My religion

I half joked yesterday on Facebook “just had a quasi religous experience in the anechoic chamber at ICC Gallery, Tokyo!”


I don’t have any photos to post from what I experienced there as no cameras are allowed inside the gallery at all, hence the photo of the escalator to the 4th floor entrance.. but since yesterday I’ve been reflecting on my experience, so while its fresh in my brain here is my internal rant…


Everyone travels for their own reasons, for me it is best summed up by a phrase I love that a friend of mine uses : ‘filling the tank’ – its a simple but vitally important metaphor. Everyone gets tired, worn out, drained and the larger or deeper the projects we work on, the more draining they can become. No matter how you fill your tank in the short term to keep going, the big tank – your subconscious – needs refueling of a different kind. It needs quiet time to recover and it needs stimulus to spark new ideas i.e. to be fed new experiences. For some people that means lying on a beach or climbing a mountain but for me, it means travelling half way round the world to visit an anechoic chamber in one of the most intense cities in the world.

Tokyo is a city that exhausts me every time I visit it. There is always so much going on, so much inspiration, that it isn’t hard to experience overload. I’ve learned to not research too much until I know what my actual schedule is, because it can be frustrating knowing you just missed an awesome concert or exhibition by a day. But having done that a few times now I also know that will always happen – no matter how long I stay there will always be something I would love to experience that I couldn’t. A few examples on this trip: A Michael Gondry exhibition including lots of his artwork & props, plus half a dozen sets where you can actually shoot a little Gondry film of your own. A music tech exhibition with a YMO setup. An exhibition by the great sound artist Otomo Yoshide. All missed by a matter of days or too little time….. But the ICC Gallery I was not going to miss.

After catching up with all my friends and then doing two days of field recording I had one day left, with a ticket on the Shinkansen booked for 4.30pm. I had a long list of what I wanted to do, but knew I would run out of time so I prioritized. After checking out of my hotel & stashing my bags, I headed straight to Shinjuku and to the ICC Gallery. I knew that Otomo Yoshide exhibition was due to start there 2 days after I left Tokyo, but I also knew the Gallery has a number of other exhibits OPEN SPACE running throughout & I was expecially intrigued by the anechoic chamber exhibit. I have visited the chamber before, but that time it was empty – the ‘exhibit’ was to experience the chamber, nothing more & nothing less. But this time there were works available to experience inside the chamber, and this really intrigued me – if you had to create & present a work inside an anechoic chamber what would you do?


It amazes me the ICC Gallery is free – I consider it the most inspiring art gallery I’ve ever been to, but there is no door charge. That may not be true when a big exhibition is on (eg I’m not sure if the Yoshide exhibition has a charge) but before I got to the anechoic chamber I was surprised that there was a lot of other new works to see. Part of the ICC is a permanent exhibit, a large area has a glass floor and underneath your feet are a fantastic collection of technological relics, but near the entrance was a collection of new interactive works from the Yasuaki Kakehi Laboratory at Keio University called HABILITATE, a play on the word rehabilitate.

The first few works were primarily visual – at first glance a wireframe cube is floating in front of a white wall, but then you notice its moving… and it is slowly changing shape! Your perceptions do a happy little flip as your eyes try to grok a three dimensional shape turning inside out, then your brain starts observing the mechanism & smiles at the clever simple idea so effectively implemented…


Another work creates three dimensional pixelated shapes & movement using layers of transparent plexiglass on which dots appear


But the interactive works were really interesting..


I almost didn’t want to read the blurb for this work, and just put my arm inside to see what happens! The work is titled Perch on my Arm, and using robotics and sound it creates the feeling of a bird landing on your arm, singing & then taking off & flying away. For me it definitely felt like a robotic bird, but it took my breath away to have my arm forcibly albeit gently grasped, by an unseen mechanism!


The last work of the HABILITATE works was a novel merging of the real & virtual. Essentially there was a red dot projected on to a table, and if you placed some sheet music in front of it, you would hear the notes. Again a simple but clever idea – a quick test and I was jumping around a score, mashing chords together

Further into the gallery was a larger scale work by Stephen Cornford: ‘Binatone Galaxy’

As it was presented at the ICC Gallery, it appeared as a static display: a wall of old cassette recorders. Moving closer I noticed they all had their play buttons pushed in and as I craned my neck closer to see if any of them were actually playing, they all came to life. I had triggered a sensor and got to experience a wall of clicking clattering analogue cassette sounds. Simply beautiful!

