Harajuku Performance+: Nomiya Maki, Open Reel Ensemble

Text by Patrick Benny for Tokyo's Coolest Sound

Last week on Tuesday December 22 was the first of two days of a performance-themed event at La Foret Museum, Harajuku, titled "Harajuku Performance+". On that day were two artists that I especially wanted to see, Nomiya Maki and Open Reel Ensemble, and ironically they were the two first of the evening (out of five).

I got there just before the start time of 19:30, and within a few minutes Open Reel Ensemble got on stage. The unique performance unit uses large reel audio recorders to record and then playback and scratch samples live. This time they had upgraded their show with another project called "Braun Tube Jazz Project", in which they use old CRT TVs. When showing noise on the screens, the TVs become sensitive to touch and produce sounds then amplified and used percussively. It's probably a tad more complicated but that's as far as I could understand anyway. :) So the show was combined sampling on the tape recorders, jazzy beats with the TVs, plus bonus bassist and cajón players. Funnily the only technical trouble was with the cajón..! Oh yeah, there was also a smallish TV that was pushed off its pedestal accidentally, oops!

2nd to play was Nomiya Maki! As far as I know she hadn't done solo shows in Tokyo lately, so it was a return that I was really eager about! She was accompanied by DJ Noboru (who is also her make-up/hair artist) who looked really cool in a white suit with really square shoulders. Maki wore an eccentric black dress with white cuffs, and a hat that looked like it's made of a yellow vinyl sheet (See photos on her blog!).

Maki sang a total of 5 songs, 2 of which seemed to be new original songs! One of these was titled "Looker", the theme she had given to the event. There was a neon sign of the word hanging from the ceiling. The 3 other songs were covers, "Living on Video" (Trans-X), "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)" (Eurythmics) and "I was made for loving you" (by Kiss, a song she has covered on album "Party People"). I heard later that the musical director for the show was Kikuchi Naruyoshi (Spank Happy).

Anecdote: I must tell you how hearing "Living on Video" here was so special to me! Last summer Maki went to play at a Japan-themed event in Toronto (Canada), and friends of mine were helping her to prepare her show and asked me to suggest Canadian songs that she should cover. "Living on Video" was my first choice! I later knew that she sang it in Toronto, but this was the first time I got to hear it! This was the first song in the set and it took me by surprise. It was really awesome, complete with vocoder in the chorus. Actually I was so excited that it felt like it was over in almost no time. :) How I want to hear it again (and again)! Thanks Maki for such a great show, and I'm looking forward to more in 2011!

There were 3 artists left to play, neither that I knew much about. Yamakawa Fuyuki came on stage, he's an artist who does various installations and performances. This time he had on stage a medical machine called the Puritan Bennett 7200 which spoke and presented itself, as he connected what I suspected was an animal's heart to the machine's tubes. The heart inflated along with the machine's beeps, and the artist's amplified heartbeats (he had a microphone taped to his chest). The artist played a folk-ish song on guitar while walking around the stage, occasionally kicking a cymbal. To make things even stranger, the machine had robotized wheels which made it dance along, and at times during the song it would run up to a guitar hanging from the ceiling and hit a chord against its strings. Only one song was sung which lasted some 10-15 minutes. I can't quite recall seeing anything much weirder than this! I didn't realize until halfway in the song, but I had seen him before doing throat singing with Plastic Sex (2004 gig report), and he also appears on the album "Here comes SEX education".

Next up was electronic artist Aoki Takamasa, who is signed on commmons. He played a non-stop set using a laptop and some electronics. I liked his music, though this was the less "performance" act of the evening.

Last was Hifana, I had heard their name a lot before and knew they were some major electro unit, but this was the first time that I got to hear their music closely. For the opening, they had actually teamed up with Daito Manabe and Motoi Ishibashi who specialize in playing with electricity and LEDs with the human body (see this and this on YouTube). They had two human specimens who were changed into "human beatboxes" (not in the usual meaning) at the control of the two guys of Hifana. This lasted about 10 minutes and then Hifana went to their gear in the center of the stage and proceeded to play their set. Used are simple samplers, with buttons hit at with incredible speed and accuracy to recreate the songs entirely live, occasionally using a turntable and doing some games of switching places while keeping up with the complex beats. They were really talented, though maybe this isn't exactly for me, I found myself a bit tired at times, many songs sounding quite similar.

Anyway, this was a good and varied bunch! Hats off to who organized this!
(Sorry to say that I couldn't make it to the 2nd day, so don't be looking for the report. :))

Open Reel Ensemble introduction

Nomiya Maki "Living on Video" (live at Luminato Festival, Toronto)

Hifana "Wamono"

Tags: AOKI Takamasa, Hifana, NOMIYA Maki, Open Reel Ensemble, YAMAKAWA Fuyuki (click for more info)

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