Sunday, October 26, 2008

Butoh Collaboration and Mirror Neurons

"Leave them wanting more."
Thanks to Emily, here is a video of part of the performance. The thing Yasuchika does at the very end, that look, is so controlled, so intentional, and yet he moves almost like a puppet, like he is being controlled by another being. I think we all know that feeling! In fact, try watching this without any sound. It's even more powerful. (In Butoh, music isn't necessary.)
I'll post another video soon.

(last week)
God, right now I am so exhausted. Not enough sleep? Probably. But maybe it’s because a huge presence, a huge event, has come and passed and it left an extraordinary, new w(hole) in my being. I'm infinitely more, and infinitely less, because it (and he) has passed. I guess that is true of every experience, though. Our brains are constantly changing; the river of life continues to grow. But some events are particularly meaningful, or exhausting, and they fill you up with more energy, more insight, and more appreciation for the Love and Life that is the One and All.
And thus, when they leave, they leave behind a (w)hole.

Maybe I'm having "unicorn withdrawal," as Emily describes it. Unicorns are very powerful beings, as you know, and when they vanish from you suddenly, they can take the wind out of your chest.
I'm catching my breath.

This ancient, holy tree (Goshinboku) enshrined in the mountains near my house, complete with a mysterious, nondenominational shrine/temple standing at its base, has been the subject of a few of my paintings, and so I thought I'd take Yasuchika, Ty, and Emily to see her early Saturday morning. The moss was super soft and smelled fresh, green-purple-orange. The atmosphere was brisk, light wind, and the light was crisp and cool. You can't hear it in these pictures but this tree is standing next to a rushing river made of fresh spring water you can drink, waterfalls, and emerald blue swimming holes. There is a beehive next to the tree as well.

The exhibition went great. I sold two large paintings and a bunch of prints. I received support and love and positive feedback from my community, and I got some very powerful criticism from one of my oldest friends (I’ll write more about that later). Some of my students came, with their friends or with their parents. I said at school that I would buy them a drink if they came, so I did.

The Butoh collaboration went well too! We sold out again (pride not intended), filling all forty seats in the gallery. Yasuchika danced like a medicine man, like a centaur, pulling everyone into an ambiguous space of emotional freedom and fullness. At the end he was shouting and slapping the ground in joy. People came up to me afterwards and said, “The end made me really happy,” and that, my friends, is power. And it’s what performers, actors, shamans (and all of us, for this matter) do, right? We enter into certain states of consciousness and then because of the brain’s “mirror neurons”, we immediately pull our audience into a similar state. The interesting question becomes: What happens when the performer has experienced states that the general public has not? What happens when the performer has trained for hours everyday, when the pianist or shaman or artist can enter into these ecstatic states, states that the audience’s mind and body have not yet experienced? What happens then? The mirror neurons in the viewer's brain will do their thing, but the interpreter, the mind of the individual has no experience with the state. They can't label it, can't identify it. The viewer might feel a bit awkward-they don't like that their body and mind can't accurately interpret this new stimuli, this new state, and so they might close down any connection or desire to connect. "This is weird" or, "This is stupid."

But in our case, partially because of Yasuchika’s intense level of physical beauty, and with his radiant mental beauty shining though his every motion, there was enough familiarity and general attraction to keep every mind interested (I would look up periodically from making music and see all forty pairs of twinkling eyes locked onto Yasuchika's state. I don't think anyone blinked during the entire performance. I think everyone let him right in.)

His body holds people’s attention like a magnet, and then the secret states are passed unobstructed into the viewer, changing them forever. There might be healing involved. He might be dancing with our souls, giving them a safe space to open and just be, deeply and fully. Like a shaman, maybe he travels into the dark, unfamiliar worlds and places that we all have within us. The shaman goes there and then comes back. He becomes our guide. He takes us there, and protects us. We mirror him as he shines. And "everything light touches becomes light." Is observing a shamanic dance a radical inner-energy change, a ripping open of boundaries and emotional barriers we had built up inside? Is this a burning up of fear, a fear of visiting the dark, uncharted waters of our emotional and mental worlds? (We all have uncharted territory in the depths of our being, and art can validate these inner, shared, (mythic) worlds. And this validation I think is immediately also supporting and encouraging our will to exist freely and fully within these states. It's like a Big Mind process using body language to become all the different voices. Does this heal the self? I think so. ("If you are no longer afraid of death, you are healed.")

The shaman heals himself, the observer gets an opportunity to heal themselves too. They can go there with the shaman, no, they do go there with the shaman whether they interpret it that way or not, because wherever the dancer goes, the viewer goes. That's just mirror neurons; the "mirror system," empathy, it's how perception works, how reception works, mutual resonance, mutual's unavoidable/understandable. But the fact that artists usher us into states carries with it implications so far out (that stimuli can get in our heads that way, reflected onto the inner screens of our innermost private space, well, it's not to far away from psychic powers, astral planes, and mind-reading. 'Turns out everyone can put thoughts into people's heads because of subtle resonance and body language. Even our thoughts are registered and can be measured in the physical realm. There is a connection.

