Yasuno Taro-san’s Zombie Music at Super Deluxe in Tokyo last week began with the artist setting up four very large, blue, compressed air tanks. His contraption looks more like a homemade aqua-lung than it does a sound art piece. Encased within the tangle of tubes and wires and robotic fingers, there are actually four plastic recorders, those irritating “instruments” that middle school children in the US are sometimes given in the mistaken impression that they will somehow develop a taste for classical music through insufflation of a brightly-colored, mass-produced, congenitally-wheezy pipe that would not look out of place in your local, stoner shop, right next to bongs, and incense burners, and a pink quarts crystal the size of a human head… (I’m aware that the recorder is an actual instrument and can be performed beautifully—especially in Europe where it’s taken seriously—but this is not the context in which most Americans encounter the recorder. An instrument produced in some fashion other than being injection molded out of recycled pop bottles is also probably some kind of prerequisite for being an envoy of high culture, although as I will argue here, Zombie Music certainly seems to provide the exception!) But, I digress.
In spite of all my unkind words to the aforementioned instrument, I’m actually quite struck by Taro-san’s creation. The sounds created by these four, little plastic pipes and accompanying mechanics are quite fresh and exciting. This is clearly not a case of the concept upstaging the sonic results. He seems to have preprogrammed certain patterns using a Max patch (a high-level programing language for music) that you can see later in the video I’m posting. Part of the appeal is actually the clicking sound of the robotic fingers as they stop and then open the holes in the recorders. (These are in fact little plastic digits with some rudimentary resemblance to human fingers as you can see in the photos.) The sound of the contraption reminds me strongly of the hurdy-gurdy. Another mechanical instrument in the sense that the tone is produced without the direct application of the performers movements, the hurdy-gurdy is a European instrument formed from something like a modified violin body with a cranked, rosined wheel used to stimulate the strings to vibrate. The similarity in sound with Taro-san’s Zombie Music comes from the clicking accompanying each new note as well as the sustained mono-timbrel tone.
You can see an, apparently, earlier version of Zombie Music with only two recorders in the video below (accompanied by some clips of people stumbling around with their arms outstretched and blood dripping from various orifices, a somewhat unusual decision on the part of the cinematographer!).