After decades traveling the world collecting sounds, percussionist Marcos Fernandes returns to Japan and reconnects with his homeland by staging elaborate multi-media concerts in four grand historical buildings designed by his grandfather, the renowned Japanese architect Uheiji Nagano (1867-1937).
Directed by acclaimed documentary filmmaker Hans Fjellestad (Moog, Sunset Strip) and filmed in Yokohama, Kyoto, Okayama and Matsue, the live performances feature Yumiko Tanaka, Seiichi Yamamoto, Carl Stone, Yuko Hirai, Hirokazu Morikawa, Masatoshi Utashima, Kouen Morishita, Kohichi Akada, and Marcos Fernandes. Interviews include Koichi Yoshida (Professor, Yokohama National University), Takeyuki Yamashita (Director, Karakoro Kobo), Hitoshi Kurose (Special Advisor, Bank of Arts Okayama), and Shigeru Ueyama (Chief Curator, Museum of Kyoto).
A tram rattles through the streets of Kyoto. You hear it first, then see it. Sitting on board is percussionist Marcos Fernandes, wearing headphones, listening intently in real time to the sounds of the city. A little later in this thought-provoking documentary, directed by Californian musician and film maker Hans Fjellestad, Fernandes speaks of the adverse impact of the Walkman and its successors, cutting us off from the incessant flow of ambient auditory events. Intermittently, he appears on screen clutching a microphone as he wanders noisy urban streets or tunes in delicate sounds emanating from some quietly busy natural environment.
Fernandes was born in Yokohama and departed for California in his late teens. In 2008, after 35 years performing music and gathering sounds around the world, he returned to live in Japan. Sounding The Space offers a glimpse of that renewed contact with his homeland, and more specifically reflects his efforts to connect with the legacy of early 20th century architect Uheiji Nagano, the maternal grandfather he never knew. As Fjellestad's camera shows, Nagano's work (often commissioned by banks) echoes Western models, with elegantly proportioned facades indebted to the European Renaissance and a clear taste for neoclassical porticos.
In his design for Yokohama's Okurayama Memorial Hall, Fernandes remarks, Nagano came full circle, consciously incorporating Japanese philosophical values within Western architectural forms. The centre for spiritual research was one of four sites, each in a different city, where Fernandes staged concerts in 2009, involving guest musicians, dancers and body artists to negotiate through sound and movement the acoustic and physical properties and peculiarities of each space.
Using percussion instruments, sampled sounds and electronics, Fernandes entered into lively dialogue with his grandfather's buildings. The other constant presence on these occasions was Yumiko Tanaka. An accomplished exponent of traditional Japanese music, she is also an exploratory improvisor on the three-stringed shamisen. Other participants were laptop maestro Carl Stone, pianist Masatoshi Utashima, saxophonist Koichi Akada and former Boredoms guitarist Seiichi Yamamoto. Footage drawn from their concerts provides the main substance of Fjellestad's film, but he mixes it with clips of the buildings, some vintage and monochrome, and a selection of eloquent talking heads outlining the significance of Nagano, interspersed with shots of urban flows and trajectories, nature imagery and atmospheric field filming.
These assorted elements and shifting camera angles evoke multiple points of view – visually, sonically and conceptually – from which to witness encounters of tradition with innovation, West with East, the city with rural tranquility and art with the practices of everyday life. Beyond such concerns raised by Fernandes's personal reconnection with Japan, this film can be seen as a probe into the aesthetic relationship summed up in Goethe's contention (following Schelling) that architecture is frozen music, music is liquid architecture. On a flat screen with stereo playback that tidy cliche remains an elusive and unresolved conjecture, but in recent years Fernandes has continued to pursue his site-specific project, engaging in depth with that very issue.
Julian Cowley, The Wire