Teiji Ito


Born: 1935; Tokyo, Japan   Died: 1982; Haiti  
Teiji Ito was born to a theatrical family in Tokyo in 1935. Ito's father, Yuji Ito, was a composer and costume designer. His mother, Teiko Ono, was a dancer who worked in both traditional and classical genres. Teiji Ito moved with his family to the United States at the age of six, learning to play various musical instruments from childhood. Ito's composing career started at age 17. At this point, he met dancer and underground filmmaker Maya Read more Deren, who encouraged Ito to write a score for her film The Very Eye of Night (1958). Ito shared Deren's interest in Haitian Voudoun (also known as "voodoo") and in 1955, traveled to Haiti to study with a master drummer. By the late '50s, Deren and Ito had married and Deren commissioned Ito to write music for her earlier film Meshes of the Afternoon (1943; scored 1959); this remains Ito's best-known and most frequently heard work. Despite the restraint shown in Ito's scoring of the already famous Meshes and Deren's approval of the finished product, film critics were divided as to the value of the soundtrack, which may have hurt Ito's repudiation as much as it helped him. In 1961, Maya Deren died suddenly of a stroke at age 44 that some blamed on a voodoo curse. By this time, Teiji Ito was already acclaimed as a composer for Off-Broadway; in that year, Ito collected his first Obie Award for scores written for Julian Beck and Judith Malina's Living Theater productions, including King Ubu (1961). Ito worked creating incidental music for the New York theaters his entire life, including such productions as Jerome Robbins' ballet Watermill (1971), the staged version of Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975). Ito also created commercials for Japanese television and continued his association with experimental filmmakers, composing original scores for Charles Boultonhouse, Ed Emshwiller, Graeme Ferguson, Harry Smith, and others. In 1979, Ito and his third wife, Cherel Ito, completed the editing of The Divine Horseman: The Living Gods of Haiti, a film on Haitian Voudoun ritual that Maya Deren had begun in the 1950s, but had not been able to complete. It was during a visit to Haiti in 1982 that Ito himself unexpectedly collapsed and died, aged only 46. Teiji Ito primarily worked on tape, overdubbing instruments himself, and for good reason: His choice of instrumentation tended so strongly toward the exotic that it was difficult to find musicians to play them. Ito was an American original, stubbornly carving out his own path and representing a collision course between Eastern and Western musical disciplines. Some might refer to Ito as a "kitchen sink eclectic" as his works combine elements from a wide variety of styles, instruments, and techniques, and even down to manipulation of the tape itself. At Ito's death, only one of his works had been made available on a recording, an ESP-Disk LP of his score for the play The Coach With Six Insides (1966). Since the late '90s, Ito has gained recognition as being perhaps the first "downtown" New York composer who eschewed academic life, the concert hall, and written scores, performing his own music his own way. Teiji Ito's work was certainly way ahead of the trend toward postmodern eclecticism and is slowly becoming available. Happily, Ito's legacy is fairly extensive, consisting of approximately 50 tapes now housed in the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound at the New York Public Library. Read less

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