OSAKA - Despite being a fraction of the size of Tokyo, Osaka boasts a long history of underground music that pushes boundaries.
The tradition is being kept alive by experimental musician Koshiro Hino. His newest project, “Geist,” is a multisensory sound-and light-show that features 13 performers, live electronics and field recordings. It takes place in a pitch-black cube-shaped room with speakers on every side and layers of semi-transparent black mesh stretched across the ceilings and walls to play with the audience’s sense of depth.
Upon entering the space, you can hear ambient field recordings that are taken from the surrounding nature of Hino’s hometown in Shimane Prefecture. These sounds combine with the darkness of the environment to create a calm, albeit unsettling mood. Within minutes, the field recordings are gradually accompanied by long sustained notes played on synthesizers, brass and wind instruments by musicians who are concealed in the catwalk above the space. As the drones rise in volume and dissonance, cleverly positioned lights begin to illuminate the corners of the room, swelling with the growing waves of sound.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a massive spherical object in the center of the stage erupts with light. Two drummers appear, and the dissonant drones start to produce a powerful rhythmic pulse. The approximately 70-minute performance goes on to feature billowing clouds of smoke, ghostly silhouettes projected across the catwalk, blinding neon tubes of light and eerie sounds that emanate from speakers embedded under the seats.
“Geist” is perhaps Hino’s most fully realized work to date. Over the past few years, the Osaka-based musician and composer has found underground success in Europe with his band Goat, a project that combines the minimalism of Steve Reich with the intensity of industrial techno by using guitars, saxophones and drums. Domestically, Hino focuses on his ambient and noise project YPY, playing with effects pedals and cassette tapes to explore a method of creation similar to the French musique concrete technique.
Hino is part of a generation of Japanese artists focusing on European-centered experimental strands of music. Releasing works from his varied projects on Osaka’s Em Records along with overseas labels such as Nous (Berlin) and Where To Now? (U.K.), Hino’s creative output is distinguished by his willingness to straddle several genres at once, resting somewhere between techno, rock, noise and ambient music. On one end of the spectrum, Hino sits comfortably next to experimental artists such as Rashad Becker and Kohei Matsunaga (aka NHK yx Koyxen). On the other, he finds himself alongside more rock-oriented artists such as Nisennenmondai and Boredoms.
Despite a busy schedule touring Europe several times a year and performing throughout Japan regularly, Hino has also found the time to focus on composing for string and wind instruments. Last year’s Virginal Variations was a more traditional presentation of contemporary classical music, composed for 20 musicians playing strings, woodwind instruments, timpani and live electronics. For “Geist,” Hino collaborated with both visual artists and musicians to create something entirely new.
Enlisting 13 musicians, Hino provided instructions to each performer, with cues for their parts corresponding to the lighting installation. Rather than read from sheets of music, each player responds to visual and auditory events occurring in the room, even changing their position depending on the specific movement in the piece. Melding live performance, sound design and installation art, “Geist” feels just as comfortable performed at a music venue as it would in an art museum.
Hino developed the concept for the project in mid-2016, receiving a grant from the Chishima Foundation for Creative Osaka. Initially the project derived from a desire to explore natural sounds from Shimane Prefecture, where Hino grew up. Traveling back home in early 2017, he recorded the sounds of insects, rivers, wild animals and rustling foliage that occur throughout the course of a day. He then studied ways of replicating natural sounds using live instrumentation, considering how to develop innovative approaches to reproducing each sound through the performance and physical location of sound sources. The technical concept grew out of a desire to illustrate the lineages between natural sound and human instruments, playing with the audience’s ability to distinguish between the two.
“I start with field recordings, then add insect sounds that I artificially create using electronics,” Hino says. “The music gradually changes from natural sounds to artificial sounds made from electronics, wind and brass instruments. Before anyone realizes it, the field recordings stop and are replaced by artificial sounds, creating a new environment.”
The name of the piece, “Geist,” means “ghost” in German. At the time the project was initially conceived, the goal was to leave the viewer with the impression that some sort of unidentifiable object, or force, was being conjured up within the space. But when Hino’s father, a farmer in Shimane, died two months before the performance, the name of the piece took on a greater significance, and the concept ballooned into something much more personal. With only a few weeks remaining, Hino reworked the piece as an homage to his father.
“With ‘Geist,’ I decided to try to conjure up my father’s spirit by using things that reminded me of him,” he says. “The sounds playing when the audience walks into the room are actually field recordings taken by my father at my childhood home. I didn’t realize until later on that he had been sitting there waiting for the recording to finish.
“While for me, ‘Geist’ is a means to summon my father, I want to let the audience use the opportunity to conjure up their own meanings.”
Though experimental in technical approach, the piece boasts a forthright emotional sensibility, climaxing with a rhythmic cacophony of sound and light. Once the sound and light have sufficiently pummeled the audience, the performance ends as it started: in blackness.
Koshiro Hino will return to Europe to perform with Goat in late April. Their first-ever vinyl release, “New Games / Rhythm & Sound,” is out now via Em Records. For more information, visit www.hino-projects.com.