Tashi Wada, Yoshi Wada & Julia Holter + Tashi Dorji & Mette Rasmussen Duo @ La Sala Rossa


REVIEW >> Suoni Per Il Popolo, CKUT, CHOQ, Blue Skies Turn Black, Scène 1425 et CJLO - 1690AM present: Tashi Wada, Yoshi Wada & Julia Holter + Tashi Dorji & Mette Rasmussen Duo >> Friday, June 17, 2016 @ La Sala Rossa

For the experimental and avant-garde music festival Suoni Per Il Popolo, the duo Tashi Dorji & Mette Rasmussen and the father and son pair Yoshi Wada & Tashi Wada, featuring Julia Holter, played a concert at La Sala Rossa full of ambitious and contrasting sounds.

As soon as the first act came on the foot-high stage, the lights dimmed and the audience's chatter followed suit. A blonde woman picked up the saxophone that had been sitting on its stand, and an Asian man did the same to the guitar that was on the right. There was no introduction.

Tashi Dorji & Mette Ramussen started immediately, and almost their entire performance was wordless - no singing, no words of gratitude to the audience, nothing. Their music is best described as free improvisation, and it is exactly what it sounds like: completely improvised music. But for the uninitiated, it sounds less like a jam session and more like complete chaos. There was no melody, no harmony, no musicality; only (seemingly) random notes and chords. In addition to the near non-existent musical structure, the instruments themselves were played in very unusual ways. The alto saxophone was sometimes played so loud that it went out of its register and sounded not unlike screaming. The electric guitar often went from amplified to unamplified as to simulate static.

Their last song had particularly interesting playing techniques, most likely to make it sound like traditional Japanese music. Throughout the entire song, Tashi Dorji's guitar strings were plucked without any amplification or distortion, much like a shamisen or a koto, and Mette Rasmussen's saxophone was blown into without a reed, played similarly to the shakuhachi flute. Their improvisational roots were still heard, but because the piece sounded the most like music out of all their other songs, it was, to me, their most memorable performance.

I understand the attraction of playing music without having any kind of constraints, but to untrained ears like mine, it is incredibly difficult to listen to, much less to enjoy. Because music in the free improvisation or free jazz genres strive to be as "free" as possible, they sound less like music to the average person and more like random noise. And so, having this duo as an opening act felt like a mistake, as nothing could possibly feel more intense as pure chaos in sonic form.

But, of course, I was wrong. The main event, Yoshi Wada, Tashi Wada, and Julia Holter, was the polar opposite of the opening act. It was slow, minimal, and carefully crafted. It was of gargantuan proportions, with only a single, hour-long song being played throughout their whole show. From that last piece of information alone, you can probably already see why this performance was as impressive - exhausting, even - as the last one.

The saxophone and guitar made way to two tables with an array of bells, a synthesizer, an organ, and a computer. Like the opening act, there was no introduction. The first sound the audience hears is the sound of a single bell being rung. More bells, hand bells, chimes, electric bells - you name it - join in slowly, and the lengthy interval between each ring tells a lot about what's to come. It was not unlike the bells I would hear at a Buddhist temple before a prayer.

At one point, Julia Holter and Tashi Wada join in on the synthesizer and electric organ, respectively. As the bells make way to the droning keyboards, Holter's faint, a melodic and atonal vocalizations are briefly heard. More and more layers of droning get piled on, get increasingly loud, and the electric bells, controlled on a computer by Yoshi Wada, completely stop ringing. Yoshi Wada gets up, plays a single tone on a bagpipe, adding onto the layers of droning. The 72-year-old musician's small frame can be seen walking solemnly around the venue.  

By the time Wada Sr. had regained his seat, what started out as a hum on the keyboards had become a roar. The wall of sound that was built layer by layer was now massive—it was so loud that the entire venue was shaking. I was really glad that I brought my earplugs when I saw the man in front of me plug his ears because of how earth-shatteringly loud it was. Protect your ears, children.

The concert went on, and it actually got quieter, and the bells made a return. Yoshi Wada had one more trick up his sleeve, however: a handmade, hand cranked instrument that, you guessed it, added droning tones to the fading overtones. This time, the meat-grinder-like instrument's sound ranged from lawnmower in the distance to air raid siren, in terms of both tonality and loudness. 

Yoshi Wada regained his seat once more, and the synth and organ began to pulsate, rather than drone. Yoshi Wada rose and walked one last time, this time to play the bagpipes. The song ended with a low droning from Julia Holter and Tashi Wada on their respective instruments.

I honestly wish I knew more about music to know exactly what the thought process behind the compositions was, or how the message of the music was heard in the compositions. But, despite that, it felt to me that the chaotic, extremely unpredictable music of Tashi Dorji & Mette Rasmussen was the soundtrack to a death, and the repetitive, cathartic, almost transcendental music of Yoshi Wada, Tashi Wada, and Julia Holter was like the soundtrack to a funeral. Whether the music took you to heaven, hell, or purgatory in the process depends on your point of view and overall enjoyment of the show. After feeling like I got brutally murdered on the opening act, I suppose the main act's slow, sometimes painful, but strangely soothing droning made me feel like I was getting purified in purgatory.


--DJ Lawrell hosts Fukubukuro every Sunday at 9PM, only on CJLO. With moods ranging from serene to hotblooded, light-hearted to upsetting, minimalistic to ear-shatteringly loud; the fun part of Fukubukuro is not knowing what you'll get every show.