Music » Local Music

Busy Tone


The recent death of the comic Zen Buddhist and avant-garde artist Nam June Paik illuminates the appearance of his colleague, Yasunao Tone, who's in town this week to launch Windsor's Media City festival. An iconoclastic composer, writer and performance artist, Tone, like Paik, has helped define avant-garde art-making. In his 40-year career, he's worked with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and composers John Cage and David Tudor. Along with Paik, Yoko Ono and other contemporaries, Tone was prominent for his outrageous events under the banner of Fluxus.

Since the beginning of his career in the 1960s in Japan, Tone has been way ahead of the game on multimedia experimentation. He explains his musical vision like this: "My task is to wake people up from the 19th century. Walter Benjamin said that people are still dreaming in the 19th century, and he wanted to wake people up from it. Concert halls are just that, a 19th-century dream place."

In the '60s, Tone played saxophone as a founding member of Group Ongaku, a Japanese improvisational music group. By mid-decade, he was composing film scores and working as a "paramedia" artist, founding the computer art group Team Random. His previous work has centered on such multimedia investigations as digitally transforming ancient Chinese texts into raw sound. Tone's current work, which will be featured as part of Media City, is the result of three decades of electronic musical experimentation. Entitled "Paramedia Centripetal," the piece is a performance in which sound sensors detect his hand's motion while drawing Chinese calligraphy. It's the kind of "audio architecture" that young and hip DJs are taking up today. Look out kids — there's a way-older kid coming to town who's been spinnin' and scratchin' since before you were born.


Yasunao Tone performs Paramedia Centripetal at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 21, at Detroit Film Center, 1227 Washington Blvd., Detroit; 313-961-9936.

Glen Mannisto writes about art for Metro Times. Send comments to

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