On the passing of Yoshi Wada

Losing a parent is a difficult experience at any stage of life. To see the end of a relationship you’ve always known, one built on the elder’s absolute love for you is more than simply the loss of a family member. It is the end of childhood.

Not childhood in the sense of requiring an adult’s care. It is the end of knowing that one or two people somewhere in the world love and accept us, no matter what.

The loss of a mother or father is even greater when you share something in addition to the parent-child bond. Spare a thought for Tashi Wada today, who announced the news of his 77-year-old father’s passing on May 20. “I’m totally heartbroken to share that my father Yoshi Wada,” he said, “my hero, passed away unexpectedly this week.”

For most of us, music is a vehicle with which we claim independence from our parents. Not so with Tashi and Yoshi. The two worked together frequently. Tashi’s Saltern label features five of his dad’s titles, alongside his own work and releases by Morton Feldman, Simone Forti and Charles Curtis. Less than a week before his passing, the younger Tashi announced the re-release of his father’s celebrated 1987 recording The Appointed Cloud. It is available on vinyl for the first time.

It must have been a source of great pride for Yoshi, who described the album as one of his favourites. “This performance … was one of the most memorable performances I’ve done,” he wrote. “The space itself – the Great Hall of the New York Hall of Science – was incredible. The building was designed for the 1964-65 World’s Fair and had spaceships hanging from the ceiling so people felt like they were traveling in outer space. It was an amazing experience with the sound of the pipe organ, sheet metal, pipe gong and bagpipes all together. Sixty minutes may seem like a long duration, but it didn’t feel like it.”

Besides the sound installation, the recording features Wada, Bob Dombrowski and Wayne Hankin on bagpipes and Michael Pugliese on timpani and tam-tam. David Rayna is credited with computer interface engineering and software.

Wada first came to the attention of art music lovers as a member of the New York Fluxus movement in the late 1960s. He came to that group after earning a sculpture degree in Japan. Wada made a living as a plumber in the ‘70s, which inspired him to build homemade instruments with found plumbing objects.

Wada’s work developed a uniquely resonant quality as a result, which he developed further with vocals, bagpipes and more complex sound installations.

Along the way, Wada dedicated himself to musical studies. He learned composition from La Monte Young, trained with the great Hindustani vocalist Pandit Pran Nath and studied Scottish Piobaireachd bagpipe music with Nancy Crutcher.

Wada never stopped learning, never stopped delighting his global audience. And I’m sure, never stopped admiring his talented son. He was a treasure.

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