Powell Street Festival: Kūsou marries European avant-garde sounds with ancient Japanese sensibilities

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      Yota Kobayashi is not trying to dictate what he wants audiences to feel in his latest immersive audiovisual installation.

      In Kūsou, which is being presented at the Anvil Centre as part of the Powell Street Festival, the Vancouver-based soundscape artist was keen to present abstract sounds and graphics without incorporating any of the artists’ emotions.

      To help accomplish this, he recruited Vancouver flutist Mark Takeshi McGregor, Tokyo-based calligrapher Aiko Hatanaka, and Tokyo-based visual programmer Ryo Kanda.

      “This is the complete opposite of storytelling,” Kobayashi emphasizes in an interview with the Straight. “This is a very important point. Rather, we just present scenery at which the audience themselves will realize their own version of the story or whatever the reality from their experience.”

      It takes place on a grand scale. He says that three projectors are used to splash three-dimensional images of calligraphy and computer graphics on a screen that is about four metres high and 20 metres wide. McGregor’s flute-playing will move around the space through 10 speakers, including two on the ceiling.

      “The soundscape is kind of three-dimensional,” Kobayashi says.

      In a separate phone interview with the Straight, McGregor describes Kobayashi as the “ringmaster” of Kūsou.

      The two have collaborated in the past, with Kobayashi specializing in writing for instruments while incorporating electronics.

      “When we think of electronics in classical music, we think of something invasive or confrontational,” McGregor says. “But what he does is very lush. It’s very organic and it really amplifies the acoustic properties of the flute.”

      McGregor praises Kobayashi’s talent for combining the language of Eurocentric avant-garde music with an ancient Japanese sensibility.

      “It is mysterious but compelling and immediately attractive,” the flutist says. “It can be daunting-sounding, and it can be very overwhelming but also very lyrical, very beautiful, very sensual. It’s some of the most sensual music I think I’ve ever played.”

      McGregor points out that as people walk through the space in the Anvil Centre, they will hear the music in different ways because motion can stimulate some of the sounds.

      “If you move a certain way past a wall, you’re going to hear a certain kind of music that somebody who walks by that same wall won’t necessarily hear,” McGregor explains.

      “They’ll hear something different," he adds. "And the music that you hear is tied into the visuals, so the calligraphy of Aiko Hatanaka is going to be animated all around you.”

      For more information on Kobayashi’s work, visit the @formscapearts Instagram account.

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      The Powell Street Festival will present Kūsou at the Anvil Centre in New Westminster from July 28 to August 3. Yota Kobayashi, Ryo Kanda, and Mark Takeshi McGregor will be at the Firehall Arts Centre at 3:45 p.m. on July 30 for a panel discussion, with Aiko Hatanaka speaking via video from Japan.

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