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: Let me now return to the period after your return to Japan. In 1965, Akiyama Kuniharu (1929–1996) and Yamaguchi Katsuhiro (b. 1928) organized Flux Week. It is understandable that Akiyama, associated with Fluxus, was involved, but how about Yamaguchi? Why was he involved in this?
Shiomi: Yamaguchi at one time stayed in New York and got in contact with Yoko Ono, among others. I don’t think he was active as a Fluxus member, because his stay was slightly earlier than the founding of Fluxus. However, we have to think of the situation in Japan at the time. Regardless of genres, practitioners of music, art, film, and dance all communicated with each other under the name of gendai geijutsu (contemporary arts). It was rather natural for us to work together across disciplines.
Kakinuma: It was very natural to work together.
Kakinuma: He didn’t necessarily think he was part of Fluxus.
Shiomi: He does not say that he was a Fluxus member. When Akiyama talked with Landsbergis, he introduced himself, “I am not a Fluxus member, but I had some connection with them.” He did not offer his work to Fluxus. Immediately before his departure, Maciunas asked him, “Be a conductor,” for Fluxus Symphony Orchestra. He went to Ozawa Seiji and made a quick study of conducting. For this project, he was deeply involved with Fluxus.
Kakinuma: If so, the members of Fluxus and Jikken Kōbō (Experimental Workshop) had contacts through this channel.
Shiomi: Yes. These two (Akiyama and Yamaguchi) were members of Jikken Kōbō, so that’s the connection.
Kakinuma: They were naturally conditioned to work together in that way.
Kakinuma: In 1966, you did Happening Concert, in which Akiyama and Yamaguchi were also involved, as was Ay-O. You poured copper sulfate into a water tank. What kind of work was it?
Shiomi: Compound View No. 1.
Kakinuma: So that’s Compound View No. 1. And is it correct to say that this work evolved from Piece for a Small Puddle?
Shiomi: It was performed at that time by Akiyama, Yamaguchi, Ay-O, and myself. Each of us stood up and sat down in different rhythms.
Kakinuma: So that part was the same.
Shiomi: An inspiration came from it, so to speak. My early events were very simple, short in terms of duration, and simple in terms of structure. On the level of communication, I expanded them into Spatial Poem. I wanted to expand them as performance, so I combined events, making the whole thing longer and more complex.
Kakinuma: So, four people gathered around a water tank to stand up and sit down.
Shiomi: Not just that. I first put copper sulfate crystals in the transparent water tank, and turned the water blue. I took the water temperature, which was probably 20°C or so. I read it aloud. Hanging above the tank was a stuffed bird. When I swung the bird, the stage light turned off. Each of us held a spotlight, directing it to the blue water. We then stood up and sat down at disparate rhythms. When the bird almost stopped swinging, one of us directed the spotlight to it. This was a signal for a lighting person as well as the performers. The chairs were placed at some distance from the tank in the beginning. Now, we pulled them closer to a table on which the tank was installed. We then took out cigarettes, on which we wrote words. They were, I think, “Amsterdam,” “Tomato sauce,” “2 am,” and “Spiral.” Taking turns, we came to the microphone and read aloud the word written on the cigarette. After that, we together lit our cigarettes and smoked them. When the word on the cigarette disappeared, the person smoking that cigarette would leave the stage. That’s it. [Laughs]
Kakinuma: That’s very poetic.
Shiomi: Like that.
Kakinuma: It’s very interesting. In 1969, you participated in Intermedia Art Festival and Cross Talk Intermedia and performed Amplified Dream No.1 and Amplified Dream No.2. You deployed the Morse code, along with various electronic media. How did you think of using the Morse code?
Shiomi: When I was a child, my father told me about the Morse code, which had been a common communication method in old days. For example, SOS is “· · · – – – · · ·.” It’s a combination of long and short sounds. When it’s transmitted, a faraway ship may catch it and it is understood to have a certain meaning. There are certain rules to create a meaning. Still, there is no rule about the intervals between characters, and they varied from operator to operator. So among the operators, my father told me, “They could tell who’s operating by just listening to the intervals.” I thought it is so fascinating, “Wow, that’s a wonderful world.” I thought the Morse code was a great invention that allows us to communicate our will. I had heard of its musical rhythms on the radio and in old films. I also remember having witnessed the actual operations. Indeed, you can tell they are really communicating, communicating a message by sounds. I was a big fan of the Morse code, thanks to my father’s influence. [Laughs]
Kakinuma: I see. So this is the first work that used the Morse code. You made some more, right?