Many of the other works were beautiful and incredibly visually engaging – two works by Daniel Rozin (creator of the wooden mirror I mentioned in earlier post from Hyogo Gallery exhibition) were transfixing

And two works for laser by Jio Shimizu were incredibly spell binding, but the anechoic chamber was beckoning!

There were four works available to experience in the anechoic chamber, two created by evala and two performed by Akio Suzuki and recomposed & programmed by evala. Luckily when I visited, the gallery was fairly empty so there was no queue, I was given a ticket & waited a few minutes for the previous person to finish & leave. I chose the first work and was guided into the anechoic chamber – the explanation was in Japanese but I got the basics: there was a single seat in the centre of the chamber, and around that seat was a metal cube of scaffolding, maybe 2.5m across/high. At each axis point there was a speaker, and underneath the seat was a subwoofer – so it was an 8.1 sound system, but could also be considered a dual quad sound system, one quad at floor level and another quad above your head, all speakers the same size & power. The guide explained the lights would be extinguished & then the work would play, she exited and I waited.

The lights went out & a profound silence settled. My breath sounded enormous, I could hear my heartbeat and I could not see anything. A complete void. Then it started, a gentle beautiful soundscape was revealed with the most exquisite spatialisation I have ever experienced. The soundtrack comprised of music & sound/field recording elements, meshed together and shaped so beautifully. I was completely absorbed in it, just lost in the layers and movement of sound – at times harmonics were moving all around and through me, I turned my head a number of times to see what effect it would have on the perception of the spatialisation and the changes were dramatic. I have heard demoes of Dolby Atmos, very recently at BeBlue Studio in Tokyo and earlier at Park Road Post, and Atmos is definitely impressive but in both cases the movement of sound was always perceived as dislocated from my psyche – this work was intimate, immediate, far more immersive & at times actually inside my head!

I lost track of time but the track gently wound down & ended, and I returned to the profound silence & darkness. Then after a minute or so, the lights very slowly faded back up and my guide returned. I was blown away – this was the most amazing visceral sound experience I think I’ve ever had. Nothing in the real world has ever come close to being this spatial. I couldn’t stop grinning and followed my guide back outside and politely asked if I could have a ticket to wait for a chance to experience one of the other works. She smiled, pointed at the display that said ‘Available Now’ – no one was waiting, so back I went to experience a second work. I chose another work by evala and settled in, knowing a little more what to expect, but the second work was markedly different. It wasn’t aggressive per se, not in an obvious way but if the first work was gentle & evocative this work was more assertive and present. I revelled in it, just fantastic work, at one point the sounds become quite crunchy, like someone was walking through snow but the spatialisation made it feel like my spine was the snow… at another point the sounds became friction based, plastic gently tearing, but spatialised so it felt like if my head was made of plastic then my brain was being split apart. Truly stunning, beautiful perceptual manipulation!

When I left the chamber the second time another person was waiting, and as my time in Tokyo was running out, I enthusiastically thanked the guide and headed out to the gallery entrance, with my perceptions still sparking & buzzing… It was a quasi religious experience and I cannot reccomend this highly enough!


update: link to evala site


Before I left the ICC I had to make a quick visit to their bookstore. I keep an eye on the schedule at the ICC and if I can’t experience every exhibition I still enjoy reading about them, so I picked up a few books & DVDs including a DVD of an installation I did see a few years ago at the ICC: LIFE by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Shiro Takatani!





By this stage I had about 2 hours left, my next stop would have been the Tokyo Museum of Photography but it is closed until 2015 for renovations. Apart from seeing exhibitions there I also wanted to go to the associated bookstore, but again due to renovations it was closed. After checking the bookstore website I discovered that in the interim the photography book store had merged with another branch store by the same company so I raced over to Ebisu and visited NADIFF A/P/A/R/T bookstore and managed to buy a copy of a new book by photographer Michael Kenna: IN FRANCE. I knew he had recently had an exhibition and book launch in Tokyo, so I hoped they would still have stock and sure enough…


Hello excess baggage! Hello profound inspiration!


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