Monday, October 30, 2006

12k/line tour - Ryoudenji Temple

What can I say, really. Ive been wanting to see Richard Chartier and Taylor Deupree play live for a very long time. Both number amongst the few artists whose new works I buy unheard.

And Ryouden-ji! what a wonderful venue for such music. From what I gathered talking to Richard, the son of the resident monk is a music lover, and the monk himself seems to wholeheartedly support his son's efforts to bring musical events to the temple. All up a pretty rare combination.

It was quite a hike from Chichibu - three trains, then bike. The event was supposed to start at 4, but I got there very early - about 2pm.

They were still setting up, so I headed up behind the temple to do some flute practice. It was lovely to hear the playful sound checks - It sunk in then that this was to be a pretty special gig. Someone was playing lovely patterns on a vibraphone, and I played along quietly on the shakuhachi for a while.

I finally met Richard Chartier, who ive talked to on email, and we chatted for ages. His music has always been a source of inspiration and an object of contemplation - quiet and subtle, even when at times confronting and intense. I made him a piece of jewellery a while back, and in return, he gave me a bunch of CDs of his (at the time) unreleased work. He's as lovely and as interesting in person as his music suggests.

His set was great - all the lights out - and the incidental sounds of the night - crickets, people talking, a PA announcement echoing through the streets - all blended in beautifully. When he started to play, the crowd was scattered, and lots of people were in the courtyard talking. by the time he finished, it was dead silent, and everyone was rapt.

Richard also introduced me to Taylor Deupree, another long time favourite artist, who I was surprised to find knew my name from all the email ive sent buying CD's from 12k and Line. He said it was always nice to put faces to the names and email address of the people that buy his work over time.

Also a very warm and relaxed guy, we chatted on and off during the night. He performed with Tetsuro Yasunaga, from Minamo, and together they made a gorgeous piece from sounds fed into their systems live through a mic. bells, some kind of squeezebox, thumb piano, harmonica, all blended together and reworked into something a lot more than just a collection of sounds.

The temple setting really seemed to bring something special out of all the artists. A much more appropriate venue for this kind of music and listening than a pitch-black painted smoky club with sticky floors and nowhere to sit.

For me, the big surprise of the evening were "Trico!" (pronounced Toh-Ree-Coh) - A duo of guy on double bass, and a woman who played accordion, toy piano, harmonium and also sang. Their whimsical warmth and brilliant musicianship gently knocked me off my feet. Very deeply moved.

Things wound up, and people slowly wandered off. I chatted to Richard and Taylor, thanked everyone for their performances, and then headed off on the bike to find a local park to camp in :)

Camping, suburban Tokyo style. I got up early next morning, and played on the trains for a while. Morning peak hour with my bike in its bike bag was interesting. but I got home, still on a huge high from the event that has continued on since.

And, riding back from where I camped near the temple, to the train station, i also found what is now my favourite manhole cover so far...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Polkadot Jersey

I've been doing a lot of riding in the mountains lately. This weekend I've covered around 100km, all of it enjoyable. Even the unintentional addition to my trip up the valley on Friday, where reason prevailed over sense of direction and sent me in the opposite direction to where I needed to go, adding about 20km to my day's ride. It helps that ive been able to just set my own pace, and the Love Bike's super new gears make a big difference.

Today, I visited what will become my Other Favourite Temple. Saizen-ji, just out of Yokoze, which is the next town along the road into Tokyo from Chichibu.

Its a lovely, quiet place with the most gorgeous Momiji (Japanese Maple) I think ive seen anywhere in Japan. Its very large and very old, and Im really looking forward to revisiting it as autumn progresses, to see it change colour.

I tested out my new camp stove sitting on a wooden bench underneath it - cooked up udon noodles in a miso broth.

While I was there, a few other folks passed though - of note was an old Japanese guy, who pulled out a case that had half a dozen harmonica in it and proceeded to play a gorgeous song, which on asking turned out to be a song about Momiji...

Inspired by that, I waited till noone else was around and pulled out my flute and played a bit. I've had a bit of a breakthrough in the last week thats made a big improvement in my playing. I think its now probably good enough to air in public, but I'm still a bit shy, especially in a lovely place like this, where the feeling of quiet is part of what makes it. So I played the first half of Sanya very softly, then headed for home. [update: Ive been told the tree is over 600 years old!]

But not before stopping in at the wonderful home-made Ice Cream shop that Megumi took us to last time I was here. Real matcha (green tea) ice cream is pretty special stuff :)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

I swear! it was 10 feet tall and covered in brown fur!

