Album Notes


Violin Improvisations

Mid Sixties: he is a young Tokyo artist, come to New York to see what’s going on there. It’s a time when the two cities’ downtown art subcultures are beginning to check each other out. Fluxus members have done advance footwork, ensuring that his reputation precedes him. I happen to be there, same generation, New Yorker with curiosity and some audio equipment; one hot summer afternoon Kosugi comes to my apartment with small transistor radios and radio-frequency generators in order to try things out and make a recording. We string twine up across the room, near the ceiling, suspend radios and generators, turn on a fan and a tape recorder. Music occurs. I’m thinking: that’s very interesting... rf oscillators and little radios swinging in the breeze created by the fan, heterodyning, and this... wonderful wild rhythm and sound full of quirky life and energy, but no human is needed to do anything! We record through the hot, noisy summer rush-hour; when the fan is turned off the sound very gradually, over many minutes, subsides. It strikes me that there is something mysterious about his artwork: it is so simple yet so unpredictable and lively.

Late Eighties: two decades have passed. Now we’re both travelers, and we’re in the land where he spent his childhood, and where he is finally, after years, renowned. One frosty late autumn dusk we find ourselves in the Kasuga Taisha Shrine in Nara. The grounds are almost deserted. The air is cold and clear. There’s a silver half moon in a pale sky; golden leaves (ginko?) are falling onto stone lanterns, and many large black crows are circling over us. The circular motion of the crows brings to my mind’s ear his violin performances with transmitter microphone and digital delays, music which I’ve been listening to intently every afternoon during the previous weeks in Kyoto. I’m thinking about the character of his performances, about how it is at once simple and sophisticated, able subtly to evoke far-flung cultural heritages with a slight turn in a phrase invented on the fly. About how it makes of delay (overused by other musicians) an ingredient in music which is surprising, spontaneous, inventive and moving. If I try to analyze what it is exactly that he does to achieve these wonderful results, the secret slips away.

— David Behrman, November 1989

Kosugi reappears with his violin. He improvises short phrases, some of which revolve around only one or two notes, and some of which are more active. The phases have unique individual curves that remind me of the quick brush strokes of a calligrapher. And each one has a few little flaws, too. Places where the ink or the sound doesn’t quite fill in. Places where a brush hair or a bow hair wanders a little to one side. The violinist moves a lot as he plays. Many phrases begin standing tall and end in a crouch. The music seems to emanate from his breathing, from his body. I don’t think his brain has a whole lot to do with it. He seems quite at home on his instrument, and I have little doubt that he could play Bach respectably if he wanted to. But now he is not striving for any specific, thought-out results. The sounds have a more physical origin, and the scratchiness or mellowness of the tone seems more a matter of muscular accident than conscious decision. Sometimes the phrases are quite strident, but since they are disconnected from the will, they never seem aggressive.

...Kosugi continues playing his violin, or perhaps allowing the violin to play him.

— Tom Johnson, The Village Voice, 23 April 1979

Born in Tokyo in 1938, Takehisa Kosugi studied musicology at the Tokyo University of Art and began multi-instrumental improvisation. He co-founded the “Group Ongaku” in 1960, the first Japanese group for multiple improvisation and event. His early event pieces were introduced by Fluxus in 1962 to Europe and the United States (published in New York in 1964), and have been performed in Japan, Europe, USA, and the UK. He live in New York from 1965 to 1967, giving many mixed-media performances, then toured in Europe in 1967.

Returning to Japan, he co-founded “Taj Mahal Travellers” (TMT), a multi-music band for free improvisation. In 1971-1972, Kosugi made a traveling event with TMT, going from Japan to India via Europe, the UK, and the Near East. They participated in “Utopia and Visions” (Stockholm), “ICES’72” (London), and recorded for Radio Bremen and BBC-1 TV. Kosugi played with TMT until 1976, giving frequent concerts in Tokyo and participating in New Rock and New Jazz fstivals in Japan. Kosugi also taught multi-music in Tokyo (1975-1976) and Suwa (1975).

Kosugi has been a resident composer/performer with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company since 1977. Commissioned works for the company include S. E. Wave/E. W. Song (1976), Interspersion (1979), Cycles (1981), Spacings (1984), Assemblage (1986), Rhapsody (1987), and Spectra (1989).

His work has been presented at many international festivals during the past twenty years, among them the Festival d’Automne in Paris (1978/79); Les Fetes Musicales de la Sainte-Baume, France (1978/79/80); the Holland Festival (1979); Opening Concerts, Rome (1980); Workshop Freie Musik, Berlin (1984); Pro Musica Nova, Bremen (1984); The Almeida International Festival, London (1986); Welt Musik Tage ’87, Cologne (1987) and Inventionen, Berlin (1989).

Design: By Design

Digital Editing and Mastering by Allan Tucker, Foothill Productions, NYC.

Copyright © 1989 Takehisa Kosugi
©P 1990 Lovely Music, Ltd.

LCD 2071