Yoshi Wada The Appointed Cloud

[Em; 2008]

Styles: sound installation, industrial orchestra
Others: David Byrne’s {Playing the Building}, Stephen Vitiello

A performance space shapes the music that's produced within it. This is a statement of both physical and cultural fact. Walls constrain the movement of particles, but they can also mold the movement of culture. David Byrne [underscored this point->http://journal.davidbyrne.com/2006/08/venue_shapes_mu.html] in 2006, when he claimed that country music played with rock instruments was in fact a creature of the loud honky-tonk bar, i.e. both the product and denizen of that particular space. Ditto for the harder grooves and higher melodies of jazz played on the noisy paddleboats of the Mississippi. Byrne put these reflections into action this past summer with his Playing the Building installation in New York. When installation artists execute their work well, both the music and the space it animates are enriched. By most accounts, Byrne’s piece was a success.

Few people, however, are aware of Yoshi Wada's The Appointed Cloud, the work to which it owes a great conceptual and practical debt. The Appointed Cloud documents the debut performance of an installation piece Yoshi Wada created in New York in 1987. In Cloud, as in PTB, the artist uses a large, unoccupied New York building as both performance space and instrument, inviting the public to enter and manipulate their works of art. Interestingly, both artists adopted organs as the primary vehicles of their pieces: Byrne’s organ served as a trigger for various mechanisms implanted within the Battery Maritime Building; Wada’s instrument was actually a vast battery of homemade devices constructed from plumbing supplies that could be controlled by a computer program. PTB is notoriously democratic in its resistance to virtuosity (according to Byrne, Regina Spektor is the only one who has actually succeeded in coaxing some musicality out of the thing). This recorded incarnation of The Appointed Cloud, on the other hand, retains the trappings of classical music: a pre-written score, a selected cast of musicians, and a recognizable dynamic arc.

Those familiar with Wada’s other reissue from this year, Lament for the Rise and Fall of the Elephantine Crocodile, will recognize the artist’s fascination with massive, relentless drones; only this time, with the incorporation of an entire building in the creation of literal and figurative walls of sound, the scale has increased tenfold. This hour-long piece is also far more dramatic than the vocal and bagpipe works on Crocodile. The collaboration of Wada’s industrial chamber group has the majestic heft and lyric density of the work of an entire orchestra. Dramatic peals of bagpipe intrude upon throbbing, abysmal frequencies and solemn, clarinet-like harmonies. The piece boasts passages of elegant industrialism, where the clanks of dense piping sound almost piccolo-sweet, and unabashed dissonance, when the bagpipes wail like the abandoned young of a ferocious beast. Aside from the grand reverberations that ground the entire work, the piece is played primarily on original wind instruments. As a result, the building is transformed into a gigantic lung, and The Appointed Cloud arrives at the ear as a complex symphony of breath.

In 1987, Wada amplified his musical idiom to architectural proportions, at the same time humanizing his art and the space it encompassed. His wedding of the monumental and the finite turned The Appointed Cloud into a diligent swipe at the sublime -- it's also the most powerful thing I’ve heard this year, in any space.

1. The Appointed Cloud

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