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Sleeping Dogs Lie 54: Yoshi Wada

Yoshi Wada (surname Wada; born Yoshimasa Wada, Japan) is a sound installation artist and musician living in the United States. He lived in New York for many years but now lives in San Francisco, California.

Wada received an arts degree, then joined the Fluxus movement in 1968 after meeting George Maciunas. He also studied with the great North Indian vocalist Pandit Pran Nath. Wada’s works often incorporate the use of drone and are usually performed at very high volume, allowing for the music’s overtones to be heard very clearly.

He frequently performs his own compositions, which feature much freedom of improvisation, on Scottish highland bagpipe and voice, and also employs a number of homemade instruments. These include “pipe horns” (very long horn-type instruments made from metal plumbing pipe) as well as large reed instruments involving multiple bagpipe-like pipes connected to a large air compressor; due to their appearance, Wada named these latter instruments “Alligator” and “the Elephantine Crocodile”. His music has been scarcely released on recordings, having seen only two LP releases, on the India Navigation (1982) and FMP labels, the former of which (entitled Lament For The Rise and Fall of Elephantine Crocodile) was reissued by a Japanese label in 2008.

Wada is also known for his mechanical and robotic installations. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the mid-1990s, he performed a whimsically entitled piece, Lament for the Rise and Fall of Handy-Horn, in which several compressed-air “auditory flare” signals used for nautical emergencies (the “Handy Horn” brand named in the title) were sounded for the duration of their usefulness, giving rise to an alarmingly high-decibel air-pressure environment and charged psychoacoustic environment.

Best known for his work as part of the Fluxus collective, sound artist Yoshi Wada only released two albums, the rarest of which is reissued here. 1981’s Lament For The Rise And Fall Of The Elephantine Crocodile contains two pieces: one half-hour vocal drone focusing on overtones in a reverberant space, and another, slightly longer piece based on a bagpipe-like homemade instrument, which drones in a magnificently aggressive fashion exhaustively. On this piece you can certainly hear the connection between Wada and cohort la Monte Young, but there’s also a real similarity between this latter composition and Jim O’Rourke’s early organ drones. These pieces present a similar illusion of featureless, complete temporal stasis, with sustain spiraling off into infinity. Which, in case you’re unclear on the matter, would be a good thing.

01 Yoshi Wada: “Singing” (31:06) from “Lament For The Rise And Fall Of The Elephantine Crocodile” (1981, 2008)
02 Yoshi Wada: “Bagpipe” (33:17) from “Lament For The Rise And Fall Of The Elephantine Crocodile” (1981, 2008)

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