SF Asian Music Examiner: Koto and electronics featured at the Garden of Memory, Oakland.

Johnathon Bakan, SF Asian Music Examiner
June 23, 2011

The concert took place at the Chapel of the Chimes a large Gothic columbarium nestled at the end of Piedmont St. in Oakland, CA. The concert called “Garden of Memory” was a summer solstice celebration concert that featured the best avant-garde, progressive, electro-acoustic, and new music artists the Bay Area has to offer.

One performance that was a highlight of the evening was avant-garde Koto Master Miya Masaoka. Ms. Masaoka has been pioneering the integration of koto and electronics since the 1990’s and was in peak form at this concert.

Her setup was as unique as her music. Her Koto was flanked on either side by light sensor arrays mounted on tripods. A simple table held her Macbook, mixing console, and interfaces. The light sensor arrays allowed her to trigger sounds on her computer by raising her arms through the sensor field.

Her performances were a dizzying menagerie of loops, digital delays, angular textures and complex tone colors. Ms. Masaoka is a master of the bowed koto technique. Her playing was superb fully taking advantage of the extended lower range of the 21 string koto. One had to look carefully when she performed because her bowing technique was so cello like that if heard on a recording it would easily fool even the best of fine cello music connoisseurs.

Ms. Masaoka is also no stranger to modern extended koto playing techniques including playing the instrument with a metal slide to create portamento effects, drumming the instrument with drumsticks, and whacking the underside to get some bass drum effects. These techniques combined with electronic processing and gestural sample triggering characterized her performance.

She was joined by the Bay Area’s own Pamela Z on electronically processed vocals. Pamela Z’s performance was dynamic, fraught with interesting layered vocal effects, loops and echoes. She also used a custom-made ultra-sonic trigger device that was used to trigger samples on her computer adding further interest to the music.

Together Miya Masaoka and Pamela Z formed an exciting dynamic duo that captivated the attention of the large crowd assembled around the three-storied rotunda where they played. A succinct summation of their set would be: “endless variety” the sheer amount of unusual but palatable tone colors textures and rhythms they summoned was mind-boggling and immensely satisfying.

It is hoped that Ms. Masaoka will continue to grace the Bay Area in the future with her unique musical style.