Sound and furiously good times: Pearl Pirie reviews the AB Series


Koichi Makigami (vocalist, and player of various instruments from Japan), Bolot Bairyshev (traditional Altaic throat singer from Russia) and Massa Sato (percussionist from Japan) make up Tokyo Taiga.

Pearl Pirie is a local arts enthusiast who arrived in Ottawa about 20 years ago for university. She blogs about the city’s literary events — in both word and image.  Her second full-length poetry collection is coming out this fall.

Tokyo Taiga was the guest of the AB Series at the National Arts Centre’s Fourth Stage, May 19, 2011. The AB Series, launched in November 2007, offers some unique international and local performances of international standards. There is music, experimental poetry and lectures.

This performance was unique in its excellence, and in that this Ottawa treat was one of very few North American engagements. The Ottawa gig was before their appearance at the 27th Festival International de Musique Actuelle in Victoriaville, Québec.

star percussionist

Japanese percussionist and guitarist Massa Sato

Each member has an incredible amount of skill. For example, Massa Sato is a Japanese percussionist and guitarist. He plays in his own bands Massa’s Jammer and Creole a massA as well as Hikashu. In addition to his work as a music producer and composer, Masaharu has participated in major international music projects, such as Drumsique in Singapore and JapanFest in Atlanta, U.S. What he was playing in the top photo was a sort of thunder can.

playing horn

‎Koichi Makigami

The musicians moved together like jazz. There was some mix of electronic play and some of the instruments were western traditional and others traditional from other regions. Here ‎Koichi Makigami plays the cornet. He did sound poetry of vocalizing a range of sounds and played various instruments. Bairyshev is playing a topshuur, a traditional stringed instrument. By times he did throat singing. A clip of that is here. It is like our Inuit throat singing in that it uses part of the throat we don’t often use for speech. It’s quite a striking sound. A bunch of fellows after the show were trying to learn how to do it.

at the theramin

Koichi Makigami

Here Koichi Makigami is at the theramin, the only instrument that you play by not touching it, and stop playing by touching it. It was very cool to see this played in person after seeing documentaries on it and hearing it in recordings. (You might know its sound from the Beach Boys’ Wipeout.) Makigami is part of Hikashu, a renowned Japanese underground “avant-pop” band.

Each musician did a solo and combinations of pairs and all of them. It was wholly absorbing and with little runs of joy thru the music. A mix of transcendent and comedy and sustained mood. They played songs back to back without any banter to break up the sounds. 

The next show for The AB Series is international sound poet Jaap Blonk and Playback on May 25.


Playback: (L-R) Michele Provost, Carmel Purkis, Glenn Nuotio, Christine McNair, Sean Moreland, Grant Wilkins, Stephen Ross Smith and Sandra Ridley.

Playback at their March 2011 engagement. Michele Provost is the visual artist from Gatineau whose work is being responded to with sound. Stephen Ross Smith was a guest poet in town at the last engagement. The rest of the performers are all local poets, musicians and can be found at the literary hotspots.

The March show was a very satisfied and happy crowd to see the absorbing skill of sound timing. It was hard to photograph since for some of the pieces had people moving around the room. It gave a you-had-to-be-there depths of sound and surprise. I look forward to seeing them perform again.

Blonk_5 publicity photo


Blonk, a musician for 40 years, has performed all over Europe, as well as in the US, Canada, Indonesia, Japan, South Africa and Latin America. He was in town a few years ago and gave an excellent show of precise and impressive sound gymnastics to a sold out crowd. Catch him in Ottawa on the 25th, or else zip to Toronto as his other engagement in Canada is at the Toronto New School of Writing on the 26th.

Blonk and Playback will the at the NAC’s Fourth Stage on May 25th at 7:30 p.m. You can find more details here!