Tomomi Adachi: Artist Talk

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CRISAP is organising a specialist masterclass for PHD students at UAL. This masterclass also offers the chance to take part in a performance at Tate Modern. Please respond directly to Cathy Lane who is organising this event.

CRiSAP invites you to: Come and perform at Tate Modern as part of Tomomi Adachi speech choir

We are very pleased to announce an special opportunity for PhD students to be part of a 'speech ensemble' to be lead by acclaimed japanese performer, composer, sound poet, installation artist and occasional theatre director, Tomomi Adachi. This ensemble will perform at Tate Modern on Saturday, Feb 6th, 2010 as part of 'Speaking Out: The Spoken Word in Artistic Practice' a day long symposium which includes presentations from Tomomi Adachi, Caroline Bergvall, David Toop, Imogen Stidworthy, Brandon LaBelle, Oswaldo Macià and Trevor Wishart. All members of the choir will get free admission to the symposium (

Tomomi Adachi will be giving a talk/presentation at LCC on Wednesday, February 3rd, at 2pm. The workshops will take place on Wednesday 3rd, Thursday 4th and Friday 5th February either at LCC or Tate Modern. It is likely that each workshop will be between 2 and 3 hours long and will probably be sometime between 4pm and 7 pm.

Here's what Tomomi says: “Thank you for your participation. We will try to make around 15 minutes performance in 3 days. It might be a challenge, but you don't need any special things for my workshop. The workshop focuses on the use of our voice and speech in a musical context. You will speak, whisper, shout and try more creative uses of your voices. Maybe it includes some gestures and/or physical movements as walking. Just I hope you are positive and not be shy. Though I have not decided what we will do exactly, we will make 2 performances. One is from my contribution for Playing with Words: the Spoken Word in Artistic Practice Nu or Dev(e)nir. Please see them in advance. Another performance will be my new composition which is quite rhythmic and written more conventional way. If you have a time, please remember what is a crotchet, what is a quaver. Pitch is not important in the piece. I hope we have a great time together.”

Find documents from this workshop by following this link.

February 2, 2010: Artist Talk at LCC

Find examples of his work by following this link


  • Performance - "sound poems" - score almost nonsense - uses repetition, an expanding loop - (structure) reminiscent of games like "In my trunk to Africa"...this example (?) Nu is related to soap operas - content is melodramatic: Comments on the composition: Two sentences in each line; he adds one syllable to the first sentence and two for the second...The last line sounds like a kind of solution to the first line...some lines have more meaning than other. References 1970s sound poetry...Minimalist structure can have emotive appeal.
  • Interested in working with amateurs and non-musicians. Claims a player doesn't need to have traditional training to engage with his work.
  • Seems to endorse the logic that one should "Have as few rules as possible, but don't ever break them"
  • Uses some Japanese words - but no sounds like Japanese but doesn't mean anything.
  • This isn't singing - no harmony, not precise speech..."extended speech"
  • Song for everyone: Imitating sound coming through the headphone that's mixed on a turntable, audience can't hear the music, only the imitators can. One or two rehearsals...Imitation turns to interpretation...each performer is anonymous but conveys very obvious individuality...Tomomi's not interested in the meaning of the music that's being mixed per se - or at least no meaning that's presumed to preexist...
  • Devenir: Score - Tomomi enjoys words he can't read and words he doesn't understand - very open score; doesn't say how the words should be interpreted...if you can't read it, you need to invent ways to translate the letter to sound.
  • Nu for 5-10 speakers in any languages 3-11 syl...and they create a text
  • Voice-based compositions - sampling, echoing, timing, cadence...
  • Amplified objects - tupperwear
  • Aim of the objects - to create new interfaces, not make new sounds
  • Uses the program Max Patch to combine and amplify sounds.
  • Uses gestures to create sound...and the pink sound shirt, which is covered in sensors - he interacts with the sensors while wearing the shirt - Tender moment: when Tomomi finished his presentation, he removed the shirt and buttoned the buttons - a conscientious performer

