Acoustic Epiphanies in Japan

Before I left New Zealand I had a vague plan to try and update my blog after each major excursion within Japan, but that only lasted the first week or so…. Every day has been so full of amazing experiences that I just haven’t had the time to stop & write about them, and five weeks later the backup folder on the desktop of my laptop just passed 205GB, and thats only photos and video – all my field recordings are backed up to external drives….

So instead of trying to be too chronological I figured instead I’d connect a little theme that has been spread across three excursions, acoustic epiphanies and while I have recorded some of them I’m not going to post those sounds because I think the description (and your imagination) is going to be of more benefit – these are places that really have to be experienced first hand. So consider this a short itinerary, a trilogy of locations for any traveller in Japan fascinated by beautiful and complex acoustic experiences.

 

1. GCans
Having booked for the tour a week in advance (essential due to its popularity!) last Thursday, we caught the train out to Saitama (approximately an hour from Tokyo) to go on the GCans tour. Based on some photos I had seen many years ago I’ve wanted to do this tour for a very, very long time – 10+ years, so that I could also take photos but more to hear the space.
While the tour is free there is a safety requirement that you either understand and can speak Japanese, or come with someone who does. So I am indebted to Hide Aoki for being an excellent companion & for also very ably wrangling my recording gear, while I ran around like a kid in a candy store!

So we arrived out at the GCans site a little early & were issued our ID cards, and once all the other people arrived were given a detailed explanation of the purpose of GCans…

GCans

GCans

Basically, due to the Tokyo metropolis being sited in basin shaped region with very large rivers on each side of it, flooding had been a major problem in the past – especially when a Typhoon hits. So the GCans Project is a solution to that problem – it is a very large scale excess water management system!!

GCans

GCans

From the display room we could see through a window into the control room, and the images on the monitors combined with the video we were shown meant I was itching to actually start the tour… But all in good time, as next we were shown a very impressive multi screen presentation… and then taken up to the roof for more explanantions…

GCans

GCans

GCans

And to see a very impressive solar generator… impatience levels rising…

GCans

GCans

Until finally we all donned hard hats & walked 500m down the road to this innocuous looking building….

GCans

My heart sank when I saw this sign – NO PHOTOS? You have got to be kidding!?! I abided by their request by not taking photos, but I left the camera hanging round my neck rolling, shooting video as we entered… But I soon came to realise that it was because the stairs were steep and slippery that stopping to take photos in that area was banned…

GCans

GCans

So slowly we descended until we walked out into one of the largest interior spaces I have ever been!!!

GCans

GCans

GCans

The tour guide proceeded to give us another lecture, and as it was in Japanese & I couldn’t understand it I zoned out and listened as her voice became this gorgeous drone as the reverb built up… hearing her talking, it felt like a 20 second reverb but it was only when she finished and we were given some ‘free time’ to walk around that I could do some hand claps and really listen to what was happening in the space…

GCans

Hide was carrying my bag with my Sound Devices 744 and pair of Sennhesier 8040 mics, so we seperated a bit so I could take photos/shoot video & do handclaps from as far away as possible while he recorded…

GCans

Being in such an amazing space was really mind and mood altering – I felt really ecstatic & this complete sense of wonder took over… With 20 people in the space there was essentially a reverbant drone forming, but each hand clap would trigger widely spaced delays… It was a bit like being inside the highest resolution reverb device ever!

And it changed peoples behaviour in funny ways, for example this guy became obsessed with trying to levitate!?! But I’m not one to judge as I imagine I had a slightly crazed look on my face the entire time we were down there too!

GCans

Suberashi!! If you are visiting or live in Tokyo I strongly encourage you to take time to experience it for yourself!

 

2. Taya Cavern
The following day we took another trip underground, but this was at the other end of the scale spectrum, revisiting a location I had been to before but this time I wanted to record in high resolution. Taya Cavern is a 40 minute train ride from Tokyo to Ofuna Station and then a half hour walk…

Taya

Many hundreds of years ago Buddhist monks carved a series of tunnels into this mountain, the main purpose being the creation of a series of meditation rooms…

Taya

As you enter the tunnels, slowly the temperature drops and exterior sound falls away until you are left in a very quiet state…. but you only have to make any kind of vocal sound in the tunnels to realise that each meditiation room is also a resonating chamber!