Shiomi: Yes, since then, I have used it in my work. It’s my signature. In each piece, I use it just a little, or I use it in a full mode. In recent ones, I have used it as an abstract rhythm of long and short sounds, rather than giving intervals in between.
Kakinuma: In 1994, you held Fluxus Media Opera at Xebec Hall in Kobe. It was dubbed “A remote festival via international phone,” with participations from Stockholm, Nice, and Cape Breton. Who exactly participated in this phone program?
Shiomi: Let me see. First, from Paris, Esther Ferrer (b.1937) called in, counting numbers in Spanish, while ringing a bell. From Nice, Jean Dupuy (b. 1925) read aloud his own anagram poem, accompanied by Morishita Akihiko’s video projection. It’s their collaboration. From Cape Breton, Geoffrey Hendricks (b.1931) read the instruction of Dick Higgins’s Gong Song: “One foot forward. Transfer weight to this foot. Bring the other foot forward. Transfer weight to this foot . . .” He repeated in English this instruction again and again. I had in advance told performers the meaning of the instruction and directed them to start following it and leave the stage, and the hall, to the lobby. After they were gone, I invited the audience, “Please follow it.” I took over the narration in Japanese and led the audience to a foyer where food was prepared for a reception. What was fun about it is that I set up a sensor so that every time somebody passed before it, a delightful dance music would play. We could move only in a restricted robot-like manner as we followed the narrated instruction even though the music really invited us to dance. That was a secret ingredient.
Shiomi: And one more piece, by the Stockholm-based Bengt af Klintberg (b.1938), who happened to be staying at his brother’s second house in southern France at the time. The title is Calls—Canto 1, whose instruction is “Two distant parties call upon each other. Make the calls gradually more complicated.” So, I called him, “Oh-i, Beh-ngt!” to which he responded, “Hello! Mieko, how are you?” Then two of us called him, then five of us, and so on so forth. We gradually increased the number of us calling him. Eventually, thirty of us together called him, “Ohhh-i, Behhh-ngt!” I had in advance told him who would call him. So to each call, he responded, “How are you? and you? and you? and you? . . . ,”as though singing a song to make his response more complex. On our end, taking advantage of the facilities of Xebec, we gave all sorts of electronic manipulation to our voices, including echoes. On his end, he was all alone in the house, listening to our voices that gradually grew louder and our manipulation that became more and more complicated. In the end, our call was turned into a big scream. He was very moved. After the program, he wrote to me, “Frankly, I felt high, intoxicated for hours afterwards.”
Kakinuma: It was in 1994, so you used the landline.
Shiomi: Of course, via the phone line. I had it installed on the stage.
Kakinuma: If it were now, we could use Skype or the Internet.
Shiomi: Of course, we could. But today, the means of global communication has become so convenient, so available. It is not fresh to use these media for a performance. In an era when things were not so convenient, we were very imaginative all the more because it was inconvenient. I don’t think I could come up with the idea of Spatial Poem today.
Kakinuma: I understand you once wore Alison Knowles’s (b.1933) paper dress.
Shiomi: Alison gave paper-based performances at International Paper Symposium ’95 in Kyoto. She also did Newspaper Music.
Kakinuma: So you participated in it as a performer.
Shiomi: Yes. She asked me to assist her, so I put her up at my house and we had a meeting for it. In preparation for a piece in which two of us read aloud her poem, she trained me in the pronunciation. It was a good experience. We took turns to read it, but it was not a simple reading. She asked me to read as though singing and in a free pronunciation. On the stage, her reading was considerably varied.
Kakinuma: I believe such a program was not recorded. It’s in Japan, and of all places, at a paper-related meeting.
Shiomi: It was held at a reputable venue, Kyoto International Conference Hall, or something. There was nobody we knew in the audience, because it was not a musical concert, but a paper symposium.
Kakinuma: I thought this program was not known, because art people didn’t come.
