My Life With The GUTAI – Part Three (具体美術協会と私)

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Rare photo of Shozo Shimamoto performing a self-crucifiction

In Part One and Two of this blog series I introduced Shozo Shimamoto and Yasuo Sumi, two former members of the legendary Japanese art collective the GUTAI. I talked about their history, and my connection to them, and in this Third part I will discuss their influence on my own work, outside of my collaborations with them.

When not meeting with Masters Shimamoto and Sumi I was actively involved with the Kyoto underground improvisation scene, a loose collection of artists, choreographers, musicians, and performers from the Kansai area including the cities of Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara, and other cities in between such as Amagasaki, Itami, Takarazuka, and others. One particular spot was very active: the KyoRyuKan Performance Hall, a dance studio by day, and a busy creative space at night for avant-gardists and their fans. KyoRyuKan was run by choreographer Peter Golightly, a brilliant American born dancer who choreographed many of the famous performances of the famous Japanese dance group dUMBTYPE. After a falling out between the two, Peter opened the KyoRyuKan and ran a very successful open house series that many of us performed at: a fun mix of dancers, poets, musicians, and others who collaborated and improvised together, resulting in many side projects that ended up performing in our various locales. A bunch of us Osakans ended up forming a couple of different groups, including my own collective her vivienne strap, to play in our home scene.

It was at the KyoRyuKan where I formed the Kyoto International Improvisation Ensemble (KiiE), a quartet dedicated to woodwind/brass improvisation, which featured local legend Christopher Fryman on trumpet. Christopher was a cameraman for local and national TV in Japan for decades as well as a veteran of the Kyoto improv. scene (we often teased him about having come to Japan with Commodore Perry!). One particular show we did involved Peter doing a very beautiful trapeze routine while we played each from a corner of the room. Peter’s movement was absolutely lovely, as he twisted and spun, surrounded by candlelight. The photo below was taken right afterwards, and we are still smiling…completely buzzed from a wonderful performance.

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From L to R: Peter Golightly, myself (tenor sax), Christopher Fryman (trpt),
Laurent Corte (alto sax), and Daisuke Tanaka (trb)

Much of what I learnt from Master Shozo Shimamoto and Master Yasuo Sumi I tried to take to heart in my improvisation and composing. Let notes just be what they are, don’t try and make them clever, just trust them, and let them come out when it feels like it is the right time, not when I ‘thought’ the time was right. I had done this to a certain extent during my saxophone lessons with Ornette Coleman before I arived in Japan, but I felt I was really coming into my own after Masters Shimamoto and Sumi brought it all together with aesthetic and conceptual advice. They really pushed me to let the music ‘be as it is,’ let it be as such, not good or bad but just material – with its own ideas and its own spirit. they brought me to where my music could be alive as I was alive, and I needed no reasons “to/for/because.” As the GUTAI Manifesto says:

“Keeping the life of the material alive also means bringing the spirit alive,

and lifting up the spirit means leading the material up to the height of the spirit…”

I feel that my work with her vivienne strap was where I began to truly open up and let go of my playing in a particularly true or profound way for myself, culminating in my 2000 – 2001 solo saxophone/film tour which I undertook alone: the opening statement in my work which continues to this day. That tour was crucial to my creative work, it was where I truly came alive as an ‘artist’ and I have super-fond memories of those shows. I was exhilarated and nervous, a little scared yet completely happy – I was touring a solo saxophone show and getting crowds of 200 to 500 people a night. i even repeated a few of the venues, and still got full houses. Pretty thrilling stuff for a Canadian saxophonist who started his career in a German polka band, at the tender age of ten!

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Tour poster for my “Girl Eating An Airplane” solo saxophone/film performances.

Shozo Shimamoto (1928 – 2013) was a kind mentor, beautiful human, great artist, and beloved friend. All of us who were taken under his wing, his “children,” will always remember him and love him for eternity. I often remember him and cry…big, fat, lonely tears for an old friend.

さようなら、私の最愛の先生…

© 2013 Daniel Schnee.danielpaulschnee.wordpress.com

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