Taya

The monks created vents for air and a drainage system for water but it was only when we were about as far in as you could go that we arrived at the location I wanted to record – a short dead end which had a very sparse but deeply resonant water drip.. I set up the mics and we retreated back down the tunnels, to minimise recording our own breath and movement and I stood with my eyes shut, listening and counting the drips…

Taya

Once I had counted 100 beautifully resonant drips I returned & retrieved the recorder, and we carried on…. eventually arriving at a chamber with a fast running little stream (recorded close and wide)

Taya

And then slowly we made our way back out to the bright light & dense sound of the exterior world… again somewhat altered in mood by the experience…

Taya

Taya Cavern is a highly reccomended side trip from Tokyo, fairly easy to access and can easily be added to a trip to Kamakura, but a great contrast from the intensity of Tokyo!
Directions here

 

3. Teshima
Lastly is a fantastic location on the island of Teshima, in the Seto Inland Sea. Teshima is a smaller neighbour island to Naoshima which I have visited many times before, but this was my first visit to Teshima and I was drawn here by the photos of a large scale artform, I guess it could be called a building or gallery, but it functions more as an installation…

Being an island obviously requires a ferry trip, which on a sunny day is such a great way to travel..

Teshima

We loaded the coordinates into the car navi and cruised along the quiet country roads until we arrived at Teshima Art Museum

Teshima

What an intriguing looking building – like a ufo has landed or a large blob of white has been dropped on the landscape… but it was hard to tell its scale or purpose from a distance…

Teshima

Expectation grew as we followed the path through a small forest…

Teshima

At the entrance we were given a short lecture: no photos inside, please take off your shoes..

Teshima

And then… the step inside and…. OMFG!!! The perceptual shift walking through that entrance was almost overwhelming! The building was large, very large – maybe 20 metres from one end to the other, and the ceiling was maybe 3 metres high at the centre, but the ceiling sloped down to meet the floor at the sides…. All of the interior surfaces were super smooth, almost like porcelain… And with those 2 giant ovals cut out of the ceiling, the light inside was just exquisite… But that wasn’t the most outstanding thing….

Teshima

The acoustics inside there were the strangest I have ever experienced!!! The way the ceiling sloped differently in every direction meant at no point was it parallel with the floor, but with such smooth surfaces everything was highly reflective. All of this meant the large space was full of the most complex delays I have ever heard. Even the smallest sound, a shuffle, a sniff, a whispered word, all would trigger this randomised series of delays that travelled off in all directions until they decayed into rapid flutter echoes…

Of course the exterior ambiences leaking in through the large oval openings were also being altered, and when we visited there were maybe a dozen people in the space all being very quiet, but all contributing to this soundscape that was as amorphous as the architecture.
What a work of absolute genius!! Believe me when I say this, my hyperbole is a fraction of how you feel in the space… We stayed inside for an hour or so, slowly moving around in the space…

Another aspect to the space, and apparently a source of inspiration for the design I can not show you as you can only see it inside, but the photos here or here beautifully illustrate it! The project is the work of Tokyo-based architect Ryue Nishizawa and Japanese artist Rei Naito… and that inspiration takes the form of drips of water… Scattered across the surface of the floor of the space are tiny faucets, randomnly leaking drips of water. Because the surface of the floor is so smooth, and very very gently sloped towards tiny drains, these drips of water appear to randomnly move across the surface, almost like beams of light…

I’ve raved about Naoshima before, and I dearly love the idea of locations being developed as art locations, so if you need the perfect excurision in Japan that combined nature and profoundly inspiring artworks, then you should make time to visit Naoshima and Teshima! And next time I am in the area I will visit Inujima

Sugoi!

Some more detailed information about Teshima Museum here

10 Responses to Acoustic Epiphanies in Japan

  1. Dad and Mum says:

    What a tricky time you are having in all these different places!!!

    The weather looks to be very calm!!

  2. rene says:

    amazing stuff Tim. very beautiful throughout.

  3. Beautiful places. Made me really curious about the acoustics.

  4. bassling says:

    Woah!

    (Feel like Keanu Reeves writing that but… woah!)

  5. Callum Lister says:

    Love to hear the Impulse Responses of those spaces wow.
    Unique sound locations like that would be hard to find in N.Z, different architecture.

  6. Joel says:

    Thanks for sharing all this Tim – amazing and inspiring!!

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