Shiomi: But her performances were very interesting. It was around September or so. (A document subsequently discovered indicates Alison came on October 1, 1995, and her performance was on October 5.) I was busy preparing for my European trip (in conjunction with my exhibition at Donguy gallery in Paris, starting on the 18th). But it was Alison asking for help so I had her come to my house. While we talked in a lesson room with a piano at night, we could hear crickets singing in the garden. She liked it very much. She wanted to begin the concert by us mingling in the audience and making cricket sounds. And she demanded, “Make it darker.” Of course, she could not speak Japanese, so I interpreted it for her and asked the lighting person to do so. “According to the regulations, we cannot make it any darker.” So, I relayed that to Alison, who demanded, “No, that won’t do. Make it darker.” She must have had the idea of pitch darkness, which she desired to realize. I had to negotiate with the lighting person, who yielded a lot and made it considerably darker—to the extent that he could not make it any darker for safety concerns. Indeed, when Alison went up the stepped slope on the audience side, she stumbled and damaged her toes. Still, the hall was full. The audience appeared to have enjoyed strange performances, the like of which they had never seen before
In Newspaper Music, several performers read newspapers in different languages according to Alison’s direction. It was performed by those gathered by the organizers of the paper symposium.
Another work I remember is Body Art Music, in which two performers, who held such objects as a broom, lay on a big sheet of paper laid on the floor. Another performer drew an outline of them on the paper. After that task was completed, he showed the outline to the audience. The instruction says: Somebody may sing or play an instrument, using it as a graphic score. I played it solo with the ocarina.
Kakinuma: Did Alison herself put on her dress?
Shiomi: No. When Alison came to my home, she brought many very large sheets of paper. They looked heavy. She said, “Composers have it easy, carrying at the most a few sheets of letter-size paper. We are so burdened, having to carry these heavy things when we travel.” Indeed, they were heavy. It’s Japanese-style paper she had made herself, by pouring.
Kakinuma: In America?
Shiomi: In America. She scooped these sheets, with many things mixed in them, such as tree leaves. They were thick and very colorful. So they were heavy. She said she would make dresses with them on stage. “I need a model.” I responded, “There are many young women who are tall and nice. Shall I ask one of them?” She answered, “No, this is a performance, so it must be you.” Then I had to be a model. She asked me to put on a yellow cotton T-shirt and white trousers; I was perhaps barefooted. She said, “Now I will put it on you.” I am not used to having something done to me on stage. I usually do something. I asked her, “Anything to keep in mind?” She told me, “Well, you can feel, but you cannot express yourself. Think of yourself like that.” OK, then, I would be Alison’s fetus! [Laughs] So I just stood without thinking much there. When she lifted my arm, I just let her do that. I didn’t do anything myself. I became an object. She pulled my feet, too, trying to put on large pants connected to shoes. Since I did nothing, she was unable to lift my foot. She whispered, “Lift your foot.” [Laughs] Those in the front rows were giggling. At any rate, I let her do whatever she had to do, but I could tell paper-made sleeves like sashes and many other things were put on me. But I could not see them. I was not supposed to see, even my own feet. I kind of blankly gazed at one point in the audience. After the performance, many people told me, “You were so pretty.” I wondered how pretty I had been.
Kakinuma: You could not see it yourself.
Shiomi: I was not allowed to see it myself. Somebody took a photo in the dim light and gave it to me afterward. Certainly, it’s pretty, with such big sleeves, tied up with a sash. A wonderful dress. So her performance was to create in situ this dress using her own paper and clothe the model in it.
Kakinuma: In 2001, you did Fluxus Trial. Why “trial” format for performance?
Shiomi: Prior to that, I had a collective performance for Fluxus Media Opera at Xebec. I wanted to make something completely different. The budget was small, so I envisioned renting a junk piano in order to destroy it to some extent and to present many pieces in a linked manner. A strategy for the latter was the trial format. The following year, 2002, was the 40th anniversary. So I thought it might be interesting to put ourselves on trial. Still, if a human reads an indictment, it will be too real. I was afraid it should sound like a students’ play. So, I asked Christophe Charles (b.1964) to create a reading of the indictment with a computer-based synthesized voice. In response, we will give performances. In this way, various performances will have a coherent meaning.
Kakinuma: The year, 2002, was the 40th anniversary.
Shiomi: Yes, that’s why I wanted use the trial as a form of linking performances.
Kakinuma: Then, it was after 40 years that you wanted to destroy the piano again.
Shiomi: That’s correct. [Laughs] However, there was an agreement with the piano rental place: “You may saw off parts of this piano, or you may nail on it, but never destroy its basic structure.” That was because after the performance two workers had to carry it out to a truck parked outside. It should not collapse while being transported from the stage to the car. That would be too dangerous. So, we destroyed it in a rather restricted manner.
