The Limit(s) of Feedback (or, How David Tudor Planned to Turn an Entire Island into a Musical Instrument) + Experiments in Art and Technology: History and Projects in the Environment | January 29 | Kagakūkan



You Nakai is making a presentation about David Tudor’s unfinished project Island Eye Island Ear at the conference “Weathering Ear, Breathing Eye” organized by Kagakūkan. Also presenting will be our special guest Julie Martin, the director of Experiments in Art and Technology, who is flying all the way from New York for this event. You will translate her presentation as well as her discussion with Fujiko Nakaya, who collaborated with Tudor on the island project. Kenjiro Okazaki is also presenting. Then we will all go out to look for an appropriate island in the vicinity in hopes to reenact for the very first time Tudor’s fantastic idea of turning an entire island into a musical instrument.

The Puzzles of David Tudor | October 11 & 25 | Jodo-Fukugo, Kyoto


You Nakai is giving a series of lectures about his research on David Tudor at Jodo-Fukugo, a new art space in Kyoto.

Puzzle 1: “March 5, 1968 (Tue), Issacs Gallery, Toronto”

Puzzle 2: “September 13, 1964 (Sun), Moderna Museet, Stockholm”

On the Many Vehicles of India | Kagakūkan


Something You Nakai wrote recently after traveling in India for a month has been published on the website of Kagakūkan, a research center organized by Fujiko Nakaya and Kenjiro Okazaki. The essay is titled “On the Many Vehicles of India” and is of rather apologetic nature.

On December 31, 2018, I flew from Tokyo to New Delhi. I had just finished the manuscript of my book on the American multi-instrumentalist and composer David Tudor which had kept me occupied for most of that year, and my son Aevi, who usually keeps me occupied when my work does not, was away in San Diego spending winter break with his mother and brothers. Having thus secured time for myself, I decided to travel in India for three weeks. Since I was immersed in writing until the very last minute, I had made almost no plans for the trip. The only thing I had decided in advance was to visit at some point the holy city of Varanasi, a place several different people on several different occasions and for several different reasons had strongly recommended me to go. Or at least that was what I thought. But actually there was one more thing that had been decided beforehand: I was scheduled to give a presentation at the gathering of Kagakūkan the day after my return to Tokyo. Because of this prearrangement, coming up with something clever to say on that occasion was on the back of my mind as I traveled. On January 24, 2019, I had safely returned to Japan and kept my promise by reporting on some of the observations I had made over the course of my travel. The following is a written version of that report, slightly extended and rendered into English (for performativity’s sake).”

Material Bias | April 20-21 | Material Cultures of Musical Notation, Utrecht University, Netherlands


You Nakai is giving a paper called “Material Bias” at the Material Cultures of Musical Notation conference at Utrecht University on Friday.

“It was David Tudor himself who rephrased ‘nature’ as ‘bias’ on a later occasion. Talking about loudspeakers, he observed: ‘Each output mechanism has its own bias. So I must see what its properties are as a natural phenomenon, and not spend my time making it do something against its nature.’ (Tudor 1972: 26) The translation of “nature” into “bias” turns the positivity of the latter into a negativity, as bias does not determine or identify, only constrain. It thereby reveals indeterminacy as a spectrum; as a matter of degree, rather than of kind. For example, a musical score can be understood as a textual bias that constrains, through symbols usually written on paper, the possibility of what can be done––a semiotic bias, so to speak. In this view, a note on a stave does not determine the sound to be produced; it merely imposes a limit on what can be done, especially in regard to pitch and duration. Other signs on the score add other constraints, such as the type of instrument to be used which is usually specified in language. There are further constraints that are unwritten yet imposed either as socio-cultural norms or physical-physiological conditions: performers, for instance, are usually expected to not hum along with whatever is being played, or to not take off their clothes while performing; they are also expected to be constrained by gravity, or to have ten fingers and two arms, no more, no less.


However, Tudor’s approach also explored another aspect of the musical score that had been relatively ignored in standard practice. Starting from Feldman’s Intersection 3 the pianist wrote out a separate realization score instead of playing directly from the composer’s score. This added yet another phase to the process of realization. And what he focused on in this phase was the physical properties of the score: taking precise measurements of the pages and using the obtained numbers in one way or another to determine parametric values. Other materials would be employed in this task of measurement, some of which Tudor even designed himself. Holzaepfel revealed two such instruments used in the realization of Earle Brown’s Four Systems (1954) to measure the horizontal lines: (1) a template with 88 tracks covering all the keys of the piano to determine exact pitch; and (2) a pair of calipers to determine exact duration. The given material biased the universe of possibilities not only through signs and norms but also through its own tangible and measurable nature. The focus of Tudor’s realization circa 1954 thus became grounded on the material bias of the score, which was not only semiotic but also physical.”

