftop of Okayama Prefecture General Culture Center. Photograph by Hirata.”

Shiomi: Then, it was right after I came back from New York. However, the work was composed in 1963.

Kakinuma: Ok, so you composed it in 1963 and performed it in 1964.

Shiomi: That is correct. You have just asked me whether Mirror Piece was the only action poem. Certainly, I explained the work to Paik as an “action poem.” However, I later learned that New York artists used the term “event,” which sounded like something very similar to what I was doing. In that case, it would be more communicative if I also used the same word. So I decided to use the construction of “XX Event” and “XX Music” consistently for my event scores.

Kakinuma: In 1963, you composed Boundary Music. Did you perform it somewhere? I found this work very conceptual. What was the idea behind it?

Shiomi: I was thinking very hard about sound. The work was intended as an auditory verification of the presence of sound, by reducing the volume of a sound I make to the threshold state, the state in which a sound barely emerges as a sound. In 2012 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, I gave a Talk & Performance program. I asked some performers to play it. However, when you reduce the level of a sound to such an extreme that even the performer can barely hear it, it is not at all audible in a hall filled with an audience of hundreds. Thus, I modified the instruction: I asked the performers to reduce the sound level as low as possible so that audience members may wonder whether some sounds were actually being made or not, although it may sound different for those in the front seats and those seated at the very rear. They made very faint sounds.

Kakinuma: Was it in 2012?

Shiomi: Yes, 2012.

Kakinuma: When and where was it first performed? In 1963?

Shiomi: This is a do-it-yourself piece, so I frequently performed in private, all by myself. On the piano, or the violin or the guitar I had at that time. The other day, an ensemble of performers abroad, I forgot which country, sent me a letter asking for permission to use Boundary Music in their CD. They probably sent me a demo CD, too.

Kakinuma: In your text published in Geijutsu kurabu, you characterized this do-it-yourself piece as “a trace of the musical thought that transcends sound.” Along with Paik’s do-it-yourself pieces and Yoko Ono’s bell piece, you wrote about Shadow Piece. So it means a music you play for yourself?

Shiomi: Yes, Shadow Piece. There, you see a light hitting the wall. I like the boundary of light and shadow. The instruction of Shadow Piece 2 (1964) reads: “Project a shadow onto the other side of this card. Observe the boundary between the shadow and the lighted parts. Become the boundary line.” When I translated the Japanese instruction into English, I first said, “Creep into” the boundary. Maciunas said, “This is a difficult expression. It makes no sense in English,” and re-translated as “Become the boundary line.” But it didn’t sit well with me. Truth be told, I thought of the boundary like a horizon, so in my imagination, I wanted to wander into a space of a different dimension that spreads in between. . .

Kakinuma: Then, that’s different from Shadow Piece about street, wall, floor . . .

Shiomi: That’s Shadow Piece 1.

Kakinuma: Oh, I see, this is 1, and 2 reads “Project a shadow over the other side of this card. Observe the boundary between the shadow and the lighted parts. Become the boundary line.” Then, you want to do this with sound in Boundary Music?

Shiomi: With sound . . . it’s a completely different work. Shadow Piece engages shadow, while Boundary Music concerns sound.

Kakinuma: To play a sound by reducing its volume as low as possible.

Shiomi: Yes, a barely nascent state of sound.

Kakinuma: You played the piece yourself and you experienced it. Only you could hear it, with no audience. If so, there is a boundary, you are withdrawn in it. What do you think about it?

Shiomi: That’s a good question. [Laughs] When I was in New York, my work got into a cul-de-sac. I began to have a sense of crisis and had a desire for communication. However, since I didn’t want to discard the element of do-it-yourself, I tried to figure out a way to communicate with many people while keeping that aspect. That was how Spatial Poem was born. It was conceived as a do-it-yourself work that takes place on the whole earth as its stage, on which many people living away from me can interpret the event in their own ways and send me their reports. If I edit them and return them, I can communicate with them. Participants may be strangers to each other but they will all know what others have done. I thought that was a great idea, and rushed to Maciunas to tell him, “This is what I want to do!” He responded, “That’s a good idea! Send them your invitation,” and he gave me a Fluxus mailing list.

