2 26, 2009 03:02

The easiest way for non-Japanese speakers would be to hit this link and view all the edited videos sequentially, following the chronology of our journey. When you get to the bottom of the page, hit the next page number to go further.

We hope to update this site so that all the media can be seen on the English side alone, and that eventually, there will be subtitles. Since "Tibetronica" is currently run on a voluntary basis, the work may come slow, so please bare with us.

To give some background, the crew consisted of Morley Robertson who is a well-known radio host and actress Yukiko Ikeda, along with a technical crew consisting of a photographer and tech team. We purposefully did not include a professional video camera man, because that would have aroused suspicion by Chinese authorities. All Tibetan and Uyghur footage was shot inside the borders of the PRC on high-def video.


2 25, 2009 04:01

"Tibetronica" is an ongoing project that began with a documentary journey to
the Tibet and Xinjiang regions of China, filmed on hi-vision video between January and March, 2007.

"Tibetronica" is a word made by merging "Tibet" and "Electronica", as in club music.

Originally, the purpose of this project was to report eye-witness accounts of Tibetan and Uyghur cultures, in real-time, using internet technology. Funded by the Japan Polaroid Corporation during its first three months, the project was technically very successful, and was hailed by its fans as "the coming of Web 3.0".

While the project set out to be mainly cultural and politically neutral, the more our crew saw the realities of Tibet and Xinjiang, the more we became compelled to break our silence. As the video and podcast series evolved, we became increasingly candid in our reporting, which was a risky thing to do, given that we were inside China. Nonetheless, we felt that our daring stance paid off, as we were able to report from the ground, which has since become nearly impossible, following the unrest of 2008.

The videos you will see on the Japanese side of this web site are edited in a culturally neutral fashion, but if you were to understand the Japanese wording of the audio broadcasts which were simultaneously broadcast, the source materials start take on a different nuance. Unfortunately, the complex interplay of meaning are largely un-translatable.

When these videos were first made public in 2007, they received admiration and congratulations from a sizeable crowd. To be called "Web 3.0" really boosted our self-esteem, because it sounded as if we were the Steve Jobses of political activism and art at the same time.

But the flattery didn't last longer than one month. We also drew fire and misunderstanding from both camps on the issue of Tibetan and Uyghur independence. The fact that there was only Japanese annotation attached to the material increased the confusion. Some non-Japanese speaking viewers assumed that we were making light of the poverty and plight of Tibetans and Uyghurs, which was of course wrong. Other rude voices represented boisterous Chinese nationalism, insisting that these areas were historically Chinese territory, as if we did not already know that claim. Still others wanted us to write "Uyghur" instead of "Uighur", because the former represented a more independent orientation, while the latter was the notation used by the Chinese government. And on and on the complaints and requests went. We chose to ignore all abusive comments, and at large remained silent.

Later, we were briefly courted by the Japanese right-wing, and when we turned down their offers, we received a pick-up truck load of abuse in Japanese, too. Just the mention of Tibet and Xinjiang can do wonders to ignite a certain ilk of people, we found out. But all that was cool, because it meant that Tibetans and Uyghurs were getting more attention, either way.

We did take care not to jeopardize the people we met. We did not go around asking dumb questions like "Do you support the Dalai Lama?" or "Do you think that you have a right to independence?" As far as we know, none of our Chinese guides were later interrogated or intimidated, simply because they did not have any notion of the games we were up to. We were polite in our activities, and the main risks we took were in making radio broadcasts out of inland China, working around the great Golden Shield and the human eaves droppers who work for 0.5 yuan per hour. We pulled it off, no one got busted, and we even re-entered as tourists. I guess the PRC had better things to do than worry about us perforating their information black-out. We basically surfed the censorship, and it ended up in one groovy ride. Groovy China.

