February 2, 2012

117 Japanese YouTube videos I've listened to while in Japan (with commentary)

I am in Japan. I am here in residency at The Museum of Art, Kochi. During the day I meet with Tori Kudo (from Maher Shalal Hash Baz.) We are at the very beginning of our project together. Some evenings we go out. On the evenings I stay home I spend my time listening to Japanese music on YouTube. I think there is something a bit shameful about this. I should be outside seeing things, not staring at my computer as usual. But there is only so much time I can spend wandering around Matsuyama, and it is almost impossible to communicate with anyone here. (So far I have managed to learn no Japanese.)

Today we drove up into the mountains. I found the view spectacular. Half way up there was a small museum with Japanese oil paintings from the turn of the century (as well as older, more traditional works.) I was particularly struck by some very large, shadowy ink drawings of pine trees from the eighties (or of the artists memories of pine trees that no longer exist, that were killed off by a tree disease, as was explained to me.) Now I'm back at the computer and soon I'll be fast asleep

Most of this Japanese YouTube music I know almost nothing about. It's exciting to listen to music again that I know nothing about. Music that, when I google it, I get only Japanese explanations, utterly garbled by google translate so I am back where I started. I already knew the 2006 album Kyokutō Ian Shōka (Far Eastern Consolation Songs) by 戸川純ユニット (Jun Togawa) and it was the first thing I tracked down when I hit the record stores of Japan. I am listening to it now. My big internet discovery here is the 1987 12" EP Yawa Yawa by パイナップル4.9 (Pineapple 4.9). I can't believe how much I like this record. I think I just discovered it last night but maybe it was already two nights ago. I wonder how many times I'll listen to it over the next couple of weeks.

(Actually, most of this music I like a little bit less than Maher Shalal Hash Baz or Reiko Kudo. But it feels too strange to me to hang out with them and then go home and listen to their music. Something about that seems wrong, I'm not sure why exactly. Yesterday we did karaoke together. Too strange to listen to them karaoke and then immediately listen to them again on my iTunes. But they remain my favorite music.)

At night, I click on the Japanese-titled YouTube videos, not understanding a word, or even what they are, and then if I like them I cut and paste the Japanese name of the band into Google or Last FM in an attempt to learn more. Sometimes I get some information, like the name of the artist in English, and other times there is little or nothing. It's completely ridiculous. A tedious, labor intensive search for unimportant details, as if just listening was not enough in itself. And yet here are a hundred and seventeen songs, many of which suddenly feel meaningful to me. I have no idea what they're singing about, or what the context for this music might be, if other people like it, how obscure or popular it is, etc. But listening makes me feel like I'm in Japan, somehow just as much, or more, than aimlessly wandering the streets of Matsuyama or doing the all the usual tourist things. (Also it's really cold here, apparently making me want to go out a bit less.)

I've been meaning to write about the project that I am starting here with Tori but it seems it's too soon. (Actually, that's what I meant to do when I sat down to write this.) Instead there's just these one hundred and seventeen clips that I stare at while trying to think about other things, what this project I am here to make might be, might become, what is the reason for it, how to we proceed, etc. Outside the window is Japan, and on the computer screen in front of me is another form of Japan. And that's all I can think to write for now.


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