Kakinuma: I see, that’s how it happened.
Kakinuma: Now, let us talk about this year’s Fluxus in Japan 2014. How did it come about?
Shiomi: It has long been Ay-O’s dream to organize a Fluxus Festival in Japan. He was, as I, in the past invited to Fluxus Festivals abroad and treated very well. However, no Fluxus Festival had been held in Japan. When Ay-O had a retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, he attempted to organize one, with the curator’s help. However, you know, they had to consider budget and other things, so he could not realize it at that time.
This year happens to be the museum’s 20th anniversary and funds were secured from the Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture. Ay-O, Nishikawa Mihoko (curator at the museum), and Sugaya Miyuki (Gallery 360°) who worked closely to organize it. Whom to invite was a major issue. They e-mailed many people, but they are now old. They contacted Alison, but she said “I am well and active in New York, but it’s not possible to go to Japan.” They contacted Ben Vautier, but he did not even respond. Milan Knížák (b. 1940) was supposed to come, but he fell ill immediately before his departure, so he could not come. Japan is very far, after all, from Europe and America. So, the two most healthy persons, Ben Patterson (b. 1934) and Eric Andersen (b.1940), came.
Kakinuma: You performed some new works. Petali Pianissimo by Philip Corner (b.1933). It was a beautiful work with flower petals. How did you interpret it in this presentation?
Shiomi: Among the scores he had sent me in 2000, I found this. I was determined to do it this time around. Petali means “flower petals” in Italian. But how to understand Pianissimo? Does it mean to play the piano “with the faintest sounds” or can I interpret it as, say, “very pianistic”? I asked him. His answer was: “I love that interpretation. Put it into your version.” He also wrote, “it could also refer to the petals.” That is, the petals can be petalissimo, or “very flower.” Perhaps, it may mean “many flowers.” In other words, with a massive amount of flowers, I may play the piano in a very pianistic manner. So I did it in “pianistic.”
Kakinuma: Also there was another new work, Multidimensional Rondo. You also used petals, which were recycled from Corner’s work, as well as rope jumping, to express the circling of Rondo. Can you explain it more?
Shiomi: This work derived from my work, Water Music: Version 2012, which was performed in 2012 at the museum. There was a water tank in the center, with five performers away from it, positioned in the pentagram. They read short words related to water written on the cards, threw the cards into the tank in the manner of throwing rings playing quoits. Naturally, they would tend to miss the target. Then they picked up those outside the tank, divided them equally among them, and returned to their positions, except that they each shifted one position over. Their movement in this scene, together with the rhythm of it, was so lively and beautiful, as though the pentagram had clicked and moved. This “rotating” motion made an impression in my memory.
In Multidimensional Rondo, I tied ropes to the three legs of a piano. By rotating them, we played jump rope. In order to unify the rotating rhythm, a pianist repeated twenty kinds of arpeggio again and again. In tune with the piano, three female performers sang refrains, or sometimes cried out the name of a flower or a spice, and rotated the ropes. The fourth performer then appeared, also singing, and jumped the ropes. And she took over from one of the three performers the task of rotating the rope. This was the basic move, which involved a few kinds of rotation. Arpeggio was a rotation in essence, the rope was rotated, and the performers rotated their positions around the piano while jumping the rope. Furthermore, in the previous piece, the petals, plucked from the flowers, fell on the piano keys and the floors. In this piece, they were now arranged on the floor in the shape of a flower, as though reincarnated. There are so many rotations, so I called it Multidimensional Rondo.
Kakinuma: Another piece was called A Confined Sonata.
Shiomi: Ha, ha, ha!
Kakinuma: I saw the piano was literally wrapped. What was your thought behind it?
Shiomi: I played the first movement of Moonlight Sonata, as a few male performers destroyed the piano, for the 2002 Fluxus Trial. I had a great pleasure in playing that serene piece amidst the tremendous noises they made by sawing, nailing, and electric drilling. [Laughs] But, I don’t want to repeat the same thing. So I decided to have another pianist experience this pleasure and invited Inagaki Satoshi of Ensemble Nomad. I myself would take part as a noise-maker. [Laughs] We may not destroy the museum’s piano, but they allowed us to do “internal strumming and hitting.” So three of us brought in various things with which to create non-musical noises. That is to say, we were to confine Moonlight Sonata by the noise. Then, it occurred to me: how about visually confining the piano and the performers together. I myself sewed a confinement using light-shielding net for gardening. With it, I confined Moonlight Sonata in two layers. Or, I may say, the moonlight was shielded by the net. Patterson said, “I found that piece most interesting.” [Laughs]
Kakinuma: And the last was Fluxus Memorial Service.
