Kris Rothstein's Blog

PuSh Festival 2019: Marginal Consort

Kris Rothstein

Since 1997 (the members were all students of avant-garde pioneer composer Takehisa Kosugi in the '70s) the Japanese music group Marginal Consort has usually performed just one time per year and, given the length of the performance (three hours in this case, but often longer) and the stamina needed, this is understandable. The long breaks between shows have also given them a sense of freshness and spontaneity. They have no rehearsals and make no plans. They are currently playing more often, including at the 2019 PuSh Festival.

The four members occupied different tables and the surrounding space in four corners of the large room of Performance Works art space. It was daytime and the venue permitted a lot of natural light. The audience was free to listen from any vantage point and to move around at will. In fact, the audience was even encouraged to come and go, to go out for food or drink or whatever they needed. Most sat in the middle of the room, occasionally strolling around to get a closer look at where a particular sound came from. One woman brought a blanket, another a meditation mat.

Kazuo Imai is the group’s genuine showman—whether he is blowing into a giant cardboard didgeridoo or shaking a giant sheet of metal, rolling metal balls around a metal dish or taking a running leap to create an explosive sound by heaving a folded sheet of heavy paper above his head. Imai was particularly dramatic when he created sound using the waves emanating from a long thick cord (maybe twenty-five feet), which he shook up and down. At one point, Masami Tada, who did a lot of percussive activity, ended up rolling around on the floor, tangled in bamboo sticks tied together with rope. Tomonao Koshikawa often played an electric violin, providing background texture and melody. I enjoyed the long period he spent rubbing small stones and shells against a small microphoned surface.

Many of the instruments used are found materials or handmade. The group also uses many electronic effects and effects pedals of various kinds. Sometimes electronic sounds provided a background drone during this performance. Kei Shii used the most pedals, as well as many small stringed instruments resembling a lute, which may have been hand-built.

Marginal Consort is in a genre known as electro-acoustic improv—sort of a combination of free improv jazz and ambient noise art. The members of the group do a lot of listening and reacting to the sounds made by the other members while doing their own thing. Each musician is expressing himself personally, but there is still a sense of togetherness. Often the four are all creating and adding to a somewhat random assemblage of sound/noise. At other times they complement each other intensely, as when one bounced and hit a miked volleyball while one played an electric violin and others provided electronic sounds or used other stringed instruments in unusual ways. The moments of cohesion happened both in quiet interludes and in some of the many raucous, chaotic sections.

These long and complex sound pieces ended up feeling like stories, with narrative structures. They were not goal-oriented but were more about expression and experience. If you want to get a sense of what happens at a Marginal Consort show, here is a short video.



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