Now, two years later, we would like to be more clear about our orientations. The Tibetronica team supports greater autonomy for both ethnic groups, and if possible, we are hoping that China's government will change to accomodate more freedom for these people, as well as for all Chinese people. But at the same time, we cannot conclude with certainty if full independence for Tibetans and Uyghurs will be the best solution, and we continue to research the debate from both sides. As far as we can tell, there has been no consensus even among Tibetans or Uyghurs, inside and abroad.

So, the best thing we can do would be to show the world as much first hand source material of these wonderful cultures as technically possible, from our 2007 tour. As for political solutions, it would be up to each individual to do the homework and arrive at their conclusion. We cannot put the answer in front of you, and we will not rush to one conclusion or another to accomodate any particular ideology, even when we receive threatening text messages.

Is there a Tibetan and Uyghur Holocaust going on? We are almost certain that a form of ethnic cleansing is taking place within Chinese borders. But there just isn't enough conclusive evidence to fully support these claims, by Western journalistic standards. We took some of our secret footage to TV stations, and the major broadcasters turned our material down, saying it was not substantial enough. "If you filmed someone being beaten or shot, we would use it, but not this stuff," we were told.

Our amateurish execution and biased journalism notwithstanding, it is also true that Western and Japanese media have definitely neglected to place Tibetans and Uyghurs on higher priority. We ourselves wonder why so many talented journalists and newsroom producers choose not to cover these areas in greater depth. We often feel heartbroken when we hear updates of the dire news that leaks out of these regions.

But in spite of our emotionality and empathy, if we want to be of any help, we need to go beyond outrage and take concrete action. And such action does not always take the form of marching in front of the local Chinese Embassy. Showing anger is effective, but if done too much, it can turn into a kind of junk food of the soul. For example, verbally attacking the Han Chinese around the world would probably accomplish nothing to alleviate Tibetan or Uyghur suffering. But it is a semi-addictive pastime. We are at a juncture where we have to ask ourselves if we want real change. To make those essential changes to keep Tibetans and Uyghurs from perishing, we need dialogue and constructive engagement with the Chinese government, however impossible that may seem at times. The Chinese government acts and thinks on paranoia, but it is also staffed by some of the smartest people on earth. They do listen, even while they pretend not to.

So, when facing the crises of the Tibetan and Uyghur people, it really helps to not give into anti-Han racism, revenge-oriented thinking, nationalism, ethnocentricity, or some other group thinking. We are fully aware that there is long-standing and on-going censorship by the Chinese government, and that their documentaries are at best skewed, and at worst fictive. That is what we played with, live, throughout our stay inside. And because of that, we feel it important that each person think for themselves about the Tibetan and Uyghur human rights crises. If you are going to criticize the way the PRC thinks, do a better job yourself, and show them.

The best way to help Tibetans and Uyghurs is not to hate the Chinese. A much better form of action would be to tell your friends about the Tibetans and Uyghurs. Today.

That sums up our ideology. We hope you enjoy the raw footage. Just start here and go backwards to follow the chronology.


2 04, 2007 10:46
0204.podcast.m4v m4v format
tibetronica videocast file #002
from Tokyo.

The departure date is now very close. To give you an idea of where I want to take this journey in audio and video, I am uploading the video which I made in 2002, after travelling to China's Xinjiang Autonomous Zone. The main rhythm pattern of the sound track was synthesized from an actual recording of street drummers in the city of Urumqi.


1 05, 2007 03:23

Happy New Year!

There is only one month left before departure. The yoga lessons have continued, with a four-day break over the year’s end. I just went back to my first lesson today, only to discover that my body had re-set its stiffness. I am now back at where I first began. I must have performed over a dozen “dog poses” during the last lesson. I just hope that this starts to sink into deeper levels.

The Mandarin Chinese lessons are progressing at a more satisfactory pace. I have amazed my native Chinese teacher with my ability to absorb Mandarin. She commented that we already covered “a year’s worth” of Chinese, in just five weeks.