Kakinuma: A mailing list of about 100 people?

Shiomi: Yes, that’s about right. Some 100 names.

Kakinuma: I think that’s really Fluxus. It’s global and you can do it anywhere in the world.

Shiomi: Yes, indeed. Also people can do it in their everyday lives. For example in the second one, Direction Event, I asked: Around the time listed below, what direction are you moving in or facing toward? Of course, I made a chart of time differences, but they were free to interpret “directions.” Just like taking a snapshot all at once from a satellite. It’s night for some countries and morning for some others. And participants were facing one direction or another. And I gathered their reports.

Kakinuma: And assemble them into a map.

Shiomi: Maciunas designed the map.

Kakinuma: And he said he would make it as a newspaper?

Shiomi: No, the first piece, Word Event¸ resulted in more than 70 reports, with lengthy description of places. It was impossible to print all of them in one sheet in terms of space. I thought of using the paper flags. One side carries the description, the other side, the place. And they’re pinned on a map. It’s more interesting as an object, too. Maciunas printed cards, but I myself made flags from them, altogether 6000 flags.

Kakinuma: Oh, my!

Shiomi: Since I had to send them back to all the participants, as well as certain important people. A great number of flags [were necessary].

Kakinuma: So you pinned 6000 of them?

Shiomi: No, I didn’t pin them, but glued them. Because of this work, I was thinner-poisoned. [Laughs] Maciunas gave me a big can of glue. The glue got harder as I worked on the project, and it became more difficult to use it. Then, he gave me a can of thinner: “Thin the glue with this.” I put glue in a small container and thinned it with thinner bit by bit to get the right consistency. My room was filled with thinner vapor. I didn’t know thinner was poisonous.

Kakinuma: You were really poisoned by thinner.

Shiomi: When I came back to Japan, my respiratory organs were off. I had difficulty breathing. When I breathed the air, it felt as though I breathed something in between air and water. It was very heavy for some time, although it went away without treatment.

Kakinuma: I see. Let us get back to the summer of 1963, before your departure. You participated in the New Direction concert and met Paik.

Shiomi: No, I just went to listen to it.

Kakinuma: In the same year, you did Performance Festival Sweet 16.

Shiomi: Yes, I remember.

Kakinuma: It was described that you went on stage while holding up a placard.

Shiomi: Not a placard. Let me explain. If you want to fill a hall all at once, you have to use sound or light. You can make sounds or do some performance, but the simplest way is “to be absent,” to present the state of absence. Rather than carrying a placard, I taped a sheet of paper that said “Be Absent” on the vertical barrier between the stage and the floor, by using double-sided adhesive tape, and I exited the hall. That is to say, by “becoming absent,” I filled the hall with the state of “my absence” all at once.

Kakinuma: That means you were absent.

Shiomi: Yes, I was absent.

Kakinuma: Not the audience.

Shiomi: No, no. I was not bold enough to ask the audience to leave the hall, so I left myself.

Kakinuma: I read somewhere that the title for this event was Event for Jean-Jaques Lebel.

Shiomi: I read in an art magazine that Jean-Jacques Lebel did something that had a strong impact. I cannot remember what he did, but the piece paid homage to him, titled Event for Jean-Jacques Lebel. But I really cannot remember what he did.

Kakinuma: He is credited with performing the first Happening in France. It had a heavy political implication, perhaps you were sympathetic to that . . .

Shiomi: [Laughs] I didn’t get that political part, but he did something very avant-garde.

Kakinuma: At that time, members of Group Ongaku also participated in it?

Shiomi: I think so.

Kakinuma: In Group Ongaku’s CD, the chronology lists this concert but the fact of your performance is not mentioned.

Shiomi: Oh, really?

Kakinuma: It merely notes the performance by Kosugi and Mizuno. None by Shiomi.

Shiomi: Perhaps because I was in Okayama, and they didn’t know whether I would come or not when they planned it. I often received telephone calls and letters, saying “We will do this or that, so come to Tokyo.” From Tone (Yasunao, b. 1935) and from Kosugi. “OK, I will come.” I would just go on that day. They said, “Do something,” and I would think of something simple, like that, on the spot outside the program. I remember this work very well, because afterwards, Takeda (Akimichi, 1938–2003) later asked me, “What did you use to tape that?” I told him, “Oh, there is such thing as a double-sided adhesive tape.” He was surprised, “Really?” He didn’t know. [Laughs] That’s why I remember it very well. (I have kept the sheet of paper I made for the concert. It was shown in 1998 in the exhibition Sōgetsu and Its Era at the Ashiya City Museum of Art & History.)

Kakinuma: Now, I understand. Then, let us move to America, where you participated in Fluxus. In your book, What Is Fluxus? (Film Art, 2005), you characterized that Fluxus “rebelled against high art, transcended the wall between art and everyday life, and created a free expression that aspired to ‘flow.’”

Shiomi: Did I write that?

Kakinuma: Was the word “freedom” widely used at the time? What did you think of freedom at the time?

Shiomi: I think we used the word “freedom” often. Freedom is a big topic when you are young, in your twenties, isn’t it?

Kakinuma: You were repressed in your teens and you felt so liberated?

Shiomi: In my case, I diligently studied the academic tradition of European music, so it’s a reaction against it. Geidai was very academic, so I rebelled against it. For one thing, I studied Anton von Webern and my study then encompassed serial music, wherein you analyze sounds as elements, produce a series or an order of elements, and compose by combining these series. It was a very rationalist method. I didn’t want to do that. I studied the most rationalist music in the West, and I had to reject it. Perhaps, because of my blood as a Japanese, or my roots as a person who was raised in the Inland Sea, enjoying its nature and listening to idyllic sounds. I wanted to be liberated from the tradition of Western music and the knowledge I had crammed into myself, to become a true “naked human being.” Freedom means liberation. However, not only did I want to be liberated but I believed that an unknown path would appear in front of me. I felt the energy or will to anticipate and believe and act to realize that path as “freedom.” Without such energy and will, freedom will deflate, like a balloon. At the time, I think I was full of a spiritual energy. So I thought, “I am free!” [Laughs]

Kakinuma: Then, that sentiment was linked to Fluxus.

Shiomi: I guess so.

Kakinuma: Speaking of Maciunas, what kind of person was he?

Shiomi: Above all, he was studious and knowledgeable. Over ten years, he studied architecture, graphic art, musicology, and such, as he moved from one university to another. So he was equipped with a great deal of artistic education. He was frail from childhood and an introvert. Not a gregarious boy who played sports with friends.

Kakinuma: He was fond of music, very knowledgeable about it.

Shiomi: Vytautas Landsbergis (b.1932), a former President of the Supreme Assembly of Lithuania, wanted to be an architect. And George wanted to be a musician. Somehow, they both made mistakes, going the other way around. This is what I was told by Landsbergis himself.

Kakinuma: So, Maciunas also studied music.

Shiomi: Yes, he did.

Kakinuma: But he somehow became a designer.

Shiomi: Not just design. Architecture is important; he was instrumental in reforming SoHo. He was a capable architect. But design can be most readily disseminated through printed matter worldwide, and you cannot really see architecture. He was a very able person. But he got easily irritated when others did not share with him his passion, the same idea about Fluxus. So he often lost his temper and fought with others. It is often said that “He is a control freak.” But I think a real control freak, be he a politician or a king, feels pleasure in having power over others and controlling others. Maciunas was not like that. He was really friendly. He wanted to make friends with others. But he lost his temper when they would not follow him. Kind of childish.

Kakinuma: A spoiled child.

Shiomi: Yes, he was infantile. In fact, after quarreling with you, he would be very happy if you treated him as though nothing had happened. He became rather solicitous, generous and trying to make peace. He missed people. He wanted to be with others, wanted them to support his ideal for Fluxus, wanted to do things together with them. But he was a bit too much, for other artists.

