March 13, 2012 at 6:11 PM ET
Touching on all three pillars of SXSW – music, film and interactive – the Japanese "art unit" Maywa Denki took to the stage on Monday to deliver his company's annual report. In his guise as the president of the fictional Maywa Denki company, Nobumichi Tosa led a mock-keynote address on the tech conference trade floor as if he were unveiling a new tablet or smartphone.
Tosa wore a teal jumpsuit, reminiscent of Japanese corporate uniforms, to further his image as a dependable electrical engineer. On stage, Tosa was accompanied by another man who also wore the Maywa Denki uniform, but who hardly spoke. (He was there to help translate for Tosa, but more often than not, he was a kind of spooky, silent hype-man.)
While manning a power point presentation and occasionally snickering at his own slides, Tosa was surrounded by a small band of nonsense machines that produce music and sounds when given a small electrical impulse.
Tosa stressed that the machines don’t produce electronic music; rather, they are a kind of percussive mimicry of traditional instruments. His unusual orchestra included a suitcase adorned with an automated cymbal and a white balloon that, once inflated, powered a small keyboard. He showed off each instrument, and then play background music while he sang Frank Sinatra’s, “My Way,” with a vibrating machine on his chest to add vibrato to his voice.
The show was presented by IEEE, an engineering consortium that oversees the standards for everything from electrical currents to wireless networks. Though IEEE might sound like an unusual sponsor for a show that ended with a rousing tribute to Maywa Denki’s glorious corporate past, Tosa made the most of it. The presence of the standards company gave the Maywa Denki annual report a weird feeling of legitimacy, even while Tosa was wearing a necktie around his forehead and leading the giggling crowd in a song that nobody, not even Tosa, seemed to understand.