If I have an inherent head-start for Chinese, which I do not have for yoga, it might relate to the fact that I have put an effort into balancing Japanese and English inside my mind, for the good part of my life. These two languages are very different in syntax, grammar and nuance. Balancing them requires a determined effort. Thanks to my perseverance, I may have developed a kind of inner flexibility, which permits rapid absorption of new words and pronunciations. Knowing how to write thousands of Chinese characters in Japanese format also give me a boost, because Chinese script is often an abbreviation of its Japanese counterpart.

So in Chinese class, I am not only doing cool “dog poses”, I am doing head stands. The purpose of this entire venture, of course, is to harmonize these disparate “yin” and “yang” elements.

A favorite dish following the heels of yoga lessons has been sushi, which is available on belt-conveyor servings in sushi shops. The raw fish offers quick energy charge, and also cools down the body. My favorites are tuna and sea urchin. Tuna is great and can be had in many forms; but it may become more scarce over the coming months, because sea stocks have been rapidly declining.


12 10, 2006 07:57

The rewiring of a human body can happen very slowly. It probably has to do with talent, but coming from an IT and cerebrally intensive career, the switch-over to yoga practice can be a very different kind of challenge. Right now, I am confronting my past -- how I had amassed problems inside my body over the years, without even noticing it. The issue here is that the human body is not a linear collection, that can be broken down into parts. Rather, it is a continuum, and always functions as an integrated whole. I have pitted myself against that simple truth, again and again for a week now, with each iteration of the “Downward Facing Dog Pose”. My hope right now is that this early stage is just a transit point, which will open up to something more pleasant.

For the Downward Dog Pose, you stand like a dog on all fours, and stretch out in a way reminiscent of a dog that is yawning. Dogs can do this without thinking about it, but people can go through a devil of an ordeal, just trying to get all the parts right. Wherever it is in your body that is tight, that is where the pose will fail. Right now, my back is too rounded, and my knees don’t stretch all the way out.

On the first day, I had assumed that this was a matter of getting the details right; meaning, that if my knees would stretch so I could make my legs straight, I would be getting that much closer to a real “dog” pose. But after five or six lessons, I came to the frustrating realization that this “linear” approach won’t help me. This is an “all or nothing” pose.

The back muscles, at least my back muscles, are made up of overlapping and interconnected segments, none of which are independent. The muscles underneath my shoulder blades connect to the neck above, and the small of my back below. My shoulders are the tightest locus, and it turns out that the rest of my back muscles, which are the muscles that make up my posture, had compensated for the shortfalls of my shoulder muscles. Everything is co-dependent, and so it will not work to just smooth out one section.

What is needed is an overall re-alignment. My posture is a result of a long period of adaptation. It can’t change too quickly, and it can’t change one piece at a time. I want to shift the entire balance towards a “higher state” or harmony. This is going to involve working with each separate locality of my back, probably down to the cellular level. And it has to be gradual. If reform is too drastic, it could end up being a deferral of pain into the future.

Traversing the ordeal of the “dog” again and again, I keep thinking about how President Bush mismanaged his policies in Iraq. I believe the reasoning went something like:
“The Middle East lacks democracy. The US will remove the axis of evil, and free the local population. Democracy will spring up from among the liberated masses.”
The approach turned out to be over-simplified. Without going into details, I would like to remark that the administration ignored the interdependence of the various parts and groups within the Middle East. Simply removing an undesirable regime or “bad elements” will not “fix” or “democratize” the region. It seems like the administration is now trying to apply one fix after another, to a campaign that was ill-conceived from the start.

Fortunately, my body is more compliant than Iraq. But like Iraq, it is a “non-linear system”. I have to be humble and patient in my attempts at persuading all the localities to change together. I must win over the “hearts and minds” of my body’s infrastructure. I want to redistribute the stress of upholding against gravity, as evenly and justly as possible along my back. Both the local muscles and the integrated whole will have to be worked on at the same time. The goal is to reach a harmonious “coalition force” of musculature.

At least, that’s the plan. And without a plan, the pain of repeating the dog pose can become an upward climb, which is too steep for an IT kind of guy.


