Japanese Avant-garde Music
in the Sixties
Yayoi Uno Everett
In September 1994, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City hosted a retrospective exhibition of Japanese avant-garde art since 1945, titled “Scream against the Sky” after Yoko Ono’s conceptual piece of the same name. The catalog of works from this exhibition displays numerous paintings and sculptures that capture the explosive and confrontational spirit of the Anpo Movement in the early 1960s, which was marked by large-scale protests and riots against the renewal of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty (the “Nichibei Anzenhosho Joyaku” or “Anpo” for short). This period gave birth to a rich legacy of artistic and musical avant-garde creativity. This essay examines the interrelation of the discursive trajectories of the postwar avant-garde with the political sphere, focusing on the developments in avant-garde music at the Sogetsu Center for the Arts in Tokyo during the early sixties, and their ramifications in the following decades.
On September 8, 1951, Japan entered a military partnership with the United States, which spurred political controversy throughout the decade. As the Security Treaty gave the United States the right to station troops in Japan (Article I) and prohibited Japan from giving bases to a third power without U.S. consent, it instilled fear in the minds of many that Japan would soon become a military base in the expanding cold war.1 Against the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) which sided with the U.S., the Japan Socialist Party (JSP), Communist Party (JCP), and progressive intellectuals relentlessly opposed these measures through staging protests and demonstrations.2 Under the umbrella of