The Japanese phrase Michikusa Wo Kuu refers to a horse that spends the whole day roaming around, eating grass, never getting to its destination. The horse becomes so caught up in the moment that it neglects to check emails and text messages, ignores the boss’ deadlines, and doesn’t take an Instagram photo of the grass. What a lazy horse? Or is it?
Many of us have become grass eaters during the pandemic, for better or worse. We’ve spent days drifting around, watching Netflix, ignoring calls, puttering around in a fugue state. To some this represents shell shock, to others a poor work ethic, and to others a way of life in which we enjoy what is right in front of us and wring the most out of the day. One’s interpretation of Michikusa Wo Kuu will also color one’s impression of Grass Eater Diary. Is contemplative time irresponsible or essential?
One of the ironies of the album is that Tomoko Hojo + Rahel Kraft had to work hard in order to produce music that sounds so effortless. The Instruments were recorded in an abandoned music room, the festival song “Tori Oi” (“To Keep Birds Away”) in a workshop. The composition began as a sound walk that led from a foot bath to a playground to a river path to a rice field to a shelter.
Breath, song, and light conversation decorate the edges, while birds and flowing water surround the listener in an envelope of calm. As the song rises to a chant, a ceremonial feeling is achieved; there is something holy about this horse. Midway through “diffusion of morning dew,” the field is reduced to piano and the trickle of water. Shouldn’t the artists be doing something more? Why is the timbre so thin? The answer is simple: sometimes it is better to have only one thought in the mind. When flute, cowbell and gong enter, the spiritual association is cemented: the river and shelter are centered. The field of grass is centered. The horse is where it needs to be.
Whispers, rattles and loops populate the center of “caressing summer rice fields,” suggesting the ghosts of those who have worked themselves to death. And what for? The ghosts transform back into a choir as the words “the sensation” become audible. Breath gives way to laughter, singing to humming. In the end, there are only crickets, frogs and birds. The horse has still not arrived at its destination. Where is the horse? the others ask. It should be here by now. But the horse is content, grazing in green fields. (Richard Allen)