April 21st, 2008


Water chiming like a bell

After the ethical water in my Moment piece this week, here comes aesthetic water! Tomoko Miyata and I have been rehearsing in Berlin for our installation performance on May 24th at the Technical University in Vienna, at which, over the course of three hours, we'll occupy the student cafe. I'll chant chemical symbols as if they were mantras, Tomoko will play... water.

That's right, water. Water in bowls, with ordinary wooden cooking spoons as mallets. Water tuned by the resonant frequency of porcelain and its own depth. Water played like a non-digital synthesiser, with modulation, portamento and vibrato created by waving, stirring and swilling.

Water chiming like a bell! Water captured with waterproof subaqueous microphones! Water accompanied by an electronc shruti box, a transistorised Indian sitar drone which just glows in the background! It's enough to make Mesmer resonate in his grave!

Yesterday, after we'd played, Tomoko told me she'd learned her water bowl technique from an Indian musician she met in Paris three years ago. She's been playing concerts ever since, including at La Generale, the legendary Paris art squat where she has a studio. La Generale is in Sevres, famous for its porcelains, and Tomoko has set up a relationship with local artisans, hoping to get their flawed pottery and turn it, too, into notes in her "liquid synth". (Those same flaws, of course, would be virtues if Western manufacturers were savvy to wabi sabi.)

Tomoko told me she wants our performance in Vienna to have something of the magical incongruity of Jonathan Miller's film Alice in Wonderland, where Ravi Shankar's sitar accompanies -- enhances and estranges -- English Victorian afternoons, lacing them with some kind of orientalist psychedelia. I suppose, in the metaphor, the shruti box and bowls are the Eat-Me, Drink-Me drugs and science the hatter's logic of strange-but-true.

If Tomoko's Ravi, I suppose I must be Alice. Or -- with that melodica hookah hanging out of my mouth -- maybe the caterpillar?