Carmen X Cage – A Mix of Music, Word and Art Installation

by Felicitas Blanck January 22, 2019

Five famous artists, three of them musicians, one visual artist and a lyric – this is what the evening at Japanese-German Center Berlin was made up of. The guests were in for a splendid performance melting several artistic genres.

Aki Takase (piano), Daniel Erdmann (saxophone), Mayumi Nakamura (vocal), Yōko Tawada (lyrics), special guest: Chiharu Shiota (art)

The performance was based on two parts, the first being a concert of compositions from Bizet’s Opera “Carmen” with Aki Takase at the Piano and Daniel Erdmann at the saxophone accompanying Mezzosoprano Mayumi Nakamura. The second part was a performance of poems and other texts by Yōko Tawada, accompanied and interpreted by Takase and Erdmann. As tickets were very sought-after, access was only possible by prior registration and the concert fully booked.


The most striking part of the evening was the musical performance. When Aki Takase, an extraordinary contemporary Jazz musician, pianist as well as componist, is in concert there is a lot to expect. Especially in Jazz, a working collaboration is doing the trick for a memorable concert.
That certainly was the case with this evening – it was brilliant to watch highly skilled artists like these five taking delight in improvising together, interacting and encouraging each others’ play. The pure cheerfulness of the performance clearly infected the audience and made us sit spellbound listening to what might happen next – and we weren’t disappointed.

With the first part of the evening consisting of works by Aki Takase based on Bizet’s Opera Carmen, the audience had time to get to into the mood. The interplay between pianist and saxophonist as well as the voice interpretation by Mayumi Nakamura showed the playful side of Carmen’s character. Provocative, proud and imperious, Nakamura wandered around the stage and interacted with the other musicians.

Words and sound

In the second part, entitled “words and sound”, the performance merged texts and poetry by Yōko Tawada with musical interventions by Aki Takase and Daniel Erdmann into one very rhythmic and at times even comic piece of art. Both music and texts paid tribute to composer John Cage. As Aki Takase lives in Berlin since 1988 and Yōko Tawada since 2006, it seems a nod to feeling in both Japan and Germany at home that the performance had pieces full of wordplays in Japanese as well in German. Even a joke was told referring to that Bizet was Basque and the language is thought to be so difficult, even the devil wouldn’t be able to learn it – so the Basques never finish up in hell. To me, as a German not knowing any Japanese it was great fun watching the enthused reactions to the Japanese puns and myself only being able to appreciate the pure sound of them.

Takase and Tawada collaborate since 20 years, and it showed that both are a well balanced team: the pianist often took up words from the recitation, improvised on them and the Lyric echoed back the sound by making up new words. It was never quite clear, if it was so well rehearsed that we did not realize what was made up right there in the moment.


The presentation was not only fascinating in the musical sense, but visually as well. The emerald green dress Aki Takase wore was of complementary colour to the light red net, installed as backdrop by Chiharu Shiota. Added to that Mezzosoprano Mayumi Nakamura wore an electric blue dress during the first part of the performance, Daniel Erdmann a green tie and finally Yōko Tawadas a red Shirt.

The background installation by Chiharu Shiota was in my taste too reluctant, it wasn’t much more than a plastic net functioning as a colourful backdrop for the performance, though it says on the JDZB’s website it “visualizes the pleasure of listening”. When watching more closely, the net consisted of smaller and bigger loops, stretching over the wall similar to a world map in its shape. As the performance didn’t provide more input regarding the function of the net, I suppose it wasn’t meant to be more than a visual accent. It might have been fascinating to see a more ambitious artwork with more interaction between the installation and the other artists so that a kind of “Gesamtkunstwerk” could have developed.


© for all pictures: Japanisch-Deutsches Zentrum Berlin. Thank you!

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