Quirky art group Maywa Denki make music with instruments they invent

Art-music group Maywa Denki call themselves “parallel-world electricians” and invent their own musical instruments. -- PHOTO: ESPLANADE
Art-music group Maywa Denki call themselves “parallel-world electricians” and invent their own musical instruments. -- PHOTO: ESPLANADE

Quirky art group Maywa Denki make music with instruments they invent such as singing robots

You have heard of Best Denki, a Japanese company selling electrical and electronic goods. But what about Maywa Denki, a Japanese "company" that promotes "self-playing" music instruments, a barking "gun" and comprises salary men who like to sing wildly with their neck ties around their head?

Well, now you have, and the quirky art-music group are back in town.

Eccentric main man Nobumichi Tosa and his crew will perform tonight at the Esplanade Concert Hall, a show that is part of the Esplanade's annual festival, Flipside, which celebrates the lighter side of the arts.

Tosa, Maywa Denki's "president", will be accompanied by fellow performers identified only as "employee A, B, C and D". All of them perform dressed in blue overalls, the group's uniform.

In an e-mail interview, Tosa, 47, says that the show tonight will be different from their first gig in Singapore at the same venue in 2007.

Titled Mechatronica, that show featured synchronised musicians, music automatons and discordant coda, and played to a sold-out, 1,600-strong audience.

This time around, their Voice Mechanics show will feature new musical instruments that the group, who also refer to themselves as "parallel-world electricians", have invented in the past seven years.

These include Seamoons, a trio of singing robots named Anne, Betty and Clara which have artificial, rubber vocal cords; the Otamatone Jumbo, an instrument shaped like a musical note; and Piamecha, a self- playing harmonica/abstract thoughts, like the 'mojo power of voice'."

And even though the group's songs are in Japanese, their humour translates across cultures.

As Tosa puts it: "(Our) machines amuse people by simply moving. There are no words needed and it works for many people all over the world."

Nobumichi Tosa formed Maywa Denki with his brother, Masamichi, in 1993, and named the group after their father's old company that produced television parts in the 1970s.

Today, Nobumichi does exhibitions of the instruments and play shows in Europe, the United States and Asia.

Masamichi, according to the group, "retired" from the company in 2001.

Maywa Denki also has a large discography of albums and DVDs, including debut album Teikyo (1996) and Nonsense Musical Instruments Of Maywa Denki, a DVD released in 2005.

Their albums are not mainstream, however, and have yielded no chart hits.

The band have also published several books, including Naki Encyclopedia, published in 1997, and Nonsense Brain And Sketch (Beta Version), published in 2012.

The Otamatone is mass-produced by toy company Cube Works and sold as merchandise online, and Tosa promises to bring them to Singapore for audience members to buy.

When Tosa, who is married, returns to Singapore for the company's performance, he will probably revisit two local icons.

Asked what he remembers best about his time in Singapore in 2007, he writes: "Great durian-shaped concert hall, and durian!"

dinohadi@sph.com.sg

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