FOR BASS KOTO WITH BALLOONS
In Japan in the 1600’s, only males of the elite classes were allowed to play the koto. Blind musician Yatsuhashi Kengyo dedicated his life to making koto-playing accessible to the general public, a trend which eventually included women. In “For Bass Koto with Balloons,” I place endless obstacles in the musical path of the improvisor by replacing many of the bridges with balloons (see photo) and constructing a complex game of cards that influences and restricts every improvisational move, as well as the overall structure of the piece. The obstacles are symbolic of those that women and all other disadvantaged individuals must overcome in order to survive and to thrive in the world. As with all oppressive systems, the rules of this piece often dictate silence.
This piece was commissioned and premiered by the late Ryuko Mizutani (see video below) and "conducted" by card dealer Greg Heller at Wesleyan University in 2000. In 2006 Ryuko recorded it for my CD "Mother of Balloon Music" on Innova recordings. The New York City premiere was at Roulette in 2006. The score is published by Material Press (Frankfurt).
photo by Bozidar Bruce Yerkovich