Composer Yasunao Tone’s work spans half a century of electronic music from the historical avant-garde to contemporary digitalism
. Active since the late fifties, Tone was involved with Fluxus and has links with Yoko Ono and John Cage and founded the seminal Group Ongaku. The long-time New York resident began in the 80s to concentrate on the possibilities of the CD as a performance medium. He has released several solo albums on labels like Tzadik, Mego
, has collaborated with contemporary sound artists such as Hecker, Christian Marclay and Jim O’Rourke, and created sound installations for prestigious events such as the Yokohama Triennale.
Tone’s decades of sound experimentation honoured by the Ars Electronica
Golden Nica prize for digital music in 2002.
Born in Tokyo in 1935, Tone graduated from Chiba Japanese National University in 1957 with a major in Japanese literature. Soon after graduating, he frequented performances in Tokyo where he met musician Shuko Mizuno and musicology student Takehisa Kosugi. They began improvising together, Tone on saxophone (in which he was untrained), forming the core of what would soon become Group Ongaku, a group devoted to creating "event music", and one of the first free-improvising groups in Japan, if not the world. In 1961 and 62, Tone and Kosugi also performed in Tokyo concerts by Yoko Ono and Toshi Ichiyanagi, including one in which a piece in which IBM computer punch cards were distributed to performers as a graphic score. Tone’s first solo concert, "One Man Show by a Composer", was held at the Minami Gallery in Tokyo in 1962. The concert’s 15 pieces lasted six or seven hours. A sound installation by Tone, a tape recorder with mechanical loop device, was included in an annual group art show, Yomiuri Independent Salon in the same year and he became increasingly active in Tokyo as a contributor to, and organiser of events.
His activities encompassed happenings, experimental music
and involved Tokyo groups like Hi-Red Centre
, a 'happening' group founded in 1963. In 1965 Tone co-organised "Fluxus Week, A Tokyo Fluxus festival," with Toshi Ichiyanagi and Kuniharu Akiyama. He founded Team Random
- the first computer art group in Japan, and they organised "Biogode Process Music Festival" in 1966 (the first computer art festival in Japan, which featured Tone's "Theatre Piece for Computer"). Tone was also involved with the Intermedia Festival in 1969 and the late Tatsumi Hijikata and his Ankoku Butoh troupe. He also composed a great deal of experimental music for use in films, theatre and dance pieces. In the summer of 1971, he took on a year long project editing a complete retrospective of 60s avant-garde art in Japan that was spread over 12 monthly issues of the magazine Bijustu Techo. Tone moved to New York in 1972, where he participated in numerous Fluxus concerts and performed solo concerts. He forged creative partnerships with John Zorn, performing in "Jai Alai" at the Club 57 on St Mark's Place and contributed vocals to Butch Morris's "Current Trends In Racism In Modern America" (Morris's first improvisational orchestral piece); he was commissioned to write pieces by new music flautist Barbara Held.
Since 1976, Tone has been designing musical compositions as a compound of cultural studies, which have been ideas based on post-structuralist theories and audiovisual materials compiled with ancient Oriental texts and musical sounds generated by electronic means. The American Dance Festival commissioned one of these works, Geography and Music, for Merce Cunningham's dance Roadrunners. It was part of the Cunningham Dance Company repertory between 1979 and 1986, Tone's first composition using CD players, the appropriately titled "Music for 2 CD Players," made its NEA-sponsored debut in 1982.
Not long thereafter, Tone began composing pieces based on overriding the error-correction systems of consumer CD players in order to generate new strings of random digital sound. A pioneer in the use of prepared CDs, Tone first scratched his own self-described "wounded" scotch tape and pinhole-punctured compact disc in 1985. Tone’s earliest published recordings came rather late. The first was Musica Iconologos, 1993 Lovely Music. The source for the two texts, "Liao Jiao Fruits" and "Solar Eclipse in October", is the Shih Ching, the earliest Chinese anthology. Tom Buckner, who commissioned this CD, used ancient Chinese poetic texts and converted each character into photographic images that were digitised and read as sound waves. Tone's 'Solo For Wounded CD' (Tzadik, 1997) was Musica Iconologos prepared with Scotch tape. A solo album on Asphodel appeared in 2003, followed by a collaboration with Hecker 'Palimpsest on Mego in 2004, and a one off collaboration with Christian Wolff and Christian Marclay, 'Event' on Asphodel in 2005. In 2007 a CD compilation of Tone’s work was produced accompanied a 120 page book 'Yasunao Tone: Noise Media Language
' on the sound art imprint Errant Bodies Press.
Tone has received several grants and prizes including the 1982 National Endowment for the Arts Collaboration fellowship, the 1986 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship Grant in performance/Emerging Art Forms and the 2002 Golden Nica prize in digital music from Austria’s Ars Electronica.
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