Questions from the Auidence:

  • Did you start making instruments to connect to the voice work? Are these different directions (human voice and instrumental sound)? Answer: I want to show interfaces...the sources are the voices and gestures...Voice with gesture - the voice is changed with movement...I'm generally a very lazy person (he played up this construct of the artist a lot) and I don't like to practice...I also got tired of carrying around heavy instruments...I'm not interested in technique, instead I'm interested in making something special - everyone can make music. The question is: How can we make music without technique?
  • When did you start thinking in terms of interfacing? Answer: When I decided I was too lazy to lug around keyboards...
  • It seems you're developing a language as you go. Answer: Yes, I agree.
  • Do you have any interest in having other people wearing your shirt? Answer: Yes, but the way this interface is set up is personal to me. The sensors are not precise. Sometimes I can control my movement but not always. The threshold between these modes of engagement interests me. I have learned to play my shirt to a degree... You need to have a lot of money for me to supply you with a shirt. (I assume this was a joke.)
  • Do you have a strong internal sense of the relationship between gesture and vocals - does one force the other? Answer: It's an interesting question: If you write something, there's the text before you write...
  • You said you were not interested in meaning but your work is nevertheless meaningful - could you explore the relationship between meaning, gesture and structure, where for you does composition reside? Answer: I said I'm not interested in meaning by which I mean, I'm not interested in partciular meaning...but I am interested in how you find may find meaning after the fact.
  • It sounds as though there's a syntax...we you leading the group to make a particular sound? Have you listened to much sound poetry? The work seems to have a dialogue with sound poetry from around the world. I'm just wondering how much you might have been influenced by other sound poets? So I was thinking, what's the tradition of the sound form? I've been influenced by the work of Kurt Schwitters....spoken word and sound art are intriguing areas in contemporary art.
  • When did you become in interested in voice performance? Answer: I've been influenced by the work of David Moss and others, including...New York Downtown music.
  • When working with the shirt, is it improvisation or is it a composition? Answer: It's a combination of both. I have some ideas, but sometimes I can find new routes.
  • Do you perform with the shirt with other musicians? Answer: Yes, I've started doing that. But some improvisors tell me I move around too much.

Reflections on our first rehersal (Wednesday, February 3, 2010)

  • We began by saying our name when Tomomi pointed at each of us in turn...It felt like we were "playing" our name, like someone might play an instrument. Next, we shouted as loud as we could. (It was interesting to note we yelled louder when we gestured.) This was followed by us whispering as quietly as possible. We then did a series of exercises about holding tones...keeping them consistent...resonating with the group. It was extraordinary to hear "the third voice" that occurs when there's a particular kind of unity...
  • We practiced a score called "Amacha" which Tomomi had written for our performance at Tate. He seemed surprised I didn't read music; I was surprised he expected us to read music, as I was under the impression his work was about bucking technique. The score is proving very difficult...the timing in some parts is tricky...and it's clear I'm not the only choir member who's finding this challenging.
  • An interesting moment came when he encouraged us to speak to one another as if in dialogue but to do so speaking very different languages. This was a fantastic experience, as I spoke with Suzanne in Chinese while she spoke to me in Portuguese.
  • I left the three-hour rehearsal feeling exhausted but also relaxed. This workshop is proving a lot of fun...and it's clear Tomomi has a very interesting approach to his subject. There are curious tensions in the regard. The warmup, for example, entailed us making and holding long notes. Tomomi wasn't concerned with this notes being in tune. And yet, he encouraged us to listen to rest of the group while holding our notes. He seems concerned with unity of a different kind, beyond harmony...

Reflections on our second rehearsal (Thursday, February 4, 2010)

  • The session began with us practicing "Amacha". Tomomi is very concerned about both our timing and volume. It's proving difficult to give the maestro what he wants; he has a very good idea what an "acceptable" performance entails.
  • We moved on to the "Nu" composition (a poem where each line begins with the syllable "nu" and each member of the ensemble does the poem in a different language.) I've opted to try it in Chinese and focus on variations of the feminine descriptor "nu". The first syllable for the Chinese word for "girl" (女仔 ) is "nu" in the third tone; the rest of the poem uses "girl" words, including impress, stewardess, masseuse, feminism and so on.
  • We again practiced the improve where we converse with one another in different languages. These include English, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, German and so on. We're a diverse group.
  • I was only there for the first hour, as I had another commitment.

