A show at Ikon about the pioneer of experimental musicTakehisa Kosugi

Ikon hosts the first major solo exhibition in the UK by Japanese composer and artist Takehisa Kosugi (b 1938).  A pioneer of experimental music in Japan in the early 1960s and closely associated with the Fluxus movement, he is an influential artist of his generation. Kosugi joined the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in the 1970s late to become the Musical Director in 1995. He worked with the Company up until its final performance in 2011.

The show at Ikon presents three sound installations, including one made especially for the gallery. Often comprising everyday materials and radio electronics, they involve interactions with wind, electricity and light, making sonic relationships between objects.

Courtesy: Takehisa Kosugi & Ikon

Courtesy: Takehisa Kosugi & Ikon

Kosugi was first attracted by music because of his father’s enthusiasm for playing the harmonica, and recordings of violinists Mischa Elman and Joseph Szigeti, which he heard while growing up in post-war Tokyo. He went on to study musicology at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music during the late 1950s. Inspired by the spirit of experimentation coming from Europe and the US, he was also intrigued by traditional Japanese music, in particular Noh Theatre, and its concept of ‘ma’ – the conscious appreciation of the in-between-ness of one sound and another. “That sense of ma in traditional Japanese music, the sense of timing is different from Western music. In my imagination time seems to stretch and contract. It’s not just linear.” Jazz was of similar inspiration, Charlie Parker in particular: “…I was totally stunned by him. That spontaneity and freedom, that beauty in the moment.

Courtesy: Takehisa Kosugi & Ikon

Courtesy: Takehisa Kosugi & Ikon

Kosugi‘s desire for spontaneity in his own performances led him to co-found in 1960 Group Ongaku, Japan’s first group dedicated to collective improvisation, and later the Taj Mahal Travellers. He became closely associated with the Fluxus movement, and in 1965 he settled in New York, where he collaborated with a number of other Fluxus artists including Nam June Paik. Kosugi‘s interest had by then shifted from making music towards what he referred to as ‘events’, and he began producing work that formed a tangible relationship between sound and the environment. Experiments with radio electronics were manifested in Catch-Wave (1967), a seminal work which includes several transmitters, radios and a toy slide projector, suspended from the ceiling, close enough to one other to cause audio and visual interference. The audience, walking through the installation, makes the component pieces move, creating constantly changing interactions.

Courtesy: Takehisa Kosugi & Ikon

Courtesy: Takehisa Kosugi & Ikon

The exhibition includes a work entitled Mano-dharma, electronic (1967), in which Kosugi makes use of waves that themselves do not generate sound, such as electric waves, radio frequency waves and wind movement, and draws sound from them by installing an electronic system within the space. Electronic wave transmission devices and receivers hang by string from the ceiling, from which the artist produces sound by means of interference that occur between them and affecting that sound further through the use of a floor standing fan. Simultaneously, Kosugi projects an image of ocean waves on the gallery wall as an analogy.

Interspersion for Light and Sound (2000), is a work which embodies imperceptible movement. A Perspex box is filled with white sugar and/or sand emitting faint electronic crackles of sound and light from the electronics and LEDs concealed below the surface, caused by the effect of see-through and hear-through conditions on the sugar/sand. Kosugi insists that there is no conceptual meaning but rather it is a question of apprehending accidental encounters and uncertainty created by invisible phenomena at work.

In consideration of the relationship between his improvisatory performances and the use of electronic technology in his work, Kosugi explains: “I needed to liberate music from my own control, but improvisation is conversely still controlled by your playing habits. What electronics demonstrated to me was the movement of electronic waves separate from myself. Developing a relationship with those phenomena is a way to transcend yourself.”

This exhibition is supported by the Japan Foundation, the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation and The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation.

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