So there I was, down by the river, and I look up and maybe a hunnerd and fiddy yards further up I see somthin move. I slowly pull out my camera, but it startles and jumps inner the river. I got this one shot of it afore it vanished inter the bushes on the other side.

Now I knows nobuddy is gunna believe me, but I seen it. I seen it all right...

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006


For anyone who wants to post me anything while I am here,

my address is:

Ben Dixon
Hinoda 1-3-42

and if you want to call and have a chat, I have an Australian SkypeIn number that connects via the net to my computer here. the number is (02) 8003 4905. its a local Sydney number - so if you are in sydney, its a local call. if you are interstate, you pay whatever it would cost you to call a Sydney landline.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Beware of Quicksand While Fighting Fires!

It happens when you get carried away with the hose. Water goes everywhere, mixes with the sand and makes a slurry and before you know it, your firefighters are up to their necks in it.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

High Density Living

Paradoxically, thats what I'm doing. Out here in this sleepy mountain town.

My days here are just so full to bursting with good stuff its sometimes hard to keep a lid on. :D Take today, for example. I'm not going near yesterday, when I rode my bike into Tokyo... Tomorrow, ill tell you about Yesterday

As an experiment, im going to put the photos in reverse order, ending at the beginning and beginning at the end...

Today. Slept in (Tokyo yesterday required sleepin today...) Got up. showered. Tried to figure out what proportion of baking powder to flour was needed (no SR flour here) to make fluffy pancakes. Every meal an adventure here. Lots of pancakes.

Glorious day outside.

So its onto the bike and away...

I had a vague plan. Revisit Hossho-ji, my favourite local temple. this involves winding my way up and over the pass - hard going in parts, especially on the way back - and down into the next valley, then out along another fold to Temple Number 32. Hossho-ji.

I can tell you that it is almost exactly 15km.

Exactly because the Love Bike has a cycle computer now. Almost because I had the inevitable 'unexpected exploration' and had to backtrack a little.

I had a bit of a moment today, while sitting high up looking down and out over a heavily forested valley. I'm studying a favourite piece at the moment, called San Ya (Mountain Valley). It has a quality thats hard to describe - restrained? careful? subdued? but yet... something

What I realised was that the only way - the only real way - to understand this piece was to go and sit in the late afternoon stillness on a clifftop, overlooking a valley dense and rich with trees, and play it. And theres that instant thunderbolt of understanding. This - this here, now, sounds echoing down the valley, careful! dont disturb the stillness, yet still filled with the warmth and love of that afternoon sun wanting to burst out. but quietly, gently. part of the stillness. not apart.

Obvious, really. but not till you've done it.

Daha was similar, but its understanding came slower (though somehow still a surprise) - a piece about the ocean and waves. I practiced that most days back in Sydney in the mornings after dropping Patchie off at work. Crazy traffic - no point joining in. So I did an hour or so practice, sitting by the sea. Playing while looking at the water and the waves. watching the ripples and flows. patterns in the reflections. sounds of the surf.

I stayed up top till sunset, and completely unintentionally (really! - im not kidding here!) played the last note of Sanya just as the last of the sun winked out behind the mountains. Good Stuff. Getting to the heart of things.

And like i said at the start - rich. dense. full of life and love.

Which, of course, is how I ended up in the bath :)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Looking in the window

Just wondering who is actually reading this. It'd be cool if you could leave a comment on this entry, so I know who is listening.

Speaking of listening - I've added an auto updating list of music to my blog (look in the sidebar, on the right, down the bottom), and what im currently playing (via a clever plugin for winamp) for anyone interested. ive been finding quite a bit of interesting new music of late. Of note is the new EP by Murcof, whose recent stuff has been just a little patchy if you ask me. in line with this is the new one - Cosmos, two tracks of which are gems, and the other two very iffy.

You might have also noticed the neat row of photos below the title - its a Flickr badge. shows a random selection of photos from my Japan 2006 photoset on flickr. I did experiment very briefly with a javascript based animated badge, but decided that the movement kept pulling attention away from the rest of the page.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Warm in the arms of the Autumn Sun

The rain stopped and the sun finally came out, and the weather has just been stunning. Blue sky, warm but not hot, still. The whole place feels happy. Sounds of kids playing and people gardening. Awesome mountain sunsets with layers of mountains...

Today's lesson was a good one. I finally managed to play Daha half decently. I got the "your understanding of this piece is very good..." comment from Kakizakai that indicates his satisfaction, and feeling that its time to start a new piece.