Kakinuma: Is it true that he devoted 90% of his income to Fluxus?

Shiomi: I think so. He only ate canned food. Canned food and bread, that’s it.

Kakinuma: He lived a very frugal life.

Shiomi: So frugal. This is what he said: “I spent some 90% of my income on Fluxus publications.” I think he earned a weekly wage of 200 dollars. A monthly pay of 800 dollars was back then very good. I heard a teacher’s salary was 500 dollars a month. Though 800 dollars was not that good.

Kakinuma: That is to say, he spent more than 700 dollars for Fluxus. I heard that he was into the idea of the commune. For example, John Cage (1912–1992), too. And many other artists embraced the idea of the commune and tried to create one. I think that’s a historical context of Fluxus. What do you think?

Shiomi: At the time, in order to rebel against the status quo, the power of one person was absolutely not enough. No matter how bold you were, people would think you were just “crazy.” But if you did it with a group of people, under the name of a group, then society might recognize it, saying, “Is this possibly something meaningful?” Indeed, in taking a concrete action, you can assign different roles to different people. I think it very effective to take action as a group.

Kakinuma: But I think a group differs from a commune.

Shiomi: That’s true.

Kakinuma: Not just a group.

Shiomi: But a commune is a community of people living together.

Kakinuma: Yes, living together, sleeping and eating together. How was it with Fluxus? You did cook together, didn’t you?

Shiomi: Yes. We just arrived in New York and felt a bit helpless. We wanted to learn many things, too. It was an apartment Maciunas had found for Kubota Shigeko (b. 1937) and me. Maciunas and Paik joined us and so did Saitō Takako (b. 1929), perhaps. We cooked dinner and ate together. I actually enjoyed it.

Kakinuma: So you ate canned food then? [Laughs]

Shiomi: Well, we women went shopping. When we saw big clams or something like that, we wanted to buy them. Watermelon, too. We girls loved seafood and fruit. Also chicken. American beef was not tasty, so we ate chicken often. When we bought clams and made a clam soup, Maciunas would say, “Too extravagant! Chicken is enough for protein.” When we brought home fruit, he said, “Too extravagant! If you need vitamins, here you go,” giving us vitamin pills. So dreary.

Kakinuma: But that was how he economized.

Shiomi: Very economical, so we could not complain. After dinner, we went to Maciunas’s loft and helped with labeling and making multiples. It was like a home manufactory. He wanted to have such a community.

Kakinuma: So you did performances and events together? When you did other people’s work, and vice versa, were you clear about authorship?

Shiomi: Of course. Who and who performed whose work. That’s very clear.

Kakinuma: I see.

Shiomi: However, there were also Happenings, which were very different [from events]. Literally, they “happened” accidentally. Al Hansen (1927–1995) frequently staged Happenings. He would call me, to come for a Happening at what time. He would call a few friends. Then they would go to his place, each bringing something—a book, paint, a bottle of wine, an instrument, and even toilet paper. I didn’t like Happenings so much, but I wanted to see them, so I went. Twenty to thirty people gathered at his loft. In the beginning, we drank and talked. Then somebody started reading aloud. If there was a dancer, she or he would begin twisting his or her body. Someone threw a roll of toilet paper, and it’s a mess. It was improvisational, it just happened. You did something, inspired by what others were doing.

Kakinuma: There was no scenario.

Shiomi: Not at all. It’s an improvisation. Group Ongaku did improvisation, but a few of us did it as a performance in an  improvisational manner. There was no authorship.

Kakinuma: Happenings of course differ from events, right?

Shiomi: Of course. They were clearly different. A Happening is a performance that really happens accidentally by those present there. An event is based on a concept.

Kakinuma: Then that’s also different from Allan Kaprow’s (1927–2006) Happenings.

Shiomi: Oh, probably.

Kakinuma: I think Fluxus’s Happenings differ from Kaprow’s Happenings.

