Kobo Abe’s Synthesizer

And a Twitter translation

My favorite things have aligned. Here’s a video, from 1985, of Japanese novelist Kobo Abe (The Woman in the Dunes, The Ark Sakura) talking about his synthesizer, an EMS Synthi AKS, as part of his efforts in the theater. (I recommend Nancy Shields’ book Fake Fish: The Theater of Kobo Abe if that aspect of Abe’s output is of interest.) I worked in manga for five years and the only word I recognize is “ongaku” but that’s on me. Fortunately, the Japanese musician NRV (aka Nerve, aka Manabu Ito) generously posted this translation of it in reply to my initial tweet.

Kobo Abe: This is…

Interviewer: A synthesizer?

KL Yes, that’s right. You know, I don’t mean to sound pretentious, but… When you’re doing a play, if you ask a composer to do it, the music is done at the last minute. In the worst case, the music is not ready until the stage rehearsal. In my case, it’s not good if the music doesn’t come first. I’m an amateur, but I thought if I could manage it myself, so I started to make music by buying these things. So from a certain point, I’ve been adding my own music to all my plays.

I: So you have a piece of work, could you play it?

K: Yes, it’s a bit of an exaggeration to call it a work, but I make various sources.

I: Sound sources?

K: Yes. And I put them together in various ways.

I: So it’s a work of chance?

K: A kind of, and sometimes I get interesting sounds. Would you like to have a listen?

I: Yes, please.

K: It’s like the sound of a bell, isn’t it? This is a beautiful sound, isn’t it? This is how I make music.

. . .

Update: And in the ongoing discussion on Twitter, Jim Whittemore uploaded this 1976 photo of the U.S. importer of EMS synthesizers, EMSA (EMS America) in Northampton, MA. Credit for the photo goes to Dennis Kelley.

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