PAST FUTURE PERFECT/PEST FUTURE PERFECT | March 3 & March 6 | Kinosaki International Art Center/Mrs. Triangle, Osaka

This gallery contains 2 photos.

We are showing the result of various human experiments we’ve conducted during our two-weeks residency at the giant theater of Kinosaki International Art Center tomorrow. Also we will travel to Osaka after this to present “Pest Future Perfect” where we … Continue reading

BEFORE AFTER EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC | February 10 | Cornell University, Ithaca, NY


You Nakai is presenting a paper at the “After Experimental Music” conference happening at Cornell University next week. It’s called “Before After Experimental Music” and talks about his work on David Tudor in connection to his works as No Collective with a criticism of Actor Network Theory (yawn) inserted somewhere in between. Come to Ithaca, it might be interesting!

Before After Experimental Music: The Case of David Tudor with Some Minor Implications for the Present

This paper presents three nested case studies. The first is an exposition of David Tudor’s experimentalism which was intertwined with the more well-known experimentalism centering around the discourse/practice of John Cage. Despite his extensive collaboration with Cage, Tudor’s focus was quite removed from his collaborator’s, concentrating on what he called the “nature of instruments,” which grounded his idiosyncratic practice as performer/composer of experimental music. The second case study problematizes the first by asking what the nature of a “case” is, and why, when scholars like myself investigate the history of experimental music, we end up focusing on “cases” to make our point, despite our well-meaning and well-funded efforts to indefinitely trace the potentially infinite network of actors. I connect the ontological status of “cases” to that of experiments in the natural sciences, depicting their necessarily biased and local nature as well as the form of closure which seems to block the otherwise endless flow of agencies in the network model. I argue that “cases” present a case of experimental objectivity that is not universal but situated, and thus related to the specific nature of objects assembled in the collective—the instruments involved. This experimental and instrumental nature of cases correlates to the biased and localized position of the particular observer of history who frames or fabricates cases as such. The third case study capitalizes on the implications of the above analyses to focus on a series of miniature expositions of more recent, relatively unknown endeavors in experimental music that I have been personally associated, including my own project, No Collective ( What arises through this meandering trajectory is the problem of who is tracing the network, with what interests, using what resources, and under what conditions, which also brings into question the seemingly neutral authority of our vista wishing to foresee what comes after experimental music.

Untitled: David Tudor’s “Never-Ending Series of Discovered Works” | November 11, 2017 | American Musicological Society meeting, Rochester, NY

You Nakai is presenting a paper on Tudor’s Untitled/Toneburst at the annual meeting of American Musicological Society.
Untitled: David Tudor’s “Never-Ending Series of Discovered Works”
In 1972, David Tudor composed Untitled, a seminal work of live-electronic music in which modular electronic components are hooked up to form feedback loops in order to generate sounds without exterior input. Tudor’s innovative approach has exercised a wide influence on the later development of noise music, and has been hailed as the precursor of the current trend of “no-input feedback” in electronic music. However, the nature of Untitled is shrouded in enigma. The configuration diagram of components employs peculiar symbols of Tudor’s own design, obstructing a straightforward identification of instruments. More critically, Tudor’s description of the piece as “part of a never-ending series of discovered works” calls into question the very delineation of Untitled as a standalone “work.” A subsequent remark that “all versions are performed live,” furthers the mystery—is Untitled a part of a series, or a series in itself? Resorting to its performance history only adds more layers of confusion. Despite his aim to perform everything live, the proliferation of components forced Tudor to record the output of an initial set-up in advance and use this as input source to a simplified configuration in performance. In 1975, Tudor created Toneburst, set to Merce Cunningham’s Sounddance, which used the same no-input principle without resorting to recorded sources. Shortly before his death, Tudor revived Toneburst for other musicians of the Cunningham company to perform, while expressing reservations for Untitled to be performed by others. Again, a mereological-ontological question ensues: is Toneburst a “version” of Untitled? Or is it yet another “part of a neverending series”? This paper presents a genealogical inquiry into the Untitled/Toneburst complex through detailed examination of extant sketches, instruments, and recordings. By decoding Tudor’s symbols, the components of Untitled and Toneburst have been fully identified. The analysis of recordings has further revealed that the same three source tapes were used not only in all performances of Untitled, but also in all performances of Toneburst after its revival. These revelations offer a key to articulate the idiosyncratic status of “work” in Tudor’s live-electronic music, and its connection to his distinct approach to composition and performance.