I'll keep playing it every day as part of my practice - its a wonderful piece, and one I'd like to keep in my able-to-play-on-demand repertoire. As Kakizakai says, my understanding is good, but the piece needs polish. So I'll keep playing it, and over time hopefully it will become as smooth and lovely to touch as an old river stone.

Friday, October 06, 2006

All Summer in a Day

When I was in primary school, my class went on an excursion to see 2001 A Space Odyssey - A film which of course totally blew our minds :)

Before 2001 came on, a short film was screened, about a planet where it never stopped raining.

That film - All Summer in a Day - was such an intensely beautiful, moving experience, that it still echoes in me today. Even now, i come across people who I discover have also seen it, and been moved by it, and knows what a treasure it is. I'd go so far as to say that two people who have seen it share something very special. An understanding, a feeing, i dont know what. But its there - I can feel it.

I didnt realise its significance at first - I was only a primary school kid - though I felt it move me, I was soon rushed off on the trip that was 2001. That was back when time went slowly, and school holidays were a wonderful eternity that never ended.

It was based on a short story by Ray Bradbury. Its proving near impossible to find a copy of the film. A copy on 8mm film exists at ACME - the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, in Melbourne, and I'm hoping that one day I'll be able to borrow it and show it to my friends, and belatedly give them the gift that was unknowingly given me.

It would be easy to look the film up on wikipedia, and spoil it by reading the plot summary. I think that would be a shame though...

Since I got to Japan, it hasnt stopped raining. Yesterday late afternoon, I decided to put on my wet weather gear and venture out. I walked around in the rain, a Self-Contained-Unit, happier by the second to be outside in spite of the weather. I felt like a space explorer wandering around on the surface of an undiscovered planet :)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


When I first got the love bike, it looked like this...

But it had short cranks, made for Japanese legs. The single front chainring was too small - severely limiting top speed, and the solid steel cranks would have made a great boat anchor. So some friends sent me a set of longer mountain bike cranks, with a larger chainring. A bit of creative assembly gave me better gearing, tho it was prone to the chain falling off - but still a definate improvement...

Also added were various accessories, a better seat, and some decent brake pads. Still a lot of room for improvement, however. So before I came over this time, i spent a bit of time shopping on ebay, putting together a box of bits and a grand plan. The result being -

the Love Bike Type-R...

The drivetrain is now 100% mountain bike.

Secondhand 3-chainring Shimano Exage cranks up front. The bottom of the barrel rear derailleur has been replaced with a new Shimano Alivio unit.

An SRAM X5 front derailleur was "creatively modified" to fit - it was designed to fit a 31.8mm tube, but the Love Bike has a 38mm seat tube. Surgery was successful and despite sitting further back that ideal, it is working well.

A neat trick I discovered was to take out the bottom bracket and reverse the axle - its asymmetric, with one side sticking out further than the other. This allowed me to get the chainrings in closer to the frame, much improving the chainline alignment and eliminating the problem of the chain falling off.

Finally, a pair of Shimano RevoShift grip shifters do the job of gear selection.

The overall result is great fun to ride, with good high gearing on the flat, and enough low end gearing that I could ride up a vertical wall. :) Still a few tweaks that could be done, but its a different machine to what it was, and I'll be venturing out into the mountains on it at the first available opportunity. In the meantime, I'll just put the seat way back, turn the bass up and and cruise the main street of Chichibu in style :D

Monday, October 02, 2006

Last week

I moved all my stuff out and said goodbye to the warehouse space ive been living in for the last year and a half. A few people deserve big thanks for helping me - Patchie, Ian, Saskia and Juz in particular. Mat and Georgia, for making some space for me to store some furniture in, and being cool housemates. Lynn and Selina for helping me unload and store at the other end. Which was under the house they and Patchie all live in...

I did have a going away party though, which was also an opportunity for Robert to show us his new Monodeck, and play us some of the new music he's been working on. (which I enjoyed a lot!) Alan also kept us entertained with music, and despite the low-key nature of the party, some good milege was put on the dancing shoes :)

as usual, most photos taken before people started to show up. It was a lovely night - people rolling up all evening, allowing me time to chat to pretty much everyone as they came in. Thanks everyone for coming to share the space, and my excitement about heading off to Japan again!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Voice of Authority

Here is a sound recording i made last night when some kind of announcement was made over the town's PA system. Think speakers on power poles, dotted around the place. It sounds sinister (and i left in the mic rumble deliberately as i thought it enhanced the effect) - though i imagine its just announcing that theres going to be some roadwork or something else totally mundane. Anyone who speaks better Nihongo than I want to translate?