translated by Kaoru Maruyama
Originally printed in KAI Magazine, Tokyo. July, 1985.
Right from the start I want to make it quite clear that no one from the Rosenberg family is putting me up to write this article, since the money is lousy. No, I'm just doing it for my own publicity. I've been giving hand jobs to Salarymen all my life and I'm really sick of it. Now I've decided to become a writer and if you like this stuff, don't forget to contact my publisher Omanko Press and ask for some more. One other thing, this was originally written in Japanese - so if at times it doesn't make much sense, blame Kaoru Maruyama and not the Japanese electronics industry.
I run a small business in Golden Gai ; for those of you who don't know, this is a red light district in Tokyo. Although we've been moving up market for a while now, we still seem to be tarnished with the reputation of the nearby Kabuki-cho. That district is all run by gangsters, we'll have none of that here. We cater for clients who require privacy and a sense of discretion, members of the Government, rock stars, bank managers - that kind of person. It wasn't always like that.
In the 60s it was the hip place to come. I remember the film director Nagisa Oshima and the writer Akiyuki Nozaka hanging out here. And then, of course, Rosenberg used to come back from time to time. Not many people know that. They think his association with Japan ended with the war - he was a fighter ace with the Imperial Air force. You know, for a violin player, he was one hell of a weird guy! He was into everything (but I'm glad to say not anyone) Japanese - from flower arranging to Kabuki Theatre. At the time I was still very young and I helped my mother run the place, she was one of the first Mama-sans although most straight people thought of her as Onri . This was a put-down term because she had to service American GIs. But business was good, we were rebuilding our country, and MacArthur wasn't so bad. Then after the Korean war we hit a bad period. Nobody came here much. Most of the clubs were boarded up, leaving just a few bars with transvestites - those guys always survive!
So I had to take a job. On the other side of Shibuya there was a factory making musical instruments and toys, mostly violins. It was work for dogs. When I started, the place was producing its violins in cheap pressed metal. Each violin consisted of five parts, stamped out on the machine that also generated the parts for the first Suzuki mopeds. I worked in the assembling department, soldering the pieces together around a small mould. The system never functioned completely well and there was always a lot of trouble with the modelling on the scroll. The metal was extremely hot and that was a serious problem. If one worked with gloves, it was difficult to achieve the necessary accuracy and you would find the controller throwing your violins out (and that could mean not keeping up to the quota which could mean the end of your job which could mean...) I worked without gloves and I have the scars here to prove it. Of course, there was nothing like a Union. We worked 10 hour shifts. There was no meal break, just the possibility of two five-minute breaks to pee and smoke a cigarette. Sometimes that was not so easy as you had to attract the attention of the foreman so he could take over your machine (to leave the machine unattended got you instant dismissal). I remember our foreman well, his name was Akiko Yosano - he would pinch your backside and try to grab your tits while you were with both hands occupied on the machine. It was dangerous, the press could crush your hand easily because there was no protection guard. Once a week he would come and time your job, standing there in his white coat, a stop watch in his extended arm. We used to call him Honourable Pig'.
On the top shelf in my bar I have one of these metal toy violins. It is mangled up into an extraordinary distorted lump, like a piece of Cubist art. It was sent to me by NY artist Christian Marclay, he found it on a junk heap in Vienna. I know it's one of mine because of the serial number. Sometimes I wonder what happened to the rest of them; I made tens of thousands!
After I had been with Suzuki for two years, they changed
over to making plastic violins. There was a slight improvement in the
The hours were the same but the work was safer and cleaner. I still get
nightmares about this time.
1. Close the doors 2. Press the button
3. Plastic descends from hole above eye level 4. It hangs there momentarily
5. The mould crashes shut 6. Pick up the last violin that came out 7.
Trim off excess plastic from the joins 8. Put it on the conveyor belt
9. Just in time for the doors to spring open 10. Pull the violin from
the hand mould (it was always the left one) 11. Place it in the row on
the collection table 12. Close the doors 13. Press the button Repeat.
1. Close the doors 2. Press the button 3. Plastic descends from hole above eye level 4. It hangs there momentarily 5. The mould crashes shut 6. Pick up the last violin that came out 7. Trim off excess plastic from the joins 8. Put it on the conveyor belt 9. Just in time for the doors to spring open 10. Pull the violin from the hand mould (it was always the left one) 11. Place it in the row on the collection table 12. Close the doors 13. Press the button Repeat.