And there is an Art of Communication, an art of perfecting the process of influencing the inner minds and worlds of others, and it is taken seriously in many artsy circles. It's the "responsibility" side of the street, and I for one..sorry, this is getting too mysty. Back to my original story...

I wish you could have been there.

This year’s collaboration was completely different from last year’s. For example, because Yasuchika arrived on Wednesday, we had about four days together to practice and play (!). Also, he suggested that from the beginning everything be out in the open, informal, “like a street performance.” He said, “I want something to already be happening when people arrive. I want them to feel like “Oh, something is already happening, we better hurry in and see what’s going on.” Thus, as opposed to staying hidden away in a back room until show time, we talked with the guests as they arrived, danced around, made people laugh…for a while Yasuchika drummed and I danced!! A 20 minute piece by Milford Graves (formless, chaotic jazz) played in the background, and then, when 7:00 came and the music stopped, I walked over to the drum, sat down, closed my eyes, and began. Some people were still talking, a sign that they felt relaxed and didn't know when the performance was going to start (little did they know, it had started 20 minutes ago). While singing I felt a comfort and confidence I didn't expect (probably because I had just made a total fool out of myself, dancing and singing like a tribal maniac with Yasuchika.)

While I worked the singing bowl and sang into it like I do alone in my room, he turned down the lights, got into position, and began his thing…The recorded music I mixed was timed to come in about two minutes after the welcoming music stopped. This recorded music, which begins with light drumming, radio sounds, and Paramahansa Yogananda chanting the Om and Amen slid quietly into the room, under my singing bowl, and into the audience, who sat wide-eyed and open to everything we were passing into them. Like I said, I would periodically look up from making music to see Yasuchika dancing in the light, and 40 pairs of eyes fixed in wonder onto his form. And it was beautiful.

More or less later.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

pictures on my iPhone

Unfortunately, during our last night in Osaka, my sister`s camera went missing, filled with all her pictures from her trip. Can you imagine? She is totally bummed, and so am I. If any of you have pics of my sister and I, PLEASE let me know.

Here are two walls of the gallery. I'm so happy to finally have it all done.

I just got back from Osaka. Outside my house the drumming and whistling continue as the Taikodai, like dragons made of light, illuminate the streets and return from the shrine back to their respected neighborhoods. Being the last event of the four-day long festival, it's mostly the young men and teenagers carrying (or rolling) the golden dragon-shrines. Positions which are usually reserved for the leaders of the neighborhood (such as standing on the polls and directing everyone) are now filled by the toughest youth-poor kids-their parents probably proud, drunk, and tired, walking slowly behind with the rest of the neighborhood. When two taikodai meet, which happened right outside my apartment, they usually prepare to fight: they yell at each other, chant "Sorya Sorya!" back and forth, and drum louder and faster. If the two teams decide to really fight, they will charge with their two-ton floats, poles tilted high in an attempt to pierce the other team's drum. It's so dangerous! But if this ancient tradition happens, not only can people die, but the floats are about $500,000 each and harming one would cost everyone in the neighborhood lots of money. And on top of that, teams caught fighting are punished by not being able to participate in the events next year. Thus tonight they just taunted each other, one team finally backing down and moving on. Lucky us, I got a rare photo of the hot drummers at work inside their float (they lifted the golden doors to cool themselves off). Although the young men were dripping with sweat and clearly exhausted, their muscular arms beat that drum hard and strong. I was very impressed.

-Erin and Fernando at the festival.
-Martha feeding a monkey in Kyoto.
-Some scenes from the bullet train this afternoon, japan right now is so effing beautiful.
-Martha, Erin and I with the backup guitarist from The Offspring. Thanks to Emily who knows their current security guard, we got to see their show in Osaka, go back stage, and party with them afterwards!
A fur protest in Osaka. "I'd rather go naked than wear fur."

Monday, October 13, 2008

They`re Here!!!

"Everything has Buddha-nature." This is a memorial to puffer fish we found at Mt. Koya.

Martha: "I want a monkey and a Japanese kid. They are both so darn cute, and I think I can fit them in my purse." So far we have visited Kyoto and Mt. Koya. In Kyoto we met up with Emily and Fernando and went to Arashiyama to see the Monkeys, the Golden Temple "Kinkakuji," and then Kyomizu-temple. I think everyone liked Monkey Mountain the best. Sunday we took the train to Mt. Koya to visit Okunoin, the sacred temple deep in the cemetery forest.