Shiomi: Indeed, what I just talked about is Al Hansen’s Happenings. I never participated in Fluxus’s Happenings. Most of Fluxus’s activities were concerts, in which different works were performed in order, with names and titles clearly given [in the program]. Al Hansen was a Happening specialist, he summoned everybody to his loft.

Kakinuma: That’s the way he did.

Shiomi: That’s his way. Usually boring. Talking became boring, just watching while sipping wine. But, for two to three minutes, there was a moment when everybody’s consciousness was fermented and coalesced within a frame. That’s wonderful. Only in a Happening. Suddenly, all our waves were synchronized. So brilliant.

Kakinuma: But you never know that would happen or not.

Shiomi: No. One day, it’s a failure, and another day, it could be a success.

Kakinuma: I heard that Maciunas divided people into “100% Fluxus” and “50% Fluxus.” And you were a “50% Fluxus.” Can you comment on this?

Shiomi: Glad I am 50%. If he had said I was 100%, I would have screamed, “Stop!” That is to say, if he had said I was 100% his or 100% as he envisioned Fluxus, I would have felt too confined.

Kakinuma: Who were 100%?

Shiomi: Saitō Takako.

Kakinuma: I see. How about Dick Higgins (1938–1998)?

Shiomi: I have a list. Shall I pull that out?

Kakinuma: There is a list.

Shiomi: Yes, there is, but it will take some time to find it.

Kakinuma: Then, that’s OK.

Shiomi: Some are 100%, because they lived near him, belonged to a loose commune, and talked to him often.

Kakinuma: So, not a matter of work, but a matter of lifestyle.

Shiomi: Not work.

Kakinuma: Their lifestyle was close to him.

Shiomi: Their lifestyle. But also they helped Fluxus publications and acted together. Not the nature of their works. If it’s about the nature of their work, it would have been difficult to decide how many %. I was in Japan, away from him, but we communicated through our works. Those like that were 50%. (But according to the list, George Brecht [1926–2008] and Ben Vautier [b.1935] are also 100%. If he respected them as the spiritual pillars of Fluxus, they may be 100%, even if they lived apart from him. On this “Fluxus Mail List” dated 1975, among 87 artists, 11 are 100%, 15 are 50%, and the rest have no % indicated.)

Kakinuma: Maciunas was fond of Japan. He put tatami mats in his room.

Shiomi: Yes, indeed.

Kakinuma: What aspect of Japan interested him?

Shiomi: I wonder how much he knew of Japan.

Kakinuma: Was he interested in Zen? No?

Shiomi: Perhaps. But the one most interested in Zen was Brecht. Maciunas had a longing for Japanese culture as a whole. He once wrote me, “Please send me a record of biwa lute music,” so I found something and sent it to him. I remember he hung a Japanese-looking blind made of seashells in his room. He was an architect, so I imagined how he would be impressed to see temples in Kyoto. If I had told him the five-story tower “is made of wood alone and very much earthquake-resistant,” he would have been very impressed. I am sorry I could not make it happen.

Kakinuma: I agree.

Shiomi: He said he wanted to go to Japan so many times.

Kakinuma: There was Perpetual Flux Festival. What was it like? You participated in it in September 1964.

Shiomi: No, not September, but it was on October 30.

Kakinuma: Was it a solo show?

Shiomi: Yes. That solo show was part of Perpetual Flux Festival. In September, the festival featured “Flux Sports.”

Kakinuma: What is “Flux Sports”?

Shiomi: We played table tennis. A hole was bored in a racket, or a can was attached to it. The table was also irregular. It was very difficult to play. It’s a Maciunas-ian joke.

Kakinuma: Did you all play?

Shiomi: I didn’t participate in that one. I think Takako Saitō did. That was the first time. The second was my solo show on October 30. The second one onward, they were all solo shows. Saitō also got a solo show, at Washington Square Gallery.

Kakinuma: But this gallery was closed, and the program moved to another venue, and then to yet another.

Shiomi: And that one was gone, so she had to postpone. In the case of Kubota Shigeko, hers was at Cinematheque, which he rented separately. I saw it, immediately before I went home. She performed that famous Vagina Painting (1965). I certainly saw that. That was how it continued. I don’t know what happened afterward.