Shiomi: I asked all the participants to drop glass marbles onto the strings of the piano.
Kakinuma: You played Wagner as background music for this piece, What did it mean?
Shiomi: Yes, when I presented it in New York.
Kakinuma: Oh, did you do it in New York? It was not a new work?
Shiomi: Not a new work. Wait a second. That idea—I had the idea of dropping glass marbles onto the strings of the piano at the 1990 Fluxus Festival in Venice.
Kakinuma: Indeed, it’s dated 1994, and you presented the 2014 version in Tokyo.
Shiomi: In New York, as I played Handel’s Ombra mai fu again and again, others came up to the stage, received glass marbles from Barbara Moore [b.1932], and dropped them onto the strings of the piano. Ay-O mimicked the gesture of “burning incense at a funeral” (shōkō), bringing the marble to his forehead three times, and dropped it. [Laughs] I kept my eye on the score, but occasionally stole a glimpse at the proceedings. Some threw like a ball, some others dropped it deliberately. It varied from person to person. It was part of a memorial service, with a religious implication. Or, you can perform it in a neutral manner. This time around, my vivid memory of Fluxus Memorial Service in 1994 was fading. Rather than mourning their deaths, I wanted to celebrate their activities while they were alive, proclaiming, “They were all heroes.” That’s why I used Tannhäuser.
Kakinuma: As a tribute.
Shiomi: Yes, I thought, “It’s fitting.” Since I didn’t have a record, I sent for it from Amazon.com. Do you know Ms. Fukui. Fukui Tomoko, a composer? She told me, “I thought it strange that you played Wagner at a memorial service. But when it started playing, I was almost in tears.”
Kakinuma: Yes, strangely fitting.
Shiomi: Very fitting.
Kakinuma: It was great.
Shiomi: It was a memorial service, but I wanted to express a sense of my homage, proclaiming that they were really wonderful. Tannhäuser felt right, so I used it. I think music has great power. Depending on what music you use, the atmosphere changes completely.
Kakinuma: Yes, you often use a piece of classical music so well. Not like John Cage, who used classical music negatively or to mock it, but you use it to enhance its virtue.
Shiomi: I think a simple event is enriched by classical music.
Kakinuma: I enjoyed the concert very much. It was fun. Thank you so much.
Shiomi: Thank you.
Kakinuma: Let me conclude my questions, and Mr. Takeuchi will ask you about music.
Takeuchi: Let me begin by asking you what you wrote in the book: “Suddenly, sound came back to me.” I am especially interested in your work from the late 1970s. In 1978, you composed Phantom and Bird Dictionary. Can you tell us about these two pieces?
Shiomi: I composed Phantom in unmeasured notation. I wrote a scenario, which I had translated into German. Iwata Takako (b.1942), who sang it, was long in Vienna. She said, “It’s harder to sing in Japanese. German is better.” That’s why I had it translated into German. It’s like an operatic monologue. I made it first and then for the first time . . .
Takeuchi: It is said that you wrote it for the first time in staff notation.
Shiomi: Yes, Bird Dictionary is my first piece in staff notation. In the English Macmillan Dictionary I looked up and selected twenty birds. Each lyric consists of a simple description of a given bird, where it dwells, its body length, its food, etc. Twenty pieces are ordered alphabetically. I took apart such names as Albatross and Cassowary in the manner of a sound poem and combined with the text. The singing, too, consists of parts to sing in arioso and parts to narrate. Some parts are onomatopoeic, with bird-like sounds.
Takeuchi: Yes, some parts sound like birds chirping. In your interview with Kawasaki Kōji, you stated that you also used tape-recorded bird sounds.
Shiomi: Certainly, I did. For example, the Dodo is an extinct species. So, I made a series of sounds, by eliminating one character at a time: extinct, xtinct, tinct, inct, nct, and so on so forth. The voice, too, . . .
Takeuchi: Vanishes in diminuendo.
