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Yoshi Wada, Inventive Creator of Sound Worlds, Dies at 77

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On the 18th Manhattan. He was 77.

His son and musical collaborator Tashi Wada confirmed the death but said the cause was unknown.

Yoshi Wada’s music was characterized by dense, persistent sounds that could create stunning acoustic effects. He absorbed much of various musical traditions – Indian ragas, Macedonian folk song, and Scottish bagpipes – while supporting his musical life by working in construction.

In an early technique, in the 1970s, he attached mouthpieces to pipes that could be over six feet long. In ritual concerts lasting several hours, he immersed the audience in the sonorous drones that emanated from this alphorn-like instrument, which he called the earth horn.

In combination with the electronics of the sound artist Liz Philips, the pulsating sounds of the pipes offered a new interpretation of the minimalist style that was then in fashion.

“The result was certainly one of the most coloristically attractive of the many recent examples of minimalist, stationary sound you hear today,” wrote John Rockwell of the New York Times of a Wada concert in 1974 at the Kitchen in Lower Manhattan, “more like an evening at the very beginning of Wagner’s ‘Rheingold’. “

Mr. Wada’s idiosyncratic singing and the use of bagpipes became the basis for two major albums released on free jazz labels in the 1980s. One, “Lamentation of the rise and fall of the Elephantine Crocodile,” was recorded in an empty swimming pool; To delve deeper into the project, Mr Wada slept in the pool. The other release, “Off the Wall”, made on a grant in West Berlin, combined bagpipes with a handcrafted organ and percussion.

“What I would like to have is a feeling for the endless space,” he said in a 1987 interview. “I want to create this feeling of infinity with sound.”

Mr. Wada also created elaborate sculptural sound installations. For “The Appointed Cloud” in 1987 he hung organ pipes and gongs in the Great Hall of the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens. Led by a computer program developed by David Rayna, visitors pressed buttons to change the sound of the composition in real time.

“Lots of young children came,” recalled Mr Wada in 2016, “and they went crazy pushing the buttons and it was a lot of fun.”

Yoshimasa Wada was born on November 11, 1943 in Kyoto, Japan, to the architect Shukitchi Wada and Kino Imakita. His father died in World War II and his childhood was marked by the rigors of the post-war period.

Yoshi had strong experiences early on in hearing monks sing in a local Zen temple. Enthusiastic about Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman, he started playing jazz saxophone as a teenager. He studied sculpture at the Kyoto City University of Fine Arts and searched Japan for avant-garde collectives such as the Gutai Group and the Hi-Red Center.

“It looked at the moon in a Zen garden for a whole night,” Mr. Wada later recalled of a “happening” presented by the artist and musician Yoko Ono. “That was a very nice feeling. I remember taking a bath afterwards and going home. “

After completing his Bachelor in Fine Arts, he moved to New York in 1967. George Maciunas, who is considered to be the founder of the Fluxus movement, lived in Mr. Wada’s building. Soon Mr. Wada was caught up in Fluxus’ high-minded absurdism, which made music out of cardboard tubes and syncopated sneezes.

Mr. Maciunas had begun buying abandoned buildings in the Manhattan area that would become known as SoHo and converting them into artists’ cooperatives, and he enlisted Mr. Wada to help with the carpentry and plumbing work.

Never having formal training in music, Mr. Wada took electronic music lessons from composer La Monte Young and in the early 1970s became a student of guru Pandit Pran Nath, who taught classical North Indian singing in Mr. Young’s studio.

“He tried to take everything in on a very high spiritual level,” said Mr. Young in an interview about Mr. Wada. “He was a very pure and noble person.”

His fascination with the microtonal inflections and hypnotic drones of Indian ragas, along with his dissatisfaction with standard instruments, led Mr. Wada to create the earth horns. But his musical interest continued to expand. He heard Macedonian folk singing at a festival and decided to study it, then formed a small choir to sing eerie modal improvisations. He attended Scottish Highland Games in the late 1970s and was impressed with the possibilities of the bagpipes.

After learning the solo bagpipe style known as “piobaireachd”, Mr. Wada built his own “customized” version of the instrument – with plumbing fixtures, pipes and air compressors – for evening performances that fused composition and improvisation.

“In studying all these different traditions, he always spoke of wanting to find ways to make them his own,” said his son Tashi in an interview.

Mr. Wada supported his family by continuing construction work and even starting his own construction company. He stored his menagerie of makeshift instruments in the basement of their building, one of the ones that Mr. Maciunas had developed. Tashi Wada remembered that a drum kit from his childhood found its way into one of his father’s sound installations.

Starting in 2007, Tashi Wada, who is also an experimental composer, helped reissue his father’s older recordings, which are now available on the Saltern label. In 2009, the Emily Harvey Foundation, which promotes the arts and had preserved some of Wada’s ear horns, invited him to repeat his performances from the 1970s. History lost the original electronic drone system; Instead, Tashi recreated the parts live. Father and son became regular musical collaborators.

Mr. Wada’s first wife was Barbara Stewart. In 1985 he married Marilyn Bogerd; they divorced in 2014. In addition to her son, he leaves behind her daughter Manon Bogerd Wada and a granddaughter.

In 2016, Tashi Wada interviewed his father for the art magazine BOMB and asked him about the hallucinatory effects he had experienced while practicing his music in a small studio in West Berlin in the 1980s.

“I didn’t use drugs at the time,” said Mr Wada. “It was not necessary. Sound pulls me into a dreamlike world when the sound is right. That is a very good effect and keeps me awake. “

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Robert Dunfee