It could be said that the most wonderful quality of the musical art form is its transcendent, transportive qualities. Simply through an arrangement of sound, music can take you on a journey inside your own mind. It can paint vivid pictures, conjure intense emotions, cause ones skin to break out in goosebumps, or simply make you want to dance. Music can alter a mood in a heart beat, it can change our perspective as we hear it, and it can whisk us away from reality if only for a brief sojourn.
The most memorable element of Midori Takada‘s performance at The Melbourne Recital Centre for Red Bull Music Academy was its transportive qualities. Rarely have I encountered an audience so visibly entranced and enthralled by a performance. As I experienced the show, I found myself taken to corners of my mind I didn’t know existed, contemplating things I’d never contemplated before. While I initially considered this to be solely my own experience of the performance, my conversations with other attendees at the evenings conclusion revealed to me that this was a shared experience. A friend who accompanied me to the show told me that at various points he went to “the darkest corners” of his mind as Midiori Takada played. There was something about the atmosphere within the Recital Centre, something about the incessant and intense nature of the sounds produced, that caused audience members’ minds to open, to traverse new plains. This is a truly remarkable feat for a musician to accomplish.
Though, to refer to Midori Takada as a musician alone would be doing the provocative work she presented a great disservice. The act incorporated elements of performance art, spoken word poetry, visual arts and martial arts. Though it was anchored by sound, it so wholly delved into each of these other areas that it cannot be pigeonholed as merely as a musical performance. Midori Takada has been producing her unique brand of sound art for quite some time, releasing her seminal work Through The Looking Glass in 1983. She was one of the first female artists to break through in the largely male dominated minimalist ambient scene. She utilised a marimba expertly to create lush, sweeping ambient soundscapes – they were rhythmic, yet atmospheric, textural and hypnotic. Perhaps those four terms are the best descriptors for the nature of her performance at the Melbourne Recital Centre – rhythmic, atmospheric, textural and hypnotic.
Takada had three individual instrument set ups spread across the length of the stage, which she utilised at various points of the performance. A group of cymbals lay dotted around, and she made her way along them with motions reminiscent of martial arts demonstrations. Between hitting the variously sized cymbals at differing levels of intensity for effect, she relayed a story to the audience. Whilst admittedly the least engaging element of the performance, it created a certain tension in the room which fed the transportive atmosphere that served to dominated the rest of the performance. This tension hung in the air between each cymbal hit, a certain expectation rising within the transfixed audience. As Takada made her way behind the marimba, she truly began to shine. Her mastery on her signature instrument cannot be understated – as she played, her hands moved at such a speed they appeared as blurs. Although each note she played was individual, the sheer speed at which she hit them at times resulted in the notes melding together to create a tone reminiscent of warm synthesiser pads. There were moments of frightening intensity, moments of utter beauty, and moments of calm throughout. When Takada made her way to a percussion set, her skills were again amplified – the electrifying pace she built to was super-human, and disbelief gripped the audience as she spun between two opposing drums without missing a beat, her consistent hits sounding like a herd of stampeding elephants, exasperated by the acoustics of the stunning venue.
At the conclusion of her performance, Takada was treated to a full 5 minutes of audience applause, which culminated in a standing ovation. The diverse crowd representing many age groups and demographics were united in a admiration and appreciation of one of Japan’s, and perhaps the world’s, most talented ambient musicians.