Last Tuesday, I was serendipitously told of a talk by Anna Baltzer in Yoshida campus. I remembered seeing her on the Daily Show a while back and was curious to hear her talk in more details about her experience and views on the current Middle East situation.

As it happens, I even ranted not long ago about the lack of rational and moderate discourse, in the neverending clusterfuck™ of a situation that is the Middle East. How timely.

No point copy-pasting Anna’s bio, but the skinny is: as a Jewish-American grown up in the US and backpacking her way through North Africa and Asia, she came by herself to the conclusion that many of the views commonly held by her fellow countrymen and community members with regard to contemporary Israeli politics were perhaps overlooking a few teeny details… In particular: serious human right issues with the current treatment of Palestinians in Occupied Territories.

Try as I may, I keep forgetting the kanji for 遺伝子 (いでんし: “gene, genetics”)…

On the other hand I have absolutely no trouble remembering words like 居合い (いあい: “act of drawing one’s katana, killing with a single stroke, shaking out the blood and sheathing the katana back, as one single movement” — yes, it means all that; no, I am not kidding) after seeing them used exactly once.

Which would be great if, you know, there was more assisting with friends’ seppuku and less messing around with genes, in my life right now.

Local campus health center is currently advertising a study on the effectiveness of TCM (漢方) vs. Western medicines as treatment for the common cold. In addition to free medications1, you get a bonus ¥2,000 (in bookstore coupons) for agreeing to be their guinea pigs!

All you have to do is show first-day symptoms of the common cold and sign up.

Screw that scarf-and-winter-coat thing, I am biking home in my underwear tonight…

  1. Provided you are one of the lucky 33% landing in the one group that won’t provide you with sugar pills or dragon scale extract powder. []

Accidentally binning a couple old moleskines and losing a few years worth of miscellaneous pointless notes made me realise that I really ought to commit more of these here. Nothing beats the comfort of geographically spread, redundant server mirrors and automated weekly database backups, not even, it turns out, the soft touch of overpriced paper under that mind-boggingly fancy ball-pen birthday gift.

Last friday’s concert had the delayed effect of throwing me into a Bach-obsessed mood for most of the weekend (in addition to their gorgeous take on cantata BWV 156, the cellist played the perennial Cello Suite 1st movement during a solo interlude). Unlike a lot of the noisy music I belatedly got into as a teenager, Bach and the whole pre-20th century crew have always been in the background when growing up. Bach’s music has such a connection to non-music related childhood memories that my emotional response often tends toward diffuse nostalgia rather than actual musical appreciation, particularly if I am not paying active attention. His famously humongous body of work feels designed to cover an improbable spectrum ranging from the universally accessible and uplifting down to some seriously dry stuff (parts of the less crowd-friendly cello suites — movements in #2 and #4, for example — will test the nerves of even the most adept cello lovers). Some even see mathematical beauty in there, but I have never been too sold on that one.

Yesterday’s concert by Yugao (夕顔) at Zac Baran was absolutely brilliant.

Yugao combines traditional shakuhachi, jazz piano, classical cello and tabla to make music that covers the spectrum from atmospheric folk to very energetic jazz, with a good dose of western classical in the middle.

Surprisingly, all four instruments blended together in a very natural way, with none of the gimmicky feel that sometimes come with these far-fetched collaborations. It was my first time seeing a professional shakuhachi performance live, and I was blown away by the complexity and texture of the sound that guy could get out of his flute, not to mention the obvious physical effort and precision that went into the process (as someone who could probably not even get a sound out of a pan flute, I am always amazed by wind instrument players). Hard to go wrong with tabla (although I wasn’t too crazy about the wind-chimes addition on some of the more atmospheric pieces). Cello and piano mostly played on scores apparently composed by Yoshida Koichi, the shakuhachi player, and made really solid jazz, avant-garde and whatever you can call music made with a shakuhachi, a piano, a cello and a tabla. Some of it sounded vaguely reminiscent of older Sakamoto Ryuichi pieces, but it might just be the whole cello-shakuhachi thing. Their interpretation of the sinfonia from Bach cantata BWV 156 was moving beyond words: the near-weezing haunting sound of the shakuhachi far surpassed what any oboe could ever achieve in expressing the sadness of the original piece.

You can see some of the videos from a past concert (also at Zac Baran) here and most of their tracks on their MySpace page. They also play next week at UrbanGuild and I strongly recommend you check them out!