Akiko Yosana got his promotion and a few of us figured out a way of slowing the machine down in between the stop watch inspections. As you can imagine, we were eventually caught. I went back on the game. Just on an aesthetic note, I'm glad that the plastic violins never really caught the public's attention. Nothing, then or since, has the quality and charm of those early metal violins. And the rusty one on my shelf is ART - definitely. Anyway you are paying for an article on Rosenberg, not on me. Why did he come back?
You know, in the West you talk about blue movies or red light district. Well, here in Japan we talk about Mizu Shobai (the Water Business) and the most important colour in the Water business is the colour pink. That's why I call my club The Pink Violin . Yes. Of course, it's to do with Rosenberg as well.
Initially, I think Rosenberg was attracted to Japan because it had, for him, an alternative sense of reality. OK so maybe the Kamakura period can be considered parallel to the Age of Chivalry in Europe (14th Century) with it's samurai mystique. But in our country exists the poetry of extremes ; the ability to take that extra step on the road to transcendental awareness. Hara-Kiri , for example, is a very good subject to bring up at a Western dinner party. Rosenberg's education was a Kamikaze pilot; but foreigners find it strange that he simultaneously studied the ancient tradition of flower arranging. For us, it is perfectly natural. It's in the history.
The paradox of the violent Kamakura period is that, at this time, Buddhism became a dominant feature of our culture. At the end of the fourteenth century, the influential Ming dynasty brought to Japan the refinements of tea with one or two lumps of Neo-Confucian doctrines. (I usually throw this historical stuff in for clients with a more fetishistic view of the world Religion, Pussy, or Violins - or a combination of the same.) To continue: this stirred the Ashikaga shoguns and their 'can't wait to do it' rivals up into a permanent state of civil war until the beginning of the seventeenth century. Meanwhile flower arranging, ritual belly-splitting suicide, landscape gardening, penis amputation (a fashion started by Sade Abe , who carried her lover's member around in a Furoshiki - cloth for wrapping gifts), calligraphy, and Noh Theatre were all developing into the stylised activities that we have become accustomed to today.
As, at the same time, the Christians were dealing with their heretics in Europe, so were the Shoguns dealing with the Christians (a Portuguese export) in Japan. The gift of our people for imitation can perhaps be traced from this time. Death came to its victims in almost identical fashion as in the West - alive in the same period were: burnings at the stake; crucifixion; decapitation; cooking alive in boiling oil; mass violin lessons.
Another side to Japanese culture that appealed to Rosenberg was the ideal of anachronistic behaviour - but observed as a positive condition. Or to put it another way, Western values of guilty contradiction played no part in the violinist's career. For example:
Rosenberg's recordings from the 60s were paid for by the profits emanating from a porn movie house just down the road in Daison Soko . It specialised in film versions of classic novels. Titles like A history of a Famous Courtesan Who Plucked Out Her Pubic Hair or The Lascivious Tangled Bush (both from 1778). I know that piece of information is going to shock a few people, however, that's the way he used to raise money for many of his non-commercial (but expensive) projects. I know for sure that The End to End Violin project used money that came in from The Honourable Tales of Hardship in Search of the Ultimate August Place - but that utilised a lot of violins, laid out in a spiral around Mount Fuji. (In springtime it looked magnificent!)
I know this is a red herring but Johannes-san formulated this strange idea from his research on Shinto Fertility Festivals and the stories surrounding the (Sex) goddess Benten . Statues of Benten normally have her playing the Biwa (Japanese Lute). Predictably enough, Rosenberg had some made in which the Biwa has been replaced with a violin.
One day we took a walk together on the mountain. The cherry blossom still lay on the ground and the doctor was in high spirits. He spoke to me about a project. He said it was The Definite Violin project. From this germ would come a fundamental change in violin music and, indeed, all music world wide. His eyes were flashing.
"We are going to make a lot of porn" he said, "because we are going to need a huge amount of Yen."
"We are going to reproduce and reproduce and reproduce. When a hand reaches out to pluck the definite flower - that most beaut' of all beauties, it will be a fake. It will come from my factory. When they listen to a haunting melody from one of their favourite violinists - it won't be. It will come from me. It's a substantial Project!"
19 And he went forth unto the Land
that is called Pink. Yea, even unto the very heart of that said land. And
he seeth verily one of the daughters of Shibuya. The one of the brethren
assembled at that place saw the fire that burneth and the spirit that was
sore vexed. And he said unto him:
20 As there never a woman among
thy daughters that thou here comest to take a woman that is uncircumcised;
seek thou an occasion against us? And the Angel of the Ancestors came mightily
upon him and he fell upon the Earth in shame and guilt. And he put on sackcloth
and partook of the rice wine as is the custom.