Kakinuma: For your solo show, you did six works, including Double Windows. Did it involve the playing cards?

Shiomi: It can be anything. The instruction is: “Make another window in front of a real window.” One was with the playing cards, with which I made a window by placing them face up, in front of the actual window. I did that until everybody came. Peter Moore (1936–1993) took many photographs of this piece. The next was Water Music. I arranged bottles (with water filled in) in a line. I asked people to take one each. The instruction was “let the water lose its still form.” And I asked them to give free interpretations to it.

Kakinuma: Whose was the most interesting?

Shiomi: I was already onto the next performance, when they were working on the water. So I didn’t see the whole thing.

Kakinuma: Some drank it, and some spilled it.

Shiomi: Yes. Some spilled it from the window. Somebody, I think, put it in a pocket and brought it home. The bottle was securely lidded.

Kakinuma: You didn’t see it through the end.

Shiomi: No, I couldn’t

Kakinuma: In Air Event, you blew a balloon in one breath.

Shiomi: Yes. Consider the balloon as your lungs, breathe out as much air as the capacity of your lungs, and sign it. The balloons were put on auction, with Dick Higgins serving as an auctioneer.

Kakinuma: Did they sell well?

Shiomi: Yes, rather well. [Laughs]

Kakinuma: And Direction Event.

Shiomi: That was the most event-like. There are Peter’s photos. I was seated, like this, wearing gloves. A long string was attached to each of my ten fingers. Each performer would write down on a card a place to which he or she wanted to pull the string, tie the card at its base, and pull it there. One photo shows Allan Kaprow thinking hard where to bring it in front of a New York map and a compass.

Kakinuma: Yes, here’s the photo. You have written that you subsequently turned it into a music piece. What is it?

Shiomi: That’s Direction Music for a Pianist.

Kakinuma: I see. A pianist will throw cards.

Shiomi: It centers on a pianist. A music of directions for a pianist. The score consists of cards, each bearing a short phrase and a direction. The pianist will play the phrase, pronounce “Toward XX,” and throw the card in the specified direction. I had it performed the other day. I change the directions for every performance. This is the first score, and no performance occasion was specified. When it was published by the Japan Federation of Composers, I asked Takahashi Aki (b. 1944) to perform it for the first time at the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan hall. She also narrated it herself. The second performance was in New York, and I did it myself. It was a reunion concert for Fluxus, so I modified the directions in relation to Maciunas and other people. I made the phrases easier to play, too, so that I could play them more improvisationally. I wrote the third score for Inoue Satoko’s (b. 1958) recital.

Kakinuma: There were many Fluxus festivals. You participated in one at the Venice Biennale. What did you perform?

Shiomi: You mean Fluxus Festival at the time of Venice Biennale?

Kakinuma: Yes.

Shiomi: Many people gathered together for that occasion. One day, Gino (Gino Di Maggio, b.1940) called me out of the blue. He said in English, in a trilling accent, “You don’t know me, but I know you very well.” He was planning a Fluxus festival in May in Venice and he wanted me to participate in it. He asked me to send him all my Fluxus works, saying that my works were very small, so he would prepare two glass cases to show them; these cases would be securely sealed with nails, so nobody would steal my work, and so on and so forth. That’s how my works were shown. Other people were each given a space where his or her work was exhibited. We did performances, too. We performed Maciunas’s In Memoriam to Adriano Olivetti. Larry Millar’s Remote Music (1976) was very interesting.

Kakinuma: You also did a piece by Eric Andersen.

Shiomi: Yes, yes.

Kakinuma: I was told that “You must ask Mieko about it.” [Laughs] Was it Opus 51?

Shiomi: Yes.

Kakinuma: You played the synthesizer. There were also an electric guitar and Indian percussion instruments. It is an alphabet-based score.

Shiomi: It says, “I have confidence in you,” and also the alphabet from A, B, C, through Z is inscribed. I don’t know what it means. From A to Z. I wonder why he wrote the alphabet.