Reflections on our third rehearsal (Friday, February 5, 2010) - This rehearsal was divided into two parts: a meeting a LCC followed by a soundcheck and final meeting at Tate in anticipation of our performance tomorrow.

  • There've been some changes since yesterday; some actions have been added. We have to turn our head at one point in the composition another...we have to point in the air. (I hear this point was inspired by a Bee Gees move). Tomomi has also cut the bi-lingual conversation improv at the beginning of "Nu".
  • The women are struggling more with the timing than the men. This was especially true for one lasse who couldn't make yesterday's practice. It's my hunch this struggle has something to do with "bye in": she wasn't there when the action was chosen and this absence may be effecting her "capacity" to comply.... Indeed, there've been various instances of this throughout our workshop. Though we're all, I think, thrilled to have this opportunity, we're also (or at least I'm) a little confused about the politics of our production. Are we canned labour? Is our task to (re)produce Tomomi's score? Where's our agency here? Tomomi doesn't seem much concerned with questions around collaboration and participation...
  • Our short rehearsal at Tate focused on learning the acoustics of the auditorium, which are very poor indeed. The sound dies and it will be worse tomorrow when the place is filled with people.
  • Tomomi wasn't the only one disappointed with the rehearsal; some of the performers are still struggling to make "Amacha" their own...One of the players wanted to practice it over and over again...However, this seemed less about getting it right and more about her enjoying some purchase on the work...and these are, in my estimation, quite different things....One is about mastery; the other is about authority: being able to express oneself with a sense of conviction borne of understanding.

Reflections on our performance at Tate (February 6, 2010)

  • It seems the performance went well, though Tomomi indicated the timing of our gestures was still off: not all the heads turned in unison; not all the hands went up together. This mishap was, however, tactfully recuperated in the plenary discussion, when Tomomi spoke about interesting accidents...and the awkward moments they can produce...and their unexpected yield: what they highlight and how.
  • The politics of our production: Tomomi has been transparent from the beginning that Amacha and Nu are both his works. He was the maestro of our workshop - the sensai; we were there to listen and learn. I'd hoped to ask him about this in the plenary - about whether or not he understands working with groups as involving participation, collaboration or some other form. And also, what where the specific terms of this engagement. But we ran out of time. And so I approached him after the symposium. He said it plain: he's not interested in creating communities (and there was never any pretence of this - he never, for instance, took our emails and made any promises of "staying in touch".) He said he felt okay about us claiming authorship for our performance...(Hmmm...) but actually, the work isn't about ownership and authorship as far as he's concerned (possession is nine tenths of the law?). Instead, it's about producing the unexpected - what wasn't planned but happens anyway--and this is something no one owns. I was surprised and intrigued by his answer... If it's about (sharing an) experience of the unexpected, it seems to fair to ask: where's the yield? Is it about subjective interpretations...collective interpretations - both, no doubt...which I why I regret there not being a debriefing (not even a quick drink)...
  • There's something very powerful about Tomomi's refusal to take any responsibility for his players' experiences. Assuming the maestro isn't concerned with enabling "buy in," it more than ever behooves the people with whom he works to determine their respective terms of engagement...In fact, this seems to be a condition for the meaningful production of Tomomi work beyond the cultural capital of being part of a performance at Tate. So there's an interesting tension between Tomomi's expectations (especially about time - we were supposed to have three, three-hour performance and a dress rehearsal at Tate--a significant commitment, especially in London where there's so much competition for one's attention) and the expectations of his individual choir members--in what ways they're going to benefit from this experience, what they're going to learn....

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Tomomi Adachi performing in his pink shirt covered with sensors photo source