I’m sure most of our readers don’t need a history lesson on Yoshi Wada, or the contemporaneous music of his era. Nor should we necessarily review the influences and experiences of Fluxus or Hinduism: as interesting as the conflicts and confluences of the two practices are, that dichotomy has been well-mined for meaning in relation to Yoshi Wada‘s music and I doubt there is much I can add to that particular dialogue. What I am more interested in is identifying the source of his appeal. His works have a cultish following that, while certainly finding some origination in collectors’ avarice (I can hardly claim to be an exception), also lead to an increasingly rare degree of focus on behalf of the listener – exercised in a similar fashion by followers of Eleh and the Edition Wandelweiser group.
There are a variety of interesting (and largely positive) reviews of Wada’s previously released works at Tiny Mix Tapes and Dusted Reviews, though it is a piece written by Miki Kaneda on Earth Horns with Electronic Drone that is worth quoting from at length:
“Wada’s delightful experiments in sound certainly deserve better than archival status. But at the same time, I also question the motives for the serialized churning out of these so-called “lost masterpieces,” suddenly resurrected after decades. If the point of the performance lies in how the distinctness of the process of “recycling and reinforcing sound change” in the singular “acoustic time / space of the performance” as the composer suggests, a recording of this process seems, in a way to miss the point. What, of this performance is actually captured in the record? It also raises the question, is the compromised sound quality of the recording excusable because of its sexy collectability factor?”
My intent is not so much to disagree with Kaneda’s thoughts, as to find a reason why there is such attraction and demonstrative value despite these issues – especially given that much of these works’ rather cerebral audience has probably thought similarly.
I would first argue that there is something cathartic in the experience of listening to Yoshi Wada’s music. While it is generally included in discussions of the avantgarde, Fluxus and minimalism, it plays out in intensely archetypal modes. Given Earth Horns with Electronic Drone‘s or the Lament for the Rise and Fall of the Elephantine Crocodile‘s undeniably simple structures and pretty melodies, the only real challenge of the pieces is the span of time over which they unfold. This is, to some degree, a guilty pleasure of the most exacting of listeners rendered guiltless by its historical import and theoretical purity. I would question why its use in such a manner should be viewed in solely negative terms.
In a more direct response to Kaneda’s question above . . . In an age of music played more easily and frequently on portable devices (and in headphones (or worse, earbuds)) than on home stereo systems, I believe the works of artists like Yoshi Wada find a new relevance. True, the particularity of the architectural environment’s effects on the sound source is lost in the recording and reproduction of a single performance and space. However, music such as this, which leaves the listener in a constant state of distraction, her or his mind weaving between ten second segments of unchanging sound to the shifting stimuli on a computer screen, touch pad, sidewalk or bus window, and back to the sound again, now unnervingly slightly different (did it just shift pitch, or was that ten seconds ago?), brings new questions of intent, practice, conscious listening and situational or spiritual awareness to the fore that are utterly incongruous with pop music sensibilities. Whether or not this was the intent of the compositions does not, in my opinion, mitigate its validity.
So, long story short, we have here yet another release on EM of archival performances of Yoshi Wada, which is, depending on your viewpoint, as essential or as inconsequential as any of EM’s other albums by Wada. I, for one, am eminently happy that I purchased it.
While the triple LP version is sold out at the source, the CD release is still available from EM Records, and the LPs will be for sale from a variety of distributors for at least the rest of January (though given these records appeal, not much longer).