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Yoko Ono and Her Sixteen-Track Voice

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Musically, what happens is that nasals, fricatives, registral variants, pitch inflections, and varying timbres all combine, interpolate, and permute to convey the impression of anything from a Japanese shakuhachi to bantams in pine woods to swamp animals' madrigals to the feeling of being inside of one's own body cavities. Yoko's voice enters sound to reveal its most basic frequential characteristics and proposes to the listener that if he wants to hear, he might as well stop trying. "She becomes her voice," John says, "and you get touched."

This vocal quality can be heard most powerfully on "Don't Worry Kyoko (Mummy's only looking for her hand in the snow)," the soundtrack for The Fly, and her new album on which Yoko is supported by John on guitar, Klaus Voorman on bass, Ringo on drums; and, on "AOS" by Charles Haden, David Izenzon, Ed Blackwell, and Ornette Coleman. Yoko thus brings together and combines the best elements of rock, recent jazz tone roads, and avant-garde musical materials, using them to sustain her adventurous realizations.

With the exceptions of "Paper Shoes" and "Greenfield Morning," which Yoko constructed from one or two lines and then edited and reassembled and added some overdubbing, all the songs in the album are performed and recorded live, most in one session without, it's hard to believe, any voice transformation except for the slightest of echoes.

"First of all," Yoko explains, "John and I were going to make individual LPs, and John started his session first. When he was recording, I was in the control room. Sometimes he had to fool around with his instrument just to get inspired or to get into his music, and I'd be thinking, well, he should be doing his song, not fooling about – that's the feeling you get in the control room – but he just kept jamming and then suddenly I realized how beautiful the jamming was. He started something very unusual with the guitar like (high-pitched call). So I couldn't help it, I had to join them. John had said: 'whenever you feel like joining, join us, and all I have to say is no if I don't want it.' In 'Why,' he inspired me, an I jumped into the room. John sang 'Eyugh-eyugh!' He was trying to tell me to get in and join them, and I just joined in. I liked the idea of improvisation, going somewhere you don't know, just having something vague planned, like doing something that's slow or quiet and the rest of it decided by the wind or whatever. So I went in and started to scream, and then John's guitar was going along frantic. And I realized that John and I have a very mean streak, it was similar in that sense. There's something about us that's saying: Fuck you, I couldn't care less, and I go mad with my voice and John does it with his guitar. Both of us have that side."

"I have that side," John says, "but it's hard to get it on a two minute single with a technician like George sitting around."

"You see," Yoko continues, "it became a dialogue, we stimulated each other. You don't know who inspired whom, it just goes on. Klaus told me later that he'd realized that I knew about rhythm perfectly, it was right on spot. Of course I knew. In Toronto, Klaus and Ringo were pretty silent about what I was doing, but this time they got really turned on.

"When I say things I stutter a little bit. Most of us kill off our real emotions, and on top of them you have your smooth self. It's like the guy in the film Diary of a Mad Housewife with his sing-song voice. There's that unreal tone. But when I want to say 'I'm sorry' in a song – because music to me is something so honest and so real – I don't feel like saying (sing-song) 'I'm sorry, mother,' but rather as an emotion should be (groaning, stuttering) 'I'm so-or-orrrrry.' A stutterer is someone who's feeling something genuine. So in 'Paper Shoes' I say: 'Pa-pa-pa-a-a-per sh-shooooooes!'

"The older you get the more frustrated you feel. And it gets to a point where you don't have time to utter a lot of intellectual bullshit. If you were drowning you wouldn't say: 'I'd like to be helped because I have just a moment to live.' You'd say, 'Help!' but if you were more desperate you'd say, 'Eiough-hhhhh,' or something like that. And the desperation of life is really life itself, the core of life, what's really driving us forth. When your're really desperate it's phony to use descriptive and decorative adjectives to express yourself."

But isn't there another side, such as the seeming gentleness of "Who Has Seen the Wind?" – the quiet little song Yoko presents on the B side of John's "Instant Karma"?

For drop caps:

"On that song," Yoko says, "the voice is wavering a little, there are shrills and cracks, it's not professional pop singing, the background is going off a little. There was something of a lost little girl about it. What I was aiming at was the effect you get in Alban Berg's Wozzeck, where the drunkard sings, a slightly crazed voice, a bit of a broken toy. In that sense it was a quiet desperation."

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