21 And the sister that is called
Manami hath pity on him; And she went down unto him and lay sore upon him
and under him and in all manner of things did she pleaseth him. And he
was well pleased. And he rose up out of the honourable place and visited
his wife and half score offspring which were abundant. And he sayeth; I
will go in unto my wife.
22 And it came to pass, five minutes
later that there arose in house of Suzuki a great storm. And his wife that
is called Ushi said unto him; Behold thou hast mocked me and told me lies.
For there it is written in lipstick on your backside, that is called arse,
the sigh of Manami; Tell me oh husband wherewith thou mightest be bound
that I may cause you pain and suffering.
23 And he said unto her, bindeth
thou my legs with new ropes and a stick behind my knees. And she tricketh
him that he might think it was for pleasure, but her wrath was visited
upon the great one who had fallen from on high; And there was sore affliction
in the house of Suzuki and he cried out. For seven days and seven nights
24 And when the people saw him,
they gave praise to their Gods: For they said, he is delivered up unto
us, the destroyer of our country. Which slew many of us.
25 And he cried out again; Ye people
of Shibuya when I am restored to my rightful place I will pay unto you
countless shekels of Yen. Peace be unto thee; verily. Howsoever let all
thy wants lie upon me; Rejoice for he that soever puts her trust in me
shall no more work upon the street. I am honourable.
26 But the women of the said illrepute
would listen not to this evil serpent and they smote him; again and again
they smote him, yea even unto death, but being merciful, not quite
20 As there never a woman among thy daughters that thou here comest to take a woman that is uncircumcised; seek thou an occasion against us? And the Angel of the Ancestors came mightily upon him and he fell upon the Earth in shame and guilt. And he put on sackcloth and partook of the rice wine as is the custom.
21 And the sister that is called Manami hath pity on him; And she went down unto him and lay sore upon him and under him and in all manner of things did she pleaseth him. And he was well pleased. And he rose up out of the honourable place and visited his wife and half score offspring which were abundant. And he sayeth; I will go in unto my wife.
22 And it came to pass, five minutes later that there arose in house of Suzuki a great storm. And his wife that is called Ushi said unto him; Behold thou hast mocked me and told me lies. For there it is written in lipstick on your backside, that is called arse, the sigh of Manami; Tell me oh husband wherewith thou mightest be bound that I may cause you pain and suffering.
23 And he said unto her, bindeth thou my legs with new ropes and a stick behind my knees. And she tricketh him that he might think it was for pleasure, but her wrath was visited upon the great one who had fallen from on high; And there was sore affliction in the house of Suzuki and he cried out. For seven days and seven nights he cried.
24 And when the people saw him, they gave praise to their Gods: For they said, he is delivered up unto us, the destroyer of our country. Which slew many of us.
25 And he cried out again; Ye people of Shibuya when I am restored to my rightful place I will pay unto you countless shekels of Yen. Peace be unto thee; verily. Howsoever let all thy wants lie upon me; Rejoice for he that soever puts her trust in me shall no more work upon the street. I am honourable.
26 But the women of the said illrepute would listen not to this evil serpent and they smote him; again and again they smote him, yea even unto death, but being merciful, not quite
till he was dead. It was an accident, we said it was necessary to get ahead of the odds, to get an operational freedom. We borrowed the accident - well they do happen, don't they? We don't like it when they happen to us but we do like them happening. It's the dramatic thing. I mean if we are hanging in there for a long time and there's no accident, it's boring. And then it starts to make everybody tense. That was the genius of Johannes-san, he wanted to supply accidents - accidents en masse . That's another reason he came back here. Usually it is only the odd bits of an alien culture that have some validity in your own thinking. Normally we remove these aspects out of their context and put them up as references only for our own expression - like pot plants on the window ledge of a fifty-five storey apartment block. Well, I guess Rosenberg wanted the whole thing, the whole perspective all the time. He used to quote this guy Numbertico Naturana before we made love: Social creativity is necessarily antisocial in the social domain in which it takes place'. Wow! That used to really turn me on I can tell you.
I intended to bring the power of suggestion into focus as a fundamental element in the structural misrepresentation. As a model for this process I have been inspired by the Koto. This seven string instrument tends constantly towards imagined sounds. For example, a vibrato is prolonged after all audible sound has ceased; the unplucked string, set in motion by a sudden arrested glissando, produces a sound that is barely audible even to the performer. I have witnessed many Koto performances in which the instrument is used to suggest rather than produce music. And what happens when production itself becomes the instrument of suggestion? A sky filled with flying notions?
Don't forget! Bell's theorem shows that statistical predictions of Quantum Theory or the Principle of Local Causes is false. Both cannot be true.
Let us take another idea at the heart of the Japanese music tradition. As William P. Malm has also realised, the patterns for the Biwa are only partially to do with melody (as we with a Western music education understand it). My research on the North Island has shown that the frets on the Biwa are far from regimented. The distances vary from district to district, from village to village. Thus a common Biwa melody such as Tonight the Moon is Red is played throughout the North with identical fingering but it sounds completely different, with regard to pitch, depending on where the listener happens to be. Add to this a sometimes extreme use of pitch bending (by string pulling behind the fret), the lower placement of the frets on the Heike -Biwa and a general lack of concern for specific tonal relationships, then we end up with identical movement skills being a practical metaphor in the advancement of wild variation form. It's the percussive doing' that really counts: let's take that away and listen to them scream for delight and, perhaps, mercy - mercy! This is, indeed, a comforting thought as we push on the with the replacement of the musician by his or her replica. With it, we might have the chance to return to the full horror of believability evident in earlier music cultures. As McLuhan puts it:
'Terror is the normal state of any oral society for in it everything affects everything, all the time.'
You can't shut your ears to the petrifying disease of technological mutation, even with your hearing-aid turned off.
There is a rendezvous with the marketing manager John Korn at Lady Jane's , it's a small jazz cafe in Shibuya. Tokyo is full of these little places and they all have a wall to wall collection of jazz records. He doesn't know me and he doesn't know about this article. He checks me out, probably one of those guys who hang out at a No-Pantie Coffee Shop - you know the places with the mirrored floors. When I tell him that I own The Pink Violin , he chills out a little. I bet his name isn't John Korn either. He is wearing glasses with telescopic lenses. So the deal is - he informs me about The Definite Violin and I give him the time of his life.
So what is it? It's a factory? Does it keep to Rosenberg's original specifications? It does, huh. How long has it been fully functional? Since the mid seventies? What or who is their most successful product? Miles Davis? You're putting me on man. OK so who is that guy they wheel out every year for the North Sea Jazz Festival, that's not Miles Davis? I don't believe you. You made him at your factory? That's incredible. A lot of fans are going to be really pissed off when they hear about this - they think they are listening to the real thing. Don't you have any sense of responsibility? I also paid good money to see him here in Japan a few years ago!
That wasn't him, right.
'In a few years time we intend to kill him off, the fake one that is; we finished with the other one a long while back. Watch the newspapers in 1991.'
Oh Rice Cubes! Why d'you pick on him, he doesn't even play the violin. I see, you got violin players too. Nigel Kennedy - is he something to do with The Kennedys?
'No, but he might as well be. This is one of our more recent products. We're still not a hundred percent happy with it. It's easy to spot the fabrication. I mean no real musician would go around acting like such a jerk, would they?'
What about real pretend violinists?
'Like Laurie Anderson, you mean. Well she's not one of ours but, I have to say, quite a good fake. Her old boyfriend, Bob Bieblecki, made all those violin gadgets for her, but it's obvious nobody ever showed her how to play the violin. Fakes have to be more convincing that. She is simply too boring, too bland. Not uneven enough.
We could say that the Rosenberg aesthetic can be defined as being Post Lamp-Post .'
Don't you mean Post Modern?
'No, I mean Post Lamp-Post. Its the aesthetics of being uneven and enjoying it. To be first past the Post Lamp-Post doesn't matter really. Hell, the whole Rosenberg family is probably the most uneven bunch of talent ever to surface in music. You should check out the archives here - we can make instant event, artifact and personality comparisons. (He gets out his portable, soon to be on the market computer, right there in the cafe). Just at random, let's see what we've got under Jimmi Rosenberg , the Country and Western (later turned new wave hero) singer. Under B . Yes, this looks quite interesting. The Banned Recordings of Jimmi Rosenberg . And this song was submitted to the Tamworth Country & Western Awards of 1973 (Australia), under the category Songs of Love and Hate'.
Truck Whippin' Woman by Jimmi Rosenberg
You're everythin' underneath the sun You look just like a sweet pink plum You were my dream, my reality And I liked y'r abusive personality You were the way to beyond belief I saw your arse cause y're skirt's too brief You whipped me good in your Colosseum Then you showed me round your love museum You could scratch real good, I liked your style You could Mona Lisa with a wicked smile You made me scream and twist and shout Then you stood on brains and I flopped right out You were meant for me, I was meant for you That should have been our scoobie doobie doo But you hammered and nailed me to an ol' settee And now I whistle a lonely melody (chorus) truck whippin' woman, truck whippin' girl come'n pull these nails out cause I'm in hell.
Mm. Well, I think it's got something, I thought to myself. Korn was beginning to think in other directions as I noticed his slime ball eyes appearing at the top of his sweaty spectacles. I guess we were getting to that stage of the proceedings. Let's go to a Love Hotel , he indicated while firmly closing the portable.
O.K. I want to break in here. My name is Jippi Rosenberg, I'm a sister and I've had enough of all this paradox stuff. So what's wrong with Madonna? What does it matter if everyone runs around dressed like American teenagers? I couldn't care less if there are 10,000 saxophone players all sounding the same. I seen all those images flickering on the idiot box. What gets me is when some loud fella starts on about Rap music. About how it's now, about how it's rebellion, about how it's revolutionary - got rid of the melody, got rid of the musicians, about how it's rhythm is meaning the struggle of the young fellas.
Hey Mister, I'm part Aboriginal and we been doing rap music for the last 40,000 years - telling stories an' that. The thing is, everybody's lost their song. In the old days we used the song to sing up' the country, if you didn't sing you didn't get nothing to exist. Nothing to see, nothing to do. Now it's just white folks making business, all music becomes business. Now there is no power left in the music.
We made our way to Roppongi. He
The Alpha Love Hotel
. This was fine by me as I had
been employed there previously to create a couple of the theme rooms'.
I get a percentage every time on of my numbers is used.
I told him to keep his hands off my backside until we were inside the hotel. As s typical japanses woman, I kept my mandatory mask or Tatemae about me as I dealt with the Yankee. In his line of work, more than any other, our emotions, or Honne , are not available for the client.
The themes at Alpha are quite extensive - Ford Convertibles, the Marquis de Sade, Crucifixion, Doctor's Waiting Room, Black Mass, Bodily Fluid Fantasy, etc. They contain, as you would expect, the usual ropes, straps, whips, constricting leather and rubber underwear. The Rosenberg Theme Salons cater for a whole range of tastes, from the casual petite bourgeois to the serious psychotic . Which end of the spectrum can be quickly judged by a glimpse through the obligatory Ero-Manga (erotic comics). Violence and splatter are ubiquitous throughout. But there is much, much more - and it has been copied often by some of the 30 or so S & M clubs around Tokyo. On one room is a comprehensive series of woodcuts (copies of Rosenberg's private collection) under the theme Violin Music for Sexual Predators . Another room is instructive in violin perversions, using the violin case (as much as the instrument itself) for assisted or simulated sex acts. Another room encourages its occupants to make love in a giant violin case filled with spaghetti under a portarait of Niccolo Paganini. Other rooms still, deal with a more philosophical approach - often with intersting background information for the tourist. For example:
Violin Music for the Temporary Relief of Existential Pain
So I guess you're all hanging out
to know what I did to this guy. Like, you wouldn't have bothered to read
this stuff otherwise, would you? Well they're not paying me any extra for
this so tough shit, but let;s just say I did about everything you can do
with fresh spaghetti, a cock and a violin.
After I had finished the job I sat there in one of the large comfortable chairs and lit a cigarette. I removed the video cassette and flipped the romote to a regular TV network.Don't remember now what the program was - some game show I think. I had left my client in the bathroom about half an hour earlier with the pasta stuffed into every orifice, his eyes bulging; last heard him making little grunts and gurgling sounds. Then came no sound at all.
On the opposite wall, in a very tacky frame, hung a small piece of Rosenberg memorabilia:
'WE ARE CREATING A MONOPHONIC CULTURE WHICH ADDRESSES ITSELF IN GREY AND MONOTONOUS TONES. NOTHING IS LEFT TO CHANCE, TALENT IS UNREQUIRED, THE TERRITORY OF EXPERIENCE IS CONTROLLED, REDUCED AND CHEAPLY SOLD. BUT FOR THOSE WHO WOULD DEAL WITH FATE, THERE ARE STILL THE BOUNDARIES OF DESIRE WHERE THE LOGIC OF MEANING EVAPORATES'
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