A Performance and Workshop Highlighting “Silence” and “Chance”
On November 15 (Thurs.) and 16 (Fri.), 2018, the “Yoko Tawada and Aki Takase Performance & Workshop” was held at Waseda University’s Ono Memorial Hall. This was the ninth time this annual event, a fixture of Waseda University’s November schedule, was held. This year, the themes of the performance and workshop were “silence” and “chance.” The two artists created a unique space, enchanting everyone at the venue.
Since graduating from Waseda University, Yoko Tawada has been active as a poet and writer of novels and short stories. Her vocation has been a lively success in both Japan and Germany, with her receiving—among numerous other literary awards—the Akutagawa, Tanizaki, and Waseda University Tsubouchi Shoyo Awards in the former country and the Goethe Medal and the Kleist Prize in the latter. This October, Ms. Tawada also won the Japan Foundation Award, and, on the morning of November 15 (Thurs.) in Japan (November 14 in the US), it was announced that she had received the National Book Award for Translated Literature, one of the most influential US literary prizes. (Click here for more about the National Book Award.)
Aki Takase is a musician who performs around the world, particularly in Europe and the US. Her jazz- and improvisation-focused performances have been well-received internationally, and her reputation is now as one of the foremost figures in contemporary jazz.
The theme of the performances was US composer John Cage’s piece “4’33”.” Around this theme, Ms. Tawada and Ms. Takase created a series of new worlds embedded with their own ideas.
When the stage lights turned on, a large timer was displayed on a screen, and Ms. Takase began performing as the moments passed by. The event program went on to showcase a “simultaneous translation”—in which the two performers gave readings of two separate works at the same time—and a bringing together of John Cage’s book Silence: Lectures and Writings and improvised music. This was followed by comparisons of two German words for “silence” with distinct connotations (schweigen, to make no sound, and verschweigen, to conceal a fact by remaining silent) and of political versus musical “experiments,” a pun on the word “gradation” and works of painting, and a “dice reading,” in which Ms. Tawada read aloud the number of pages that came up from a roll of a pair of dice—among other performances. Worlds arising from “silence” and “chance” were expressed one after another through the mingling of piano notes and words spoken, allowing the audience to experience these two concepts in their numerous aspects.
There was an after-talk following the performances. Why did John Cage create “4’33″”? There was a discussion of what he discovered in the “music of chance.”
Ms. Takase said: “He wanted to smash the concept of a concert and to present a new way of being for ‘time’ and ‘art’ by moving away from the one promise a concert makes to its audience. You hear sounds during those 4 minutes and 33 seconds—even though nobody is performing—and there is music in those sounds. ‘Chance’ has the ability to draw out all sorts of enchantment—and perhaps we can say the same thing not just about music but also about meeting people and everything else we experience.” Ms. Tawada said: “I felt an experimental connection between ‘chance’ and ‘improvisation.’ The act of taking in this current moment and allowing others to hear what exists now expresses the essence of that very thing (a person or work) itself. In the world of books, a truly interesting book is one that is interesting even if you read a page you open to by random chance.”
Workshop “Words and Music” Vol. 9
The participants in this year’s workshop were tasked before the event with preparing texts on the topics of “silence” and “chance” that could be read in three minutes or less.
After the texts they had written were read aloud at the workshop, the participants then engaged in improvisational collaborations with musical instruments while receiving advice from Ms. Tawada and Ms. Takase. The instruments used at this year’s workshop were the piano, the flute, the trumpet, and percussion. The participants were not told ahead of time what sort of performative collaboration they would be doing, nor with which instrument. They stimulated one another as they performed, the spectacle of new stories continuing to unfold.
At the after-talk, one of the participants recalled: “When I was collaborating with the music, the rhythm and the sounds made my heart leap in my chest, and my reading aloud of the text I prepared similarly changed of its own accord. I experienced how interesting it is to understand words as ‘sound.’ Today, I was collaborating with people whom I had just met, but our thoughts and feelings were conveyed to one another within our works.”
Ms. Tawada said: “Some of you also attended last year, and I could feel how the worlds of your works are continuing to grow. There is a certain joy just in continuing on.” Ms. Takase said: “Sound and words. Words are connected to sound, and sounds become connected to words. I think that we experienced through today’s event ‘silence’ as proposed by John Cage—that is, what we can do right here and now—and I really felt that what is truly interesting can be found there.”
Yoko Tawada and Aki Takase Performance & Workshop
Performance “4’33″” November 15 (Thurs.), 2018, 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm
Workshop “Words and Music” Vol. 9, November 16 (Fri.), 2018, 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm
Venue: Ono Memorial Hall, Waseda University
Waseda University Cultural Affairs Division
Waseda University Global Japanese Studies Model Unit, Top Global University Project
The Office of Professor Miho Matsunaga, Creative Writing and Criticism Theoretical Configuration, School of Culture, Media and Society, Waseda University
Free admittance. No reservations required.