Shiomi: For each word, I made a vanishing series of sounds and also have the voice disappear in diminuendo. This was like a word experiment. Half sound poetry, rather than a single song. So it’s hard on a singer, because he or she must differentiate among three voices at the same time. Of course, you cannot sing all three at once, so you have to shift to another voice quickly. It’s very difficult to sing. However, those who listen to it, since three modes of singing or narrations are continuous, if they listen carefully, can hear them in continuation. This method, as I realized later, is similar to editing three kinds of tape in different timbre by “cut and splice together.” When you play such a tape, it sounds like my piece.
Takeuchi: You talked a little about a structure of tape music yesterday.
Shiomi: Yes, these experiences unconsciously fed into this piece.
Takeuchi: In the twentieth of this piece, Woodpecker, you also use Morse code. You just talked about it before, but this is the first time you use Morse code in staff notation.
Shiomi: Yes, it was the first time.
Takeuchi: After Phantom and Bird Dictionary of 1978, you composed a choral piece, If we were a pentagonal memory device.
Shiomi: I composed If we were a pentagonal memory device when I was asked by a common friend: “Collegium Vocale Köln, a vocal quintet in Cologne, wants a piece. Would you like to make one?” At the time, I was very much into composing, so I wanted to do a new experiment for each new piece, both in terms of the concept and the sound contents. I envisioned each of the five singers as a memory device that contains many words with a specific vowel. Each will pronounce or sing the words in his or her memory device according to the score. I thought up a situation in which these memory devices are stranded in a disaster somewhere. The question was: “What shall we do from now on?” And they would debate “How can we get our own energy sources?” and “Can we use pollens instead of Plutonium?” and such. They do so using their actual names such as Helmut and Michaela.
Takeuchi: It’s a bit like science fiction.
Shiomi: Like science fiction. Yes, I had that image. Also an opera to sing while seated.
Takeuchi: You used English, even though it’s for an ensemble in Cologne. Did you think about what text to use?
Shiomi: I can manage to write in English, with a native speaker checking it. But I had no confidence in writing in German. So I added an instruction, “You may use your mother tongue in the discussion.”
Takeuchi: I would like to ask you about a work following that, Fractal Freak. Through 2002, you made four pieces, taking a relatively long time.
Shiomi: That’s true.
Takeuchi: On the first page of the score, you stated that you appropriated the fractal theory. You wrote in your book about “giving a form to sound.” So can you talk about it in relation to this idea?
Shiomi: When composing, I need a basic or core concept and I need a theory, a music theory. One day, Inoue Satoko (b.1958) called me and asked, “Please write a new piece” for her recital. I had just read about fractal theory, which intrigued me. I thought I could extend it as a music theory, from which I could create many theories. This premonition immediately took a concrete form as the first piece, CAsCAde. In this piece, what I thought of was how to measure the distance of two points on a coastal line. How precisely do we measure it? Do we measure each curve of rocks? Or do we make a rough estimate based on a map? Depending on how you do it, the number varies. It occurred to me, what if I used fractal theory and represented these methods with it. In terms of music, there can be many different melodies to go from one sound to another depending on what path you want to take. I like the word “cascade,” which prompted me to think of different paths to go from a high C to low A. That’s why A’s and C’s are capital letters in the title, CAsCAde. In fractal theory, it is considered that every detail has the same type of information. A phrase from C to A is lengthened by one beat, every time it is repeated. Its chord, too, becomes more complex. You can call them variations, but what I thought of were ghost images that frequently appeared in the old cathode-ray tube television. Say, a person’s figure is repeated in blurry images in different colors. That was rather beautiful. So in this piece, it begins with one voice, then becomes two voices, and is subsequently accompanied by layers of chord. In the process, the sound image is blurred. As a whole, it consists of two large similar forms, but it culminates with a suggestion of a larger similar form.
Takeuchi: I thought you had a deep concern with the pitch organization, after I listened to all four pieces.
Shiomi: Yes. I want to be strict. Fractal Freak, that is, the fractal theory, is a simple theory. However, the simpler the origin is, the more things we can pull out of it. For example, in the third piece, Parabolic, I made a rule for interval relationships. When it’s ascending, the interval from one note to another should be the same as or smaller than the previous one; and the reverse when it’s descending. This rule makes a parabola. I strictly followed this rule and wrote the whole thing. The last piece is Animated Shadows. I translated the Japanese word irodorareta (literally “colored”) as “animated,” and that’s the inspiration for its structure. A phrase of very distant interval by octaves, which you play with non-pedal, served like a metal frame of a building. The shadow of the frame will be elongated gradually. The last sound’s 17th harmonics is, for example for C, the upper C (C#). Because 16th harmonics equals four octaves.
