Photo by allerArt Bludenz 2015


Steven Kazuo Takasugi

Sideshow (2009-2015)
for amplified octet and electronic playback in five movements
Written for Alex Lipowski and the Talea Ensemble
Text: Karl Kraus


Sideshow (2009-15) for amplified octet and electronic playback in five movements is Takasugi’s largest and most spectacular work to date.  Largely theatrical in nature, this piece is based on the dark sideshows of Coney Island’s amusement parks in the early part of the 20th century.  Sideshow is a meditation on virtuosity, freak shows, entertainment, spectacle, business, and the sacrifices one makes to survive in the world. A cycle of six aphorisms by the Viennese satirist Karl Kraus (1874–1936) is embedded as a subtext running through the work:


1. “Ein Gourmet sagte mir: was die Crême der Gesellschaft anlange, so sei ihm der Abschaum der Menschheit lieber.”
(A gourmet once told me: he preferred the scum of the earth to the cream of society.)

2. “Wenn Tiere gähnen, haben sie ein menschliches Gesicht.”
(When animals yawn, they have a human face.)

3. “Der Fortschritt macht Portemonnaies aus Menschenhaut.”
(Progress makes wallets from human skin.)

4. “In einen hohlen Kopf geht viel Wissen.”
(Much knowledge fits in a hollow head.)

5. “Die Technik ist ein Dienstbote, der nebenan so geräuschvoll Ordnung macht, daß die Herrschaft nicht Musik machen kann.”
(Technology is a servant who makes such noisy order in the next room that his master cannot make music.)

6. “Wien hat eine schöne Umgebung, in die Beethoven öfter geflüchtet ist.”
(Vienna has beautiful surroundings, to which Beethoven often escaped.)


Takasugi says of his piece:

Sideshow is first and foremost a work of music theater framed in a chamber music performance suggesting a circus sideshow (freak show). It is extreme, sometimes “over the top” in its theatrical depictions and demonstrations, especially for a piece of chamber music in a classical music venue, and yet it is saved by a ruthless containment. Comical, strange, or grotesque elicitations may result from various acts performed on stage, still these are never approached by a performer’s attempt to be silly, cute, melodramatic, or histrionical. Quite the opposite: it is an extremely austere theater, more related to the Japanese Noh Theater or the tea ceremony. (From the characters’ portrayed by the players perspective, there is nothing funny about this theater; on the contrary, something fatalistic or absurdly tragic.) [...] Frozen silences or non-activities are performed with the utmost intensity, presence, and concentration, as if holding up the emptiness of the universe simply with one’s gaze.

[...] The performers think of themselves as characters in a sideshow.  The saxophonist is the Sideshow Giant, having bellow-like lungs.  The violist is a sword swallower, expert with a bow sword.  The pianist is the Human Spider, having been born with eight hands.  The percussionist is the Stuttering Midget and Sideshow Proprietor/Announcer.  Each character of this quartet has his or her uncanny double, twin, imposter, accomplice, copycat, deformed clone.


About the composer:


Steven Kazuo Takasugi, born 1960 in Los Angeles, is a composer of electro-acoustic music. This involves the collecting and archiving of recorded, acoustic sound samples into large databases, each classifying thousands of individual, performed instances collected over decades of experimentation and research, mostly conducted in his private sound laboratory. These are then subjecting to computer-assisted, algorithmic composition, revised and adjusted until the resulting emergent sound phenomena, energies, and relationships reveal hidden meanings and contexts to the composer. Against this general project of fixed-media is the addition of live performers, described as an accompanying project: “When people return . . .” This relationship often creates a “strange doubling” playing off the “who is doing what?” inherent with simultaneous live and recorded media: a ventriloquism effect of sorts.


Takasugi received his doctoral in music composition at the University of California, San Diego. He is currently an Associate of the Harvard Music Department and Managing Director of its Summer Composition Institute. He is the Riemen and Bakatel Fellow for Music at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and is the recipient of awards including a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, two Ernst von Siemens Foundation Commissions, and a Japan Foundation Artist Residency. His work has been performed extensively worldwide. Takasugi is also a renowned teacher of composition associated with master classes in Singapore, Stuttgart, Tel Aviv, Darmstadt, and Cambridge, Massachusetts. He has taught at the University of California, San Diego, Harvard University, California Institute for the Arts, and the Kunitachi College of Music in Tokyo. Takasugi is also an extensive essayist on music and was one of the founding editors of Search Journal for New Music and Culture. He has organized numerous discussion panels and fora on New Music including colloquia and conferences at Harvard Music and the Darmstadt Forum.



Sideshow Tour Dates:


November 19, 2015, 8 PM
Bludenzer Tage zeitgemäßer Musik *World Premiere
Bludenz, Austria


December 1, 2015, 8 PM
Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University *US Premiere
Cambridge, MA


December 5, 2015, 8 PM
DiMenna Center, Cary Hall
New York, NY
8 PM: Pre-concert reception with beer generously provided by Coney Island Brewery
9 PM: Concert


December 7, 2015, 8 PM
Monday Evening Concerts
Colburn School, Zipper Hall
Arnold Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire, Op. 21
Steven Kazuo Takasugi: Sideshow (2008-15)



Talea Ensemble:

Barry Crawford, flute
Rane Moore, clarinet
Ryan Muncy, saxophone
Yuki Numata Resnick, violin
Beth Weisser, viola
Chris Gross, cello
Stephen Gosling, piano
Alex Lipowski, percussion, vocals
David Adamcyk, electronics



Press for Sideshow:

“The New York-based Talea Ensemble delivered fabulously well on the virtuosity and entertainment spectacle. Takasugi came through big time with his promise of a freak show… This is an amazing piece.”

-LA Times



“The adventurous New York-based Talea Ensemble infused the piece with virtuosic chaos and a dark sense of humor. … Like the sideshows that inspired it, this piece probably has to be seen to be believed. Talea Ensemble is taking the show on the road, performing in New York on Saturday and Los Angeles on Monday. See it and believe, if you dare.”

-Boston Globe



Commissioned by the Bludenzer Tage zeitgemäßer Musik and sponsored through the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation.