A Changing Picture: Damon Krukowski on Teiji Ito

By Krukowski, Damon | Artforum International, November 2007 | Go to article overview

A Changing Picture: Damon Krukowski on Teiji Ito


Krukowski, Damon, Artforum International


TEIJI ITO IS INVARIABLY LINKED to Maya Deren, since their professional and romantic relationship spanned the last decade of her career, 1952-61, and the first of his. Deren's account of their initial encounter is as steeped in self-mythology as any of the images in her films:

    "Teiji, I have the feeling that if ever you were approached by an
  inquiring reporter and asked for one or two of the most important or
  critical moments in your life--you certainly would have to mention
  that one where I ran into you in front of the five and dime store."
    "When you asked me to do the score for your film."

Ito was only seventeen years old at the time. Born in Japan to a samurai-class family with long-standing ties to the theater, he had immigrated with his parents to the United States shortly before Pearl Harbor. By the time he met Deren, then thirty-five, he had learned to play a variety of instruments and performed onstage accompanying his mother, a dancer, with percussion, but he had yet to compose any music. Nevertheless, as Deren remarked of their first meeting: "I suddenly stopped in the middle of a sentence. Things went clickety-clack in my head and I said 'You're the one!'"

Deren's waking-dream logic was impeccable. Ito proceeded to write the score to her just-completed film, The Very Eye of Night (released in 1958), playing all the instruments and recording it himself--a score that Deren found so complementary she asked Ito to add music to her already classic, and heretofore silent, Meshes of the Afternoon (1943; music, 1959).

This past summer these two key film scores, together with music Ito composed for other film projects both underground and industrial, were released on CD as Music for Maya: Early Film Music of Teiji Ito--the third volume of Ito's music on John Zorn's Tzadik label, which has announced plans to continue documenting this underappreciated composer's work. Together with the two CDs already available--King Ubu (1961), the score for an off-Broadway production of Alfred Jarry's play, and Tenno (1964), the score for an unrealized documentary about the Japanese emperor--Tzadik's series demonstrates the breadth of Ito's work in the New York performing arts of the 1950s and '60s. In addition to filmmakers, Ito collaborated with numerous artists in theater and dance, including Julian Beck and Judith Malina of the Living Theatre, Jerome Robbins and the New York City Ballet, even Broadway producer David Merrick (Ito composed music for the original production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest). More than one hundred hours of tapes of his music are included in an archive at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts; nearly all of the music has never been heard outside its original context.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Although Ito was the consummate collaborator--he once said (in the same interview with Deren quoted above, published with the Music for Maya CD), "The object of working together . …

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