Takeuchi: Yes, one above it.
Shiomi: If you go to 17th harmonics, you can get nine tones. Using these nine tones, I made a scale. By reflecting the frame’s sound form and its rhythmic characters, I made shadows. Yet, in the end, it’s like turning the table around, the shadow eats up the original frame, and that’s how it concludes.
Takeuchi: May ask the last question? You sometimes said, “words and sounds are equivalent media.” I am wondering when you became aware of language or poetry.
Shiomi: I was a so-called “literature girl,” at middle school. [Laughs] When I was at elementary school, I had no books at all. It was after everything was burned up [by the air raid]. I clandestinely read books at a book store. At middle school, my close friend, who was my piano friend, loved literature. We both wrote poems and read each other’s. Sometimes, we brought them to a Japanese-language teacher for commentary. We did all these on our own. I also wrote short stories. My interest in language and literature was born at middle school.
Takeuchi: Many of your works are accompanied by texts. When you select a text, that is, when you select a readymade text, do you have any standard, so to speak?
Shiomi: Not really. Well, the beauty of how it sounds or rings is important. I love the words “asterisk” and “paraselene” When you pronounce these words, they sound beautiful. And they can be divided into a few syllables. As for texts, I often write texts based on anonymous dictionary texts or some titles.
Takeuchi: I thought the texts in your works are intended to be pronounced.
Shiomi: To be pronounced? Of course.
Takeuchi: That is, I feel that your poems are not to be read silently but to be read aloud.
Shiomi: Of course they are.
Takeuchi: If so, how they sound, how beautiful they are when pronounced: that’s the point?
Shiomi: Yes. Even when it is not sung, but just narrated, it must have a beautiful ring. I think words are so rich. We can sing them, we can narrate them, we can whisper them without voicing them, or we can pronounce them syllable by syllable. In The Sun Sets over the Prairie (1981), I transposed syllables in my short poem, to create a meaningless spell consisting of words that sound strong. You can do many experiments based on that. I think words are a rich source of inspiration.
Kakinuma: Who is your favorite novelist or poet?
Shiomi: Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio (b. 1940). When I was single, in my twenties, Le Clézio’s Chōsho (translated from Le procès-verbal) was published, I happened to learn about it and read it. I was so enthralled by the richness of his imagery, the intensity of his expression. Recently, I re-read it again. Also I encountered another novel by him, one about a sailing ship, called Hazard. Of course I didn’t read it in French, but read it in Japanese translation (titled Gūzen). It is sited in Nice and the Mediterranean Sea. I long for the Mediterranean and I love sea stories.
Kakinuma: Will you please talk about Fluxus Suite?
Takeuchi: Yes, I wanted to ask you about this piece. It’s a Fluxus work, in which you referenced many Fluxus people through a method similar to musical encryption (the musical cryptogram). Speaking of musical encryption, I thought of Schumann’s Carnaval. I think you quote this work in many works.
Shiomi: When I was a university student, I came to know the method from Asch in the album Carnaval. Fluxus Suite was also created to commemorate the 40th anniversary in 2002. The fall of the previous year, Hundertmark asked me, “Would you like to issue a CD from us?” That offer got me thinking: “It’s 2002 next year, so I can make a CD, Fluxus Suite, which serves as a musical directory. I can make it a gift to people.” So I selected 80 Fluxus-related people. The rule was to use German pitch names found in the spellings of each person’s name and to create their portraits using only the sounds from these pitches. It would not be interesting if I just composed a piece that sounded like portraying that person. So Allan Kaprow and Peter Moore have one pitch name each. Yoko Ono has none.
Kakinuma: That’s why it’s “silence.”
Takeuchi: Yes, it’s Silence.
Shiomi: It’s Silence that lasts 50 seconds. My synthesizer contains samplings from natural sounds. Water drops, birds singing, a motorcycle running. Some sound so different when shifted by an octave. I thought I could produce an interesting piece, even when that person had only one pitch name. It was a challenge for a composer’s vocabulary. What kind of piece a composer can make by what method. It’s a sample answer to that.
