Tue, Jul 17, 2007 - Page 13 News List

Japanese artoutfit pushesthe boundaries

Japanese musician Nobumichi Tosa uses flower-shaped xylophones, singing robots and dancing puppets


Nobumichi Tosa, 40 year-old president of Japanese art unit Maywa Denki, performing at the Esplanade in Singapore.


The lights dim and a spotlight shines on the lean, bespectacled Japanese man in a blue worker's jumpsuit strapped to a metallic winged device with wires and switches.

Seconds later, in a sci-fi-meets-rock-circus moment, he breaks into a series of hip-twisting, finger-snapping movements that produce a sequence of knocks from the ends of the wings.

Meet Nobumichi Tosa, president of Japanese art outfit Maywa Denki.

His ensemble of nonsense instruments includes flower-shaped xylophones, singing robots and dancing puppets, all powered by 100 volts of electricity.

Started in 1993, Maywa Denki, which means Maywa's Electric in Japanese, is a fictitious company which Tosa uses as a platform to promote his art.

"Maywa Denki is very famous in Japan, like Sony, Panasonic and Microsoft," Tosa joked to his audience during a recent performance called Mechatronica at Singapore's premier art complex, The Esplanade.

It was a bizarre 80-minute play of technology and mechanics.

Tosa, 40, and three other jumpsuit-clad men, played Japanese ballads and rock songs using home-made instruments, complete with cheesy choreography and Japanese comic kitsch.

Maywa Denki, which has also toured France, Austria and Hong Kong, is named after his father's bankrupt vacuum tube factory.

Speaking through an interpreter, Tosa said that in a bid to win public acceptance for his art, he packaged his four-man unit as an "electrical company" and developed off-beat inventions and performances.

The creation struck a chord with Japanese audiences.

"They love inventions. They say there is one inventor in each town," said Tosa.

He calls his art works "products" and his exhibitions and performances "product demonstrations." His 300-strong fan club is a "union," as in trade union.

Tosa said he used to play synthesizers but lost interest in normal instruments and decided to invent his own.

Inventive spirit

While the company's primary purpose is making art, Maywa Denki has also come up with more than 100 "products" including a wind-up toy called The Knockman which is sold in the US, France and Hong Kong.

Some of Tosa's instruments can be made to order in Japan.

"It is a company making nonsense, useless products, but very seriously," said Tosa, whose jumpsuit symbolizes the small and medium electrical enterprises that supported Japan's economy during its high-growth period in the second half of the 20th century.

He declines to say how much revenue the company makes but says it is profitable.

Tosa is unabashed about making a sales pitch during his Singapore performance.

"I introduce you our product - automatic tap-dance shoes," Tosa announced while snapping his fingers, which were linked by wires to the shoes, to produce a series of flamenco beats from the footwear. Tosa said malfunctions and electrocutions are common during the shows.

The sound from his complex machines is unpolished and mostly acoustic - a counter to the wildly-popular iPods and similar portable music players whose sound Tosa considers "more data and information than real music."

Tosa's proudest musical invention so far is a singing robot known as Seamoon that has enabled Maywa Denki to conduct performances solely with machines, including self-strumming guitars and automated xylophones.

"I wanted to make the ultimate instrument. The most difficult thing is to make the machines reproduce the human being's voice," he said.

This story has been viewed 2894 times.

Comments will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned.

TOP top