Martha, Erin, and I stayed at a temple overnight, and after they fell asleep, one of the young monks (19, the one peacing) asked me if I had ever been into the forest at night. "It's filled with ghosts."

We entered the cold, dark forest. It was just the two of us, our footsteps swallowed by the full moonlight and dark tombstones carpeting the forest floor. I asked him why he became a monk, and we began to talk about mind, sex, sexuality, drugs, meditation, masturbation, monkhood, buddhahood, everything. Whenever we passed a sacred monument, we stopped talking, bowed, and continued from where we left off. Strange birds and animal sounds wove ghostly threads into the blanket of silence that swallowed us, and I could have sworn that I heard other people walking in front and behind us, but I never saw anyone else. When we arrived at the end of the path, Okunoin temple, where Kukai is burried, I was amazed that the monk gave 2,000 yen ($20) to the incense offering, ten for him and ten for me. We stood in front of Kukai`s cave, offered the incense, and then suddenly the young monk sang the most beautiful prayer I think I have ever heard. He just sang into the night, eyes closed, heart open. Shingon Buddhism often uses singing and chanting as its form of meditation. Soto Zen, on the other hand, uses silent sitting, while Rinzai Zen uses mental riddles called Koans. Tendai uses running and physical exhaustion. Every sect has it's own special way of dissolving the illusion of self. Interesting, yes?

On our way back, the monk and I shared a cigarette and talked about dreaming and reincarnation. I asked him if he saw any ghosts in the forest and he replied, "Well yeah. Didn't you?" I said no and asked why he didn't point out the ghosts to me. "They don't like that," he answered. We both laughed. I looked up at the full moon illuminating the rushing river of clouds, took a deep breath, and smiled. Why am I so damn lucky?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Cleaning, framing, mourning, and the election

When cleaning your house, things have to get dirtier before they can get cleaner. You have to take things out of drawers; you have to move things onto the bed and table in order to mop and vacuum. My sister is coming, and I still need to clean my bathroom!

The beating of the taiko drums are now echoing throughout the dark streets of my town, tapping on windowpanes, straddling the moon and licking the dragonflies. Don den dekoden, don den dekoden.
Festival is coming, leaves are growing red,
bowing to the wind.
The potluck party is about to begin.

I got my friend Tako’s djimbe drum and am practicing for the butoh collaboration that will happen on the 25th. I’ve also mixed some samples together to play on top (mostly Tim Hecker, Doudou N'Diaye Rose, Kangding Ray, T.S Eliot reading Prufrock, some Ram Das, The 17th Karmapa, Paramahansa Yogananda, Zoe Keating, Brother Sun Sister Moon, Steve Reich, a bunch of stuff. Let me know if you want a copy.)

Yesterday I went to the local home-depot with Ma and cut wood for frames. I’m gonna have to spray paint them black and nail them to the paintings while Martha and Erin are here. The crows will fly overhead. Crows always hang out by my back parking lot. They wake me up into the mornings and wake me down into the evenings, and they caw black death/depth into my world when it’s becoming a bit to bright.

It was kind of a pain-in-the-ass measuring the wood and ordering some nice old Japanese man to cut it, but when I make my own frames, I can sell the paintings for a lot cheaper. I just hope the trees find me worthy.

I’m still so sad. I think about Devin, suffering in her car, alive to respond to the police, but dead by the time the ambulance arrived. (most of you know this, but recently an old friend was killed in Kansas city.) “Guns don't kill people, people kill people.” Good point, but not always true. In Devin’s case, if the two kids didn’t have such an easy access to guns, and if they instead wanted to rob her using, let’s say, a knife, then well, you can’t stab a knife through a car window! Guns help people accidentally kill people. Guns help kids kill people. Without them, or with more regulations, there would be less gun-related accidents. Unless it was a hate-crime, and I doubt it was, it’s hard to believe that these two kids (18 and 19-years-old) really wanted to kill her. No, they were probably just scared, tough guys. Their great robbery plan went wrong. Their target didn’t unlock her door, didn’t roll down her window. So they shot her and ran away. There were so many witnesses and police close by; the kids were caught shortly afterwards. Their families must be suffering as well. “Really, three lives were taken that night.”

In class last week I got to lecture the 15-year-olds about the election. “Does anyone know the differences between Obama and McCain?”
One student called out, “Obama is black, McCain is white.”

I told them about how Obama is actually half, and about the war, abortion, gay rites, and guns. It’s an interesting story…the differences in values between the two political parties. Two different value structures are competing for the power…I sure hope Obama’s value structure wins. But if it is McCain, I hope he does a good job. Luckily, the secret revolution, which is evolution, is going on anyway, regardless of who the American president is. Evolution pushes forward, continually writing new habits into the universe, and unfolding new, higher value structures into more and more people.
Good to know.

May all beings be Free and in Love.

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