Charles Merewither

From recitalist to performance pianist
by Dr. Charles Merewither (artistic director & curator of the Sydney Biennale)

Over the past few years, Tomoko Mukaiyama has moved from being a concert-based recitalist to a performance pianist. She had successfully presented concerts with orchestras, ensembles and as a solo pianist in concert halls throughout Europe, as well as having been awarded prizes for her interpretation and musical compositions.

While one may say that the performative has always been a central component of the work of the musician, Mukaiyama set about to question the conventions surrounding musical recitals. Could music be presented in other forms that would open up a greater freedom for both the musician and the participation of the audience? These questions also led her to question who her audience was, and to the idea that without an audience there would, in fact, be no recital. For whom then did she play and what does an audience mean to a music concert? From this perspective, Mukaiyama realised that what was equally important was what the audience brought with them. Audiences had already a sensibility for certain forms of music, coming with certain preconceived ideas or expectations. The challenge then would be to explore those expectations and ideas. This was done in two ways, first in the nature of her performance and secondly in the form of its presentation. Exploring forms of presentation and recitation led her to challenge herself by way of departing from learnt techniques and methods of playing and shifting into the realm of the unrehearsed and unknown.

These questions around the conventions of musical practice enabled Mukaiyama to work
across performing and the visual arts in a manner that has opened her own work to greater experimentation both for the artists with whom she has collaborated, and equally, greater possibilities in the character and range of contemporary music.ᅡᅠ In the process, she began to work more and more with performers, especially a second generation of Japanese Butoh dancers, and in the field of theatre and choreography with visual artists such as Marina Abramovic amongst others.

More recently, her work has included large scale projections of the body screened over the wall and floor in the midst of her playing or on other occasion with an installation of translucent bags filled with a 1000 gold fishes displayed between the audience and pianist or, patterns light infusing the whole staging of a work. On each of these occasions, the presentation disrupted not only the purely auditory experience of a musical performance but the two dimensional character of its presentation in which the musician and audience sit opposite one another. Recently, this form of experimentation has led to her asking why the content of this art form (music) seemed to always go only one way. Why cannot it be turned around? In 2003 Mukaiyama began a series of piano recitals titled for you. This culminated in its presentation at the 2005 Yokohama Triennial in which she auctioned off her performance to the highest bidder who was given a recital that was exclusive to them alone.

For the Biennale of Sydney, Mukaiyama will present a new work you and bach as a small theater/installation with piano music. Presented in an exhibition space as distinct from concert environment, she shows everything but herself. In presenting the work she has gone one step further in staging a recital as a piece in which the recitalist as the protagonist disappears. By making visible the modern disembodied experience of musical performance, the work becomes the trace of its authorship that, in turn, by virtue of its recording, becomes the potential site in which you meet yourself and others.