12 01, 2006 10:57

Welcome to the "Tibetronica" web site. I am your host, Morley Robertson.

Polaroid has supported my endeavor to visit Tibet. This web site will document the entire voyage, from early preparations to the completion of an art work, in real-time.

This web site "Tibetronica" will also be a journey along the time axis. Various ideas will evolve from scratch and become embodied through experimentation and research, finally into a complete (or incomplete) piece. I aim to make the entire process as transparent as I can. Trying to break away from clichés and my own preconceptions about Tibet, I will carry on with my experiments.

The early phase of this project will be an attempt to travel to the "Tibet within". If there is indeed a secret land inside, I would like to look for it, before I leave home for the Tibet that is far away.

Many have pointed out that there are mysterious, primitive powers in the human mind and body. In fact, Western science, which taps into a very specialized channel of human capability, has come to dominate our lives, particularly in the developed countries. Convenient living has also come to mean boredom. It is ironical that after centuries of mighty efforts, people at the top of the ladder are finding less and less thrills and surprises, and are disconnected from their own life-force. Waking up to notice that most of the day is spent in front of a computer terminal or television… unattractive.

In the last decade of internet evolution, keeping up with the excitement and dazzling breakthroughs meant that you had to spend long hours at a computer. So lots of people just stayed home, while reaching out to the world of information. But now, to put information technology to the real test, I want to focus my IT know-how in the direction of Tibet.

Here is a brief self-introduction. I have always been, at the core, a musician. Because I moved back and forth between the United States and Japan from infancy, I developed bilingual abilities, and a bicultural perspective. My work in radio broadcasting has been well-known in Japan. In the last year, my personal broadcasts in the form of podcasts, outside the framework of traditional mass media, has also gained a following in some corners.

I have always preferred experimental music. My quest has been to discover sounds that I had never heard, and to hear the sounds in their primordial state, outside of the cultural framework of musical scales or theories. It might be more accurate to describe my search as "experimentation through music". I have been at it from the 1980's.

However, at this juncture, I notice how I have seemingly settled into a particular "method" of delivery. I could, if I wanted to, legitimize my various moves by theorizing what I do, catalog myself, and build a mold of repetition and predictability, so that eventually, I am "parodying" myself. I suppose that with the right packaging, I could even hope to sell off some of my works which used to be considered un-marketable or far-fetched, as collector’s items. But I do not want to "grow up" in that way, because it will defeat my purpose. A scenario for success like that would amount to premature senility. Overlap here the image a wealthy person who gradually loses control of bodily functions and the ability to imagine, through the passivity of convenient living.

So I have decided that my first endeavor would be to make things inconvenient. I intend to go looking for the "inner Tibet". Unchartered regions within the individual; there must be some. I have hints leading to those inner places, but at the same time my mind tries to bounce me off-course when I go in that direction. My body and mind have already adapted to their fixed routines, and neither want to really change. So I have to find a way to break through this lethargy.

I need to "re-wire" my insides. Physically and psychologically. My life has become, when you look at the bigger picture, a series of routines and repetitions. I am clever with my tricks to earn a living, but they just aren’t enough. So now, I want to bring in unpredictable elements into daily life, and create situations where my reflexes won’t work. I am going to knowingly immerse myself into activities in which I "do not excel". In that way, maybe I can galvanize my nervous system and psyche. I hope to metamorphose, out of the old mold.

Somewhere along my fifteen-year-long chase of the computer revolution, I left my body behind. Physical stuff is low-priority. IT and science keep extending my physical capabilities, so in the end, I won’t have to leave my home, and I can remote-control robotic forces far greater than my own. But what happens when I start drowning in that power? I could become seduced into thinking that the scientific toys given to me are manifestations of real power. And that would be when my mind and body start to fall apart. Or just become stupid, while thinking that I am creative.

So now, it is important that I enter a place where computers cannot assist me. The non-digital tool of choice is yoga. I signed up for a yoga school.