If someone’s in touch with the music of the cosmos it’s Kagawan Toshi Tsuchitori. The music I’m sharing from his 1980 release, Breath, gives us a peek at what would set him off on his life-long journey to create music that harkens back to Japan’s prehistoric time. Now known primarily as a percussionist, Breath is the rare percussion-free Toshi Tsuchitori album that captures his unique take on what experimental performance music could be. Before we, the royal, GRAND “human” WE, had the power to manipulate sound on tape and conjure all sorts of sonics at will, we had other ways to affect music. We always had some natural, innate instinct to create it.


Performed and recorded live in three different locales – Theater Onze, in Lausanne, Switzerland, A.R.C. Musee D’art Moderne, in Paris, France, and Tee Tree Gully Hill, in Adelaide, Australia – Breathe finds Toshi focusing almost exclusively on using his voice to perform songs that feature long, expressive voice modulations and drones. The most expressive sections finds Toshi matching his lyricless, vocal undulations with instruments that were created ages ago in an attempt to match and mingle with the expressiveness a sung, human voice has. Bamboo flutes, harmoniums, and cello here become subsumed into Toshi’s shape-shifting vocal technique in order to display their relationship with the eternal instrument.

The album begins like humanity would. It begins with a wordless, shapeless human voice discovering the beauty in variation of pitch and duration. As the album matures and you, as a listener, can start to understand what Toshi is attempting to do. It’s this sudden realization: that all these techniques that allow him to sing from his lips, throat, and belly, to stretch or contract such tones, are possible because the human breath is the most malleable, percussive, and modulating effect tool we have.

As much as we try to create the most intricate/outlandish devices we can think of to create sonic worlds beyond on our reach, every human has within them this fascinating, grand, powerful instrument – something we’ve had since the dawn of time – to cultivate things that are still entirely unimaginable. Different environments may allow us to affect different tones, but its true potential, as you can hear in Breath, has always been limitless and eternal. Now, here’s another one to that thought…

This music is dedicated to the creator of Breath.

A3 performed on December 13, 1979, Theater Onze, Lausanne, Switzerland.
A4 performed on February 6, 1980, A.R.C. Musée d’art Moderne, Paris, France.
B1 [featured below] performed May 19, 1980, Tea Tree Gully Hill, Adelaide, Australia.
B2 performed December 12, 1979, Theater Onze, Lausanne, Switzerland.

  • From Liner Notes to Toshi Tsuchitori: Breath.