Friday, April 1, 2005

Empire of signs 

Today was one of the most interested days I've ever spent since I first came to Japan. Thanks to a friend's introduction, I was able to spend the better part of the day enjoying 'hanami' in Kanagawa with a group of about 10 hearing-impared Japanese people, ages ranging from under 6 to over 60. I don't have time to go into my specific reasons, but I'm studying Japanese sign language in earnest these days. Since I was in need of 'signing partners' (I didn't have any 'deaf' friends, just a few 'def' ones), I was introduced to today's group. The leader of the circle, a charming woman who herself is not hearing-impaired, turns out to be one of the most prominent real-time sign-language/Japanese translators in Japan! It was my first time meeting any of them. It was indeed a pleasure, and I learned many, many things about a language/life sub-culture that I hadn't even the slightest idea about. After a picninc and some slightly pre-mature 'hanami' the twenty-somethings and I went to have some dinner by ourselves. I was lucky enough to be able to speak Japanese, and have my poor Japanese 'translated' into Japanese sign-language the whole time. (Just watching this process was in itself a fruitful study!) Anyway, other than the fact that I've been accepted as 'one of the group', there is something else that I wanted to tell you today. Recently, I was cautioned by a friend that I trust that my interests and studies these days are branching out far too wide. (I'm studying about 4 or 5 different 'continuing educaton'-esque classes on NHK and also on the internet these days, including haiku, kanbun, Chinese, Japanese, and of course, sign-language.) Anyway, something that happened today gives me renewed vigor for my 'spastic' studies. Here is what happened. My new 'def' friends and I were hanging out at a place where they have a 'drink bar' (if you live in Japan, you know what I mean), and the subject of the conversation turned to music. All of the hearing-impaired kids said that they loved music, but that more than the lyrics or the 'timbre', the visceral, physically palpable 'beat' and rhythm were the most important. It seems that they 'listen' with their bodies, feet, hair (when it gets stood on end by a high-velocity, low frequency sound) and so on. Upon hearing this, the first thing I did was to whip out my laptop and my DJ headphones (I always carry these), and let these kids hear several different kinds of experimental music: some 'ultrasound', some technoise, some ambient stuff. You know, my selections ranged from F. Lopez to R. Ikeda, with a little bit of Merzbow thrown in for good measure. Anyway, these kids don't know a thing about experimental laptop music, but they do know what BUMPS, and of course, these tracks DID! They ate it up!!! So now, in closing, I'd just like to say that since I burned them some CDs right there on the spot, there is as you read this blog, a very small, but very important 'boom' of highly strange, sub-sonic music going on among the 'def' kids of Kanagawa Japan. Of course, they don't know and they don't care what they are listening too, but Mr. Lopez, if you are out there, now is your chance to finally find your true fan base! To put a new twist on an old barb my Milton Babbitt, "Who cares if they listen?"...because these kids are too busy FEELING everything that is good to feel about experimental sounds. How I envy them! Eat your heart out, Roland.

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