Thursday, 1 November 2007

Autumn Chichibu Arts Residency

Two months in Sydney passed very quickly and now I am back in Chichibu during autumn/winter for an AsiaLink Performing Arts Residency funded by the Australia Council for the Arts and the NSW Ministry of the Arts. The purposed of this 3 month residency is creative practice and related research, involving composition for traditional Japanese instruments (shakuhachi and koto) with contemporary Western ensemble/orchestra and studying shakuhachi with Kakizakai Kaoru Sensei of the Shakuhachi Kenshukan. My research is the continuation of my gestural interaction with sonification and data-driven auditory display ARC work, particularly using eco and locative data for a new scalable sonification framework. The latter provides a fine reason to collect different kinds of auditory, environmental and GPS data on excursions and test our new aesthetic sonification toolkit/framework. Many toolkits exist but we emphasise scalability and a distinctive (musical) aesthetic-sounding outcome to make the display listenable, even interesting for data examination.

In contrast to the 37 degree temperature and extreme humidity of only two-and-a-half months ago, Chichibu is now beautifully crisp, clean, clear and autumnal with day-times reaching 15-16 degrees and night-times currently dropping to around 7. The thermal layers, socks, goretex boots and fleeces are thoroughly appropriate, together with gloves, scarves and beanies after nightfall. The trees are starting to transform and I was immediately struck by the ebullient voluptuous ripe persimmons hanging heavy on boughs of leafless trees. People are hanging out persimmons to dry and they feature among the numerous speciality seasonal vegetables in the local Belc supermarket - such as shitake, other wild mushrooms, enoki, delicious 'proteiny' flavoursome and aromatic matsutake (apparently naturally boosting the immune system and researched as a natural ingredient for curing cancer).

My cyber-caravan, so-called because it has superb Internet speeds providing an always-open conduit of immense proportions, backs onto a small market garden fruit, herb and vegetable plantation and faces a tall mountain of limestone, hacked away a little by local mining but otherwise picturesque and often shrouded in clouds. On the first Saturday evening, Kakizakai Sensei, Megumi-san and their family - Haruka, Takahashi and Emi - put on a warm welcome party for me and a birthday celebration for Kundan. Their hospitality was matched by some culinary delights such as 'nuggets' of fried buckwheat, prawn salad, Japanese noodles, a birthday cake, persimmon fruit and a gift of freshly harvested ginko nuts. Haruka likes to collect mountain tucker, things like ginko nuts, chestnuts, natural foods. This was a welcome relaxation at the end of a lesson day that started at 7.15am, as will be the custom on Saturdays.

Chichibu town fills a valley and through farms, agricultural plots, mining, industry and many workshops, purports a population similar in size to Bathurst in Australia but it has much more of a small-town feeling because there is only a small commercial hub centring around a few blocks near the main Shrine. It is, however, a pilgrimage town, where devotees go to visit the 99 shrines and temples dotted around the neighbouring hills in scenic locations. One striking and pleasantly surprising attraction in the first few days was the chrysanthemum festival that was installed around the main Shrine, displaying the most peculiar array of highly evolved hybrids and forms in sizes to make you gulp. The Japanese obviously take gardening and grooming plants extremely seriously, whether it is cloud-pruned domestic gardens, rock gardens, shrine and temple gardens or bonsai. These chrysanthemums seemed to confirm to this talent without bounds. I am also stoked by the serendipitous encounters with quaint vegetable and agricultural plots integrated amongst houses, ranging from grape vines, fruit tress, to utilitarian crops such as tea, cabbages, shallots.

I met Kundan on the way to our first lesson. He is Californian and resident in Australia for many years now but travelling forth, including to Japan and a recent disciple of shakuhachi. He is also a writer and kyudo (archery) practitioner, the sources of many interesting adventures, tales and experiences. Tonight we sought out a local soba (buckwheat noodle) shop, one of the local specialities for tempura and soba 'hotto'. I also had lemon and salt spiced octopus legs. There is a Kaiten (merry-go-round) sushi near by caravan but most nights dinner consists of fresh local ingredients, with matsutake mushrooms, gyoza (dumplings) and tofu being amongst my favourites so far.

Megumi-san has kindly lent me her bicycle that I have adapted with a taller seatpost, that I use to visit the supermarket (spacious baskets front and rear), the laundry, and recent adventures around town and into the forest and agricultural areas at the base of the mountain. This is definitely the right way to commute around here and it significantly expands my exploratory potential. looking forward to many excursions. From hillside farms down to the river to view the suspension bridge, to another train station down the tracks two stops from Chichibu Saitama, and into the forest to corroborate the sunny, boundlessly clear skies I ventured after my lesson on Sanya.