Yoshi Wada, inventive creator of sound worlds, dies at 77



Yoshi Wada, a Japanese-born composer and artist who drew a following by creating cacophonous, minimalist performances on homemade instruments and was a member of the Fluxus performance art movement which took root in New York City in the 1960s, died May 18 at his Manhattan home. He was 77 years old.

His son and musical collaborator, Tashi Wada, confirmed the death but said the cause was not known.

Yoshi Wada’s music was characterized by dense and sustained sounds that could create breathtaking acoustic effects. He borrowed extensively from different musical traditions – Indian ragas, Macedonian folk songs and Scottish bagpipes – while supporting his musical life by working in construction.

In one of the first techniques, in the 1970s, he attached mouthpieces to plumbing pipes that could extend over 20 feet. In ritual concerts lasting several hours, he immersed listeners in the richly resonating drones emanating from this alphorn-like instrument, which he called an earth horn.

Combined with static electronics, the pulsating sounds of the pipes offered a new interpretation of the minimalist style then in vogue.

“The result was certainly one of the most colouristically appealing of the many recent examples of the minimalist and stable sound we hear today,” John Rockwell of the New York Times wrote of a concert by. Wada in 1974, at the Kitchen in Lower. Manhattan, “a bit like an evening at the very beginning of Wagner’s ‘Rheingold’. “

Mr. Wada’s idiosyncratic singing and bagpipe use became the basis of two important albums in the 1980s, released on free-jazz labels. One, “Lament for the Rise and Fall of the Elephantine Crocodile,” was recorded in an empty pool; to deepen the project, Mr. Wada slept in the swimming pool. The other album, “Off the Wall”, made in West Berlin with a grant he had received, combined bagpipes with a homemade organ and percussion.

“What I would like to have is a sense of endless space,” he said in an interview in 1987. “I want to create that feeling of infinity through sound.”

Mr. Wada has also created elaborate sculptural sound installations. For “The Appointed Cloud,” in 1987, he hung organ pipes and gongs in the Great Hall of the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens. Guided by a computer program developed by David Rayna, visitors pressed buttons to change the sound of the composition in real time.

“A lot of young kids came in,” Mr. Wada recalled in 2016, “and they went crazy pushing the buttons and enjoyed it very much.”

Yoshimasa Wada was born on November 11, 1943 in Kyoto, Japan, to Shukitchi Wada, an architect, and Kino Imakita. His father died in World War II and his childhood was marked by the hardships of the postwar years.

Yoshi had powerful first experiences hearing monks sing in a local Zen temple. Passionate about Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman, he learned about the jazz saxophone as a teenager. He studied sculpture at Kyoto University of Fine Arts and researched avant-garde collectives in Japan, such as the Gutai Group and Hi-Red Center.

“He would watch the moon in a Zen garden all night long,” Mr. Wada later recalled of a “happening” presented by artist and musician Yoko Ono. “It was a pretty nice feeling. I remember afterwards I took a bath and went home.

After obtaining his Bachelor of Fine Arts, he moved to New York in 1967. George Maciunas, widely recognized as the founder of the Fluxus movement, lived in Mr. Wada’s apartment building. Soon Mr. Wada was embroiled in the noble absurdity of Fluxus, making music from cardboard tubes and syncopated sneezes.

Mr. Maciunas had started buying abandoned buildings in the Manhattan area that would become known as SoHo and converting them into artist co-ops, and he enlisted Mr. Wada to help with carpentry and plumbing.

Never having received formal musical training, Mr. Wada took electronic music lessons from composer La Monte Young and in the early 1970s became a disciple of guru Pandit Pran Nath, who taught classical singing. North Indian in Mr. Young’s studio.

“He tried to absorb it all, on a very high spiritual level,” Mr. Young said of Mr. Wada in an interview. “She was a very pure and noble person.”

His fascination with the microtonal inflections and hypnotic buzzes of Indian ragas, along with his dissatisfaction with standard instruments, led Mr. Wada to create the Horns of the Earth. But his musical interests continued to develop. He heard Macedonian folk song at a festival and decided to study it, then started a small choir to sing weird and modal improvisations. He attended the Scottish Highland Games in the late 1970s and was struck by the possibilities of the bagpipe.

After learning the solo bagpipe style known as “piobaireachd”, Mr. Wada built his own “adapted” version of the instrument – complete with plumbing fittings, hoses and air compressors – for evening performances combining composition and improvisation.

“Studying all of these different traditions, one thing he always talked about was that he wanted to find ways to make them his own,” his son, Tashi, said in an interview.

Mr. Wada supported his family by continuing with the construction work, even going so far as to start his own subcontracting business. He stored his menagerie of makeshift instruments in the basement of their apartment building, one that Mr. Maciunas had developed. Tashi Wada recalled that a childhood drums had once ended up in one of his father’s sound installations.

From 2009, Tashi Wada, also an experimental composer, participated in the re-release of his father’s old recordings, now available on the Saltern label. That year, the Emily Harvey Foundation, which promotes the arts and had preserved some of Mr. Wada’s earth horns, invited him to resume his performances from the 1970s. The original electronic drone system was lost. in history; instead, Tashi recreated the live games. Father and son have become regular musical collaborators.

Mr. Wada’s first wife was Barbara Stewart. He married Marilyn Bogerd in 1985, and they later divorced. In addition to their son, he is survived by their daughter, Manon Bogerd Wada, and a granddaughter.

In 2016, Tashi Wada interviewed his father for the art magazine BOMB and asked him about the hallucinatory effects he said he experienced in the 1980s while performing his music in a small studio in West Berlin.

“I was not on drugs at the time,” Wada said. ” It was not necessary. The sound takes me into a dreamlike world, when the sound is right. It is a very good effect and keeps me awake.


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