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Takehisa Kosugi

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Biography

Tokyo violinist Takehisa Kosugi was a major figure in the Japanese avant-garde scene since the late 1950s. As one of the earliest musicians to bring Fluxus and improvisational movements to Japan, Kosugi's importance historically cannot be underestimated, and he continued to make music later in life that was as vital and modern as the music he made decades earlier. Kosugi was born in Tokyo in 1938 and graduated from the Tokyo University of Arts in 1962 with a degree in Musicology. At the university, Kosugi started the Group Ongaku, perhaps the earliest collective improvisational group in Japan. Their multi-media performances rejected fixed compositions in favor of chance actions and spontaneous musical creation, a Dada-esque form of anti-music that was a prototype of what Kosugi would accomplish later. Though Group Ongaku only lasted until 1962, Kosugi and other members continued to work together throughout the 1960s, with event pieces and live performances. Musicians from the New York Fluxus Movement caught some of Kosugi's European performances, and recognized him as one their own, adopting him as part of the Movement. During this time, Kosugi also provided music for the soundtrack to a Japanese animated TV show, Tetsuwan Atom? (Astro Boy). In 1969 Kosugi and several others formed the group Taj Mahal Travellers, another multi-media project that used both Eastern and Western instruments, electronics, and vocal chanting, and a heavy amount of processing to add a psychedelic element to the improvisational sound. In 1971 and 1972, this group toured Europe and the near East in a Volkswagen minibus and even performed at the Taj Mahal in India. The group also released some recordings, starting with the album July 15, 1972 on the Sony label in 1972, a side on the double-LP compilation Live at Oz from the Oz label, and the double album August 1974, released in 1975 by Sony. In 1975, Taj Mahal Travellers broke up and Kosugi worked on his solo career, coming out that year with a couple of fascinating albums: Improvisation, performed with Toshi Ichiyanagi and Michael Ranta, and Catch Wave, a completely solo effort with Kosugi on violin, vocals, radio, and oscillators on one side and on vocals with electronic treatment on the other. He helped start the East Bionic Symphonia, a Taj Mahal Travellers-like group made up of Kosugi's students. Shortly after this Kosugi became a composer and performer with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, where he worked with John Cage, David Tudor, and David Behrman, artists who shared his esthetics. He later served as the troupe's music director between 1995 and 2012. Through the 1980s and 1990s, Kosugi released records of his own, improvising on solo violin with electronic processing, and also appeared on several other albums as well, with both avant-garde classical musicians like Cage, Tudor, and Behrman and modern jazz improvisers like Steve Lacy, Motoharu Yoshizawa, and Haruna Miyaki. Over the years, Kosugi toured throughout Asia, Europe, and the U.S. at various international festivals. He also appeared on the Sonic Youth record Goodbye 20th Century, which celebrated some of the great modern composers of the century, including Kosugi himself. Kosugi died from cancer in the autumn of 2018.
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