Improvised Music from Japan / Ryoji Hojito

Objects, Instruments, Improvisation: Ryoji Hojito's Methodology

The following was written by jazz critic Teruto Soejima in March 15, 1994, for the liner notes of Ryoji Hojitos CD A Man from the East. (Translation by haruna ito)

To those who create music, and those who love it, the word musical instrument has a special appeal. Not just any tool, it is the means to which creative intuition and genius are applied; it takes on the nature of a medium into which the spirit is infused. Especially the piano, an instrument that has seen modification upon modification since the beginning of the 18th century--to better express the soul of the pianist, to be the complete and perfect instrument that it is to day; one with an extremely wide range of expression.

What makes up this wondrous instrument are, however, physical materials like wood, iron, a sound board, metal strings, a keyboard, and pedals. And an exterior wooden structure. This way, it appears as a composite of just... things. More accurately, that piano, sitting in the corner, unused, is a mere Object composed of various materials.

At the base of Hojitos method is the use of piano as musical instrument, and piano as object. These two elements which the collides against each other, combines, and intersects. Sounds the piano makes when played according to its original function as musical instrument, and those other sounds which come from the piano as object. The music that Hojito Ryoji plays upon his piano seems at once a gentle and cruel creation. He succeeds in summoning any sound required for his music. Scratching, rubbing, striking the strings, inside-playing, but not just your ordinary inside-playing. Placing different other objects on the metal strings, he comes up with other sounds never before heard. Objects like Styrofoam, empty beer and soft drink cans, plastic pipes. If the definition of the musical instrument is that which makes a sound, could these other objects also be considered instruments? One would probably have to trace the roots of human musical creativity to their very beginnings for that question.

Rubbing the strings with a plastic pipe in each hand, Hojito might almost appear to be a carpenter or gardener at work with a saw.Throwing empty cans inside at random, they shift against the vibrating strings, producing a range that Hojito himself cannot predict. For the audience and musician, an element of the accidental performance creeps in. Unlike those compositions of contemporary classical music with explicit instructions, pinch or press this string with that object, Hojitos originality for prepared piano is a method of , shall we call it, incidental prepared.

With Styrofoam thrown on the strings, these lightweight white objects jump high over the strings. In addition to the visual effect of this being highly appealing, the tone is altered, and various micro-tones emerge. This adds a timbre to the sound--somehow calling to mind some Japanese traditional string instruments--interspersed with notes of regular piano. Continuing to play, he removes the pieces one at a time, leaving in the end only pure piano. What is revealed after those pieces of Styrofoam are removed is an uncomplicated melody, a lyrical theme of deep feeling. Deep feeling for lyricism evoked by the pentatonic Japanese scale.Such motifs appear repeatedly; his play with pentatonics is obvious to a point where it would appear to be obsessive. Becomes an altogether different character from the Hojito who had been utilizing the piano as physical object. It is this paradox which makes up the abstract composition that is Hojito, improvisational musician.

In one piece you will hear him blow into the low reed instrument taped to the lid of the piano (an imitation bamboo saxophone) for an intro, the slow rhythmical repeat of a single note, long pauses in between, somehow provoking a certain strange nostalgia. As the piano eventually joins, an image is stirred at the back of the mind. Let yourself be tricked and youll go on to hear the rustling of branches in the wind.

What I am trying to say is that Hojitos gentleness and romanticism are things which flow from within. He shifts then from a conversation with nature to return gradually to a world of objects. Styrofoam and bottles begin to assert their various existences, their voices.

Hojitos music begins the moment he enters the stage, before his fingers touch the keys. He begins by taping all sorts of things--small objects and scratch paper with jottings of ideas for each piece--all over his instrument. Sometimes masking tape over the strings to purposely get a high tone. All of his, both performance and show, is something that those who are familiar with contemporary creative should already be acquainted with.

Piano_playing, physical performance, objects, nature, incidental prepared, and lyricism--all these elements in harmony and discord at once within Hojito. Refreshing because there is no single, clear-cut line being followed. The piano as musical instrument and as physical object: by embracing these two separate natures, a contemporary allegory is created.

Thus, if I may say so without being misunderstood, I see Hojito Ryoji as perhaps an Eric Satie falling apart.