Takeuchi: I borrowed this CD and listened to it, but it’s so variegated, I forgot time’s passing. So many pieces are included but I felt it’s over quickly. So varied and so interesting. It’s just my impression.
Shiomi: Thank you so much. The first rule was to use pitch names that could be picked up from that person’s name. The second was to reference his or her representative work and method, or occupation or impression. In the case of Maciunas, like when performing In Memorium to Adriano Olivetti, I used the metronome sounds and occasionally I added overlapping sounds. For Philip Corner, who had sent me a piece titled Pulse, in which a chord is gradually changed in equal rhythms, I followed that method and created a pulse piece using only his sounds (although Pulse may not be his signature work). For Tone Yasunao, who uses characters and shapes in his CD’s, I wrote his name Tone in Chinese characters on music paper diagonally; if you pick notes where his name intersects with five lines and put them together, they make a singular piece. Luigi Bonotto (b. 1941) is a president of a fabric company, so I made a complex texture. For John Cage, famous for his “chance operation,” I made an arrangement of tones using chance operation. For Jean Dupuy, fond of anagrams, I made an anagram with his pitch names. I tried to adapt their works and methodologies.
Kakinuma: As you have explained to us, you are a composer who has created various pieces. Don’t you find it contradictory that you are also an artist of Fluxus, which rebelled against high art?
Shiomi: I find no contradiction at all.
Kakinuma: Then, how not?
Shiomi: The two naturally coexist in me.
Kakinuma: They coexist. [Laughs] Not that you use a method suitable for the one, another for the other.
Shiomi: In a sense, I do. Let me explain. There are works that I made in the spirit of that time so that anybody can perform it and enjoy it in their everyday lives, so that we can remove the boundary between professionals and amateurs. Others can play these works in any way they want. I won’t demand any royalty at all. Please perform them freely, although I will perform other people’s works from that era also freely. In contrast, if a performer commissions me and I spend many months to compose it and finalize it on the computer, I demand the commission fees. These works are registered at JASRAC, so I will receive the royalties from JASRAC, as well. That’s why the two modes coexist in me with no contradiction. I do not blindly uphold the antiestablishment spirit of the time. That was informed by that era. Time changes and people change.
Kakinuma: Yet, you think Fluxus still continues.
Shiomi: As a group, it continues. For example, when a museum wants to organize a Fluxus performance festival, like the other day, we can select some pieces from the Fluxus repertoire and devise new ways to realize them so that the audience will enjoy the performances. In my case, in doing so, my current attitude as a composer inevitably factors in the process, but other members will also approach it from their current positions. In the sense that the past and the present is connected, Fluxus continues. So, it’s never a contradiction, but different elements are integrated in me. I personally think there is more I can do beyond integration.
Kakinuma: Then, with A Confined Sonata that you performed at Fluxus in Japan, you integrated the two. It’s integrated.
Shiomi: Yes, but that’s a very simple case based on the old piece.
Kakinuma: I forget when you said that, but you characterized, “Fluxus is a big family.” What do you say, if you are asked today: What is Fluxus to you?
Shiomi: Many years have passed since then. Well, I would say, Fluxus is ideal siblings. Usually brothers and sisters independently live their lives, but they care how others are doing and occasionally exchange information. When they get together after a while, they can get back to the old times and talk forever. It’s like that with Fluxus friends. But they are not siblings, but artists, so we are conscious of each other’s work, sometimes inspired by them. But like siblings, we have a fraternal sentiment, “They are well and very much active, that’s good.”
Kakinuma: Eric Andersen said, “Fluxus is a global network.” It’s close to that?
Shiomi: Functionally speaking, that’s true. I myself have taken advantage of Fluxus as a network, in Spatial Poem and Fluxus Balance. Yet, in terms of human relationship, Fluxus is siblings. In a sense, it’s a realization of Maciunas’s dream, though in a different way. He wanted to have a closely knit, cohabiting community, but we have been all dispersed. Yet, even dispersed, our collaborative work continues through our engagements and friendships with each other. Although, we are now all aged and feeble. [Laughs] I think some kind of collaboration will continue until it becomes impossible.
Kakinuma: I am looking forward to seeing your future work.
Shiomi: Well, I’m afraid you can’t, we are an endangered species. [Laughs]
Alison Knowles’s paper dress