Friday, September 15, 2006

Aug 9 - Sep 5: Greenhouse

I always enjoy staying at the Greenhouse with Chris Case. It's in a beautiful peaceful valley, Chris is one of the most interesting people I know, and the place is set up with a view to cultivating creativity. And on the practical level it's a convenient place for me to stay while in Kanto but without gigs, in exchange for some work gardening and helping out with events.

On this Japan trip I had only the one concert between Aug 8 and Sep 5, so apart from that one trip into ShimoKitazawa for a gig with Taro Terahara and sarod player Baku Hirakawa, I was out in the Greenhouse with Chris. While there we had a few events, firstly the O-Bon Week gathering, secondly a private party for a Bob Dylan lover called Joker and his eccentric circle, and thirdly my own tabla workshop. The Greenhouse is a great place for events, private parties, rehearsals, workshops and time out from Tokyo, and is becoming the home-base for EthnoSuperLounge in Japan.

Chris Case was born in 1943 in England, spent most of his childhood in Boston before returning to UK in the early 60s which was to bring him into contact with all many of amazing people. (I hope Chris doesn't mind me giving this potted life story, but I'm sure it's interesting to a lot of folks.) Among stories he's shared with me are: living with Pink Floyd founding member Syd Barrett, organising the art exhibition where John Lennon met Yoko Ono (hence being responsible for the break-up of the Beatles), hitch-hiking across Europe and Asia to India in 1969, coming to Japan in the early 1970s, introducing Kenji Sakasegawa (now the senior tabla player in Japan) to Indian music, being an antiques dealer, DJing in Bali, taking an early interest in computers and the internet, and eventually winding up in the Greenhouse, meeting various personalities along the way including William Burroughs, Timothy Leary and Terence McKenna. He's full of interesting stories, information, conspiracy theories and opinions yet at the same time happiest to step back and allow people to express their creativity in their own ways.

He organised a party during O-Bon Week (a Japanese festival week in honour of dead relatives), partly I think to take advantage of my arrival from Australia. I was supposed to bring other musicians to take part in the event, but unfortunately wasn't too successful in luring people away from Tokyo. Most of the time I was the only musician, jamming along with Chris' DJ sets. One jamming companion who turned up by luck after finding my website was Stefanko Iancu, half-Japanese, half-Romanian, recently based in New York and London. A great example of the multicultural times we live in, his project Dolomites Muzik brings together Gypsy music with Japanese Enka and pop melodies. He brought his accordion out and we had a nice jam with a keyboard player, Mumu.

Outside party times our daily routine would usually begin with a cup of coffee and an hour or two on the internet, followed in my case hopefully with a bit of tabla practice before we hit the garden (I weeded most of the property) or did some repair work in the old houses in the Greenhouse complex. After a hard day's work a visit to a local onsen (natural hot spring bath) was definitely in order, followed by dinner and some movie or documentary. Evening viewing included Terence McKenna speaking on "machine consciousness", Al Gore on global warming, and others on the "truth of 9-11" and the history behind privately-owned national reserve banks (those darned Rothschilds...).

We'd often be popping in and out of the office all day monitoring emails and blogs, and in my case finally getting around to restructuring my website. So during this month I did quite a bit of internet exploration. I set up my email program, Thunderbird to subscribe to the RSS feeds of some interesting blogs including Metafilter which brought up a lot of interesting stuff. Here are some of my highlights, all stuff which can be enjoyed in a minute or two (all via metafilter)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Aug 4-9, Japan: Kuriharan-ji, J-san


Gonna try to make an effort to bring my blogging into the present by catching up on the last month or so...

Aug 4: Before coming to Japan I was hoping to stay with my friends Taro & Yuriko Terahara, who live near Narita Airport (comparatively speaking - Tokyo is a big place). However at the last minute things fell through and I was lucky enough to be welcomed by Taka & Kei Kurihara over on the other side of Tokyo in Hachioji.

Taka Kurihara
(aka Takasitar aka Kuriharan) performs Indian classical music on sitar and vocal - I first met him at his vocal concert at Otoya-Kintoki two years ago and was impressed not only by his musical sense but by his sense of humour. Indian classical vocal can be very serious so it's really nice to see someone who takes the music very seriously but not themselves. Someone who dives with full devotion and heart into the potentially ridiculous possibilities (eg gamak) of Indian classical vocal, and not only takes you on a journey but puts a smile on your face.

I had been doubting my reasons for coming to Japan this time but one jam with Kuriharan-ji brought back all the joy, excitement and inspiration that Indian classical music has to offer, which keeps pulling me back here, where so many people are pursuing that mystical experience with such sincerity. This is what music is all about!

Not only is Taka-san a tasty Indian classical musician, he has also just produced a CD called "Jantar Night" under the name Takasitar. It features Indian instruments including sitar, harmonium, tabla and vocals, along with samples of Indian voices and sounds. Just like his singing, the music has a great balance of light and dark, both tasty and quirky. I can see a lot of potential for soundtrack work for this man, too.

On Aug 8 I got together with my old Benares buddy, Junichi Osako, another tasty sitar-player for a concert at Otoya-Kintoki, world music venue in Nishi-Ogikubo.
OtoKin has world music, often Indian classical, every night and a lot of the audience know their stuff. There were quite a few sitar and tabla students and other Japanese friends from Benares there. There's a great "club" of Indian music devotees over here, everyone doing their best, improving year-by-year, playing with full energy and enjoyment. Unfortunately I can't say the same about Australia :-(

Junichi & I have a great connection in our music. Perhaps I can follow his playing more closely than any other player. J has a great rhythm sense and excellent use of dynamics too. Many of the audience commented that it was a very emotionally moving performance. Raga aficionados might like to know that the first set was Raag Jhinjhoti, gat in jhaptaal; the second set was Raag Kaunsi Kanada, gat in teentaal.

With no concerts in Tokyo for a few weeks, I headed off to my Kanto-country retreat-cum-EthnoSuperLounge basecamp, the Greenhouse...