Kakinuma: You don’t know.

Shiomi: No. Just from A to Z. I vaguely thought, perhaps, it might mean “everything.”

Kakinuma: So you played it without knowing what it was.

Shiomi: Yes. “I have confidence in you.” I just ignored the letters, but I was given an instrument with his “utter trust.” That’s a big element. If he had said, “I leave it to you,” without giving me an instrument, I could have said, “Good bye. [Laughs] I think that’s possible, too. But I was given a synthesizer, so I tested it to understand which button would make what sound and tried to figure out a suitable sound pattern. Meanwhile, others were also adjusting their assigned instruments and making sounds. Then, Eric told me, “Mieko, listen to the sound of others.” I responded, “Well, I haven’t started yet. Just checking the sounds and numbers.” But then I realized: yes, he was a musician. With all the numbers in my head, I sort of began. It was completely improvisational, while listening to others, just as he has asked me. I listened to it afterward, but it was rather interesting.

Kakinuma: As for an event with an instruction, Disappearing Music for Face: Smile No Smile, can be done by any number of people, right?

Shiomi: That’s right.

Kakinuma: So they smile and gradually eliminate the smile. That’s what they are supposed to do?

Shiomi: Yes. According to Ben Vautier, this piece is easy to perform, so it was performed at every Fluxus concert. He said, “We performed it hundreds of times, but we pay no royalty to you. I am very sorry.” My answer was, “I don’t mind. [Laughs] I, too, perform other people’s works, but I paid no royalty, either.”

Kakinuma: I see, thank you for your explanation. Later, Maciunas made a film out of it.

Shiomi: Yes, I received his letter asking permission. He thought of Yoko Ono performing it and Peter filming it.

Kakinuma: You have recently arranged it as a chorus piece as Smile Music, with “smile performers.” What is it like?

Shiomi: This is the score. On the stage, a conductor is in the center with a chorus behind her. It’s a female chorus, with the Soprano, Mezzo-soprano, and Alto sections. Four “smile performers” in the front. These in the middle are drone singers, singing “Smile, smile, smile” in this chord.

Kakinuma: So they just smile?

Shiomi: They smile and their smile gradually disappears. Each of these four is assigned a certain sound to react to. The chorus singers may sing in a normal manner, or they may pronounce the word like a narration, or they may make noises using not the voice but a triangle and a percussion instrument. As for the smile performers, for example, one performer will smile when she hears a certain sound of an instrument or a noise. She is facing the audience, so the sound will come from behind, so just depending on that sound, she will smile and gradually vanish that smile.

Kakinuma: So, when she hears the sound, she will smile?

Shiomi: Even in the middle of vanishing smile, if she hears the assigned sound, she must smile again. In a large hall, those seated in the rear seats may not see the singers smile; so if smile singers make some kind of gesture when they smile, it may be a cute performance.

Kakinuma: So that’s a work of transmedia?

Shiomi: Yes.

Kakinuma: It has been converted to film, flipbook, and chorus. It was originally a performance work.

Shiomi: That is correct. I coined the word “transmedia” to describe this process, wherein I begin with a single concept, which I express in a series of different media.

Kakinuma: Very interesting. This is very original of you in that you are part of Fluxus but you are different from other Fluxus artists in your methodology as a composer.

Shiomi: Well, perhaps I am different.

Kakinuma: Where did you perform it first? Was it performed in Japan?

Shiomi: I haven’t done it in Japan.

Kakinuma: That’s too bad.

Shiomi: There is a musicologist in Minnesota, by the name of J. Michele Edwards. Do you know her? She visited me many times. She is charged to update my information in the Grove Dictionary.

Kakinuma: She has written an entry on you for The New Grove Dictionary.

Shiomi: Yes. Here’s the program when this piece was first performed.

Kakinuma: Along with other works.

Shiomi: Yes. A concert called From the Pacific Rim. They asked me to compose a new piece based on my past events. Since it’s a female choir, I decided to create a piece out of Disappearing Music for Face.


Alison Knowles’s paper dress