Takehisa Kosugi, Composer for Merce Cunningham, Dies at 80
Takehisa Kosugi, an avant-garde composer who was an accomplished violinist however who was just as likely to play bicycle spokes or inflatable balls in his innovative explorations of the sonic landscape, died on Oct. 12 in Ashiya City, Japan. He was 80.
The Merce Cunningham Trust said the cause was esophageal cancer. Mr. Kosugi composed for along with performed with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company for decades along with was its music director through 1995 to 2012.
In a long career on the cutting edge, Mr. Kosugi’s interests were in found sounds; in creating events rather than traditional musical works; in examining all parts of the acoustical spectrum, including silence; along with in challenging audience expectations.
One early piece, “Micro 1,” consisted of his crumpling a large sheet of paper around a live microphone; the audience was then invited to listen to the paper uncrinkle as the item strove to return to its original state.
“There will be a radical integrity to everything he did which stayed razor sharp,” Jay Sanders, who curated “Takehisa Kosugi: Music Expanded,” a 2015 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in completely new York, said by email. “He reframed everyday actions as mesmerizing music events which pushed the philosophical edge of his whole field into completely new frontiers.”
Takehisa Kosugi was born on March 14, 1938, in Tokyo. He studied music at the Tokyo University of the Arts, graduating in 1962. While still a student, he was among the founders of Group Ongaku, an improvisational music ensemble which experimented with multimedia approaches along with explored the idea which physical actions could constitute music.
Mr. Kosugi became identified with Fluxus, a movement which defined art in terms of experiences as well as traditional forms like paintings or musical compositions. His early works included “Events,” a set of 18 instructional cards today in the collection of the Whitney which set forth specific actions. A similar piece, “Theatre Music,” was included in “Fluxus 1,” a sort of compilation notebook created in 1964; the item consisted of a card imprinted having a spiral of feet along with the words “Keep walking intently.”
Mr. Kosugi also created performance-based works in This kind of period, along with in 1967 — assisted by two some other artists then building their avant-garde reputations, Nam June Paik along with Charlotte Moorman — he offered some in a program called “Music Expanded” at Town Hall in Manhattan. (The title was later appropriated by the Whitney for its retrospective.)
In one piece, “Instrumental Music,” a spotlight threw a silhouette of Ms. Moorman, a cellist, onto a screen, along with Mr. Kosugi tried to cut out the silhouette with scissors. Another piece performed which night, “Slow Anthology,” a collection of light along with sounds which the program said was composed through 1964 to 1967, did not impress Donal Henahan, a critic for The completely new York Times.
“By its dating the item appears the item took Mr. Kosugi three years to compose This kind of work,” Mr. Henahan wrote, “however one could learn to hate the item in far less time.”
Barbara Moore, a Fluxus historian, described these early works as “more what will be today called performance art — in his case with strong visual components implying a musical connection rather than producing the item explicit.”
Mr. Kosugi’s later performances, Ms. Moore said by email, were at least somewhat more conventional, with him along with others playing instruments or creating electronically amplified sounds through various sources.
Although Mr. Kosugi appeared on his own at numerous festivals along with some other events, many of his compositional efforts were in service to the Cunningham troupe’s dances. He first composed for the company in 1977, along with he worked alongside along with was influenced by John Cage, Cunningham’s longtime collaborator along with partner.
His works for the troupe were a long way through the musical accompaniment used in conventional dance. They might incorporate dropped objects, electronically created noise along with more.
“Imagine the sound of a live microphone, wrapped in aluminum foil, dragging behind a garbage truck which’s driving along a rugged shoreline as ocean waves crash nearby,” Brian Mackay wrote inside the State Journal-Register of Illinois, reviewing a 2009 performance of the Cunningham troupe at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “today imagine the item going on for 80 minutes.”
To others, though, Mr. Kosugi was liberating the idea of music through relatively narrow boundaries.
“I think what he was trying to do was absolutely bring music right up to the present, to dismantle its rules completely,” said Mr. Sanders, who will be today executive director of Artists Space in completely new York. “the item’s almost a kind of productive nihilism to retrofit music as visceral sonic event along with visual bodily act.”
Mr. Kosugi’s survivors include three brothers along with his longtime manager along with partner, Takako Okamoto.
“He worked incredibly hard, bringing much electronic gear through Japan, along with working with collaborators to perform the more physical action works which he could no longer do himself,” he said. “As much as I know his work, I was shocked by how powerful along with earth-shattering every piece was.”