Yesterday I went for a wander through DenDen Town in Osaka, which is the Kansai equivalent to Akihabara in Tokyo (or the electronics/tech/anime/game zone for the uninitiated) and after visiting an excellent four story electronics store (bought a solar powered cricket & a tiny microblock synth – like lego but tiny 1mm blocks) but outside the store was this vending machine: the Gadget Vendor!
Now there are vending machines everywhere you go in Japan & they are a welcome sight when you are thirsty as hell, and its a great reflection on Japanese behaviour/respect/discipline that beer and whisky are available from street side vending machines – such things wouldn’t last one night in New Zealand)
But this was the first vending machine I’ve seen that sold USB cables & iPod docks! Got a sudden need for a bread board at 3am?? Problem solved!
The next set of iOS apps are more on the whimsical side, less pro but still fun to play with… and they are free! I discovered them at the ICC Gallery in Shinjuku where they had a ‘Room of Rhythmushi-san’ set aside with an app on each iPad…. and I had to smile at the kawai hand drawn ui. To save my typing, heres the description from ICC site:“Rhythmushi” is a simple music and animation application for smartphones and tablet terminals. Other applications in this immensely popular series downloaded more than 2.8 million times in total so far include “Ototsumugi” and “OtoSketch” for generating sounds by drawing lines and pictures, as well as the “OtoBlock” sequencer for building rhythm patterns by arranging lines of blocks.
There are nine free apps ins the Rhythmushi series developed by Tsubasa Naruse – if you do a search in the app store for “Rhythmushi” you’ll find them all… and yes the little hand drawn turntables rotate and you can scratch with them!
I was introduced to the next pair of apps I AM SYNTH and I AM SAMPLER by Kazuki Kitamura, who is a Sound Designer at CapCom in Osaka. Considering how garish the ui of many iOS apps are, these two apps created by Japanese developer DETUNE excel by combining minimalism and functionality… And both are only US$0.99 each! Sugoi! The same company were responsible for the popular iMS-20 as well as an FM synth iYM2151
Another app I’ve been enjoying playing with is the granular processor Borderlands by Chris Carlson and it is quite astonishing once you load your own sounds in and have a decent play with it…. especially for US$3.99!
A few others I have installed but simply haven’t had time to check out yet are Brian Enos new soundscape app – theres an interview with him about it here. I also will find time to check out the PPG Wave Generator by Wolfgang Palm and lastly another granular app iPulsaret but it requires iOS6 so it will have to wait until I am back in NZ to install….
Lastly, a question: what RSS do you subscribe to for the latest iOS audio and music app releases? There must be a definitive feed out there, any suggestions?
Last night I finally got to see a Ryoji Ikeda show at the Kyoto Experiment Festival and wow! My senses are still reeling!! When I was planning my trip to Japan many months ago I originally booked for a 4 week stay, but then these datamatic v2.0 shows were announced and i was on the phone to my travel agent the next day! Turned out the 3 Tokyo shows sold out before we got organised to get tickets for it, but then a show was scheduled for Kyoto as part of the Kyoto Experiment project and we got tickets very soon after the announcement! And wow, it was so worth the effort! Here is a promo video for the show incase you have no idea who I’m talking about:
The programe for the show also noted: “In 2013, his new work, superposition, will come to Kyoto for its Japanese premiere” so I will be planning a visit to coincide with that next year (I suspect I’ll be spending quite a bit of time in Japan next year! Along with Emperor release & Tusi Nara shoot I’m also very keen to attend the Kobe Bienalle…. and I’m also applying for an artists residency here)
The show had a stern warning:
* No children under 6 admitted.
* Due to the use of the strobe effect and the high frequency sound during the performance, it is not recommended for those who have heart conditions including those who wear pacemakers.
And that warning was well justified. The 55 minute screening was HUGELY dynamic, with a lot of very hard cuts from scenes that had slowly built to the point of being oppressively loud and dense to sudden minimalism & then cutting back to sudden glitchy sub bass sounds & static rhythms that almost gave me minor panic attacks! Intense is an understatement!
The projection and sound system were extremely high quality – the screen being approx 5m x 5m and the monitors capable of making your abdomen resonate in the same way a dub reggae or dubstep sound system might… except with far more aggressive edges to the bass sounds. I’m pretty sure a few fillings rattled loose.. At one point a very low frequency sound felt like it was travelling up through my body as the frequency slowed ramped… For some people it could be torturous but despite there being a few moments where I wanted to block my ears due to the density & SPL, it was totally spellbinding!! From what I could detect Ikeda was using data from DNA/genome sequencing and also from planet/meteor spatial location to create totally hypnotic visual & sound cues… so, so beautiful – it felt like looking inside the fabric of the universe itself!
After the show there was a small store selling CDs and books, where I picked up what looks to be a very interesting book: “Creativity Seen/Unseen in Art and Technology – A compendium of media art and performance from YCAM: 2003-2008″
They also had Ryoji Ikeda CDs and books for sale, but when I was in Tokyo I visited one of my favourite galleries, the ICC Gallery, and bought a copy of his book: “+/- (the infinite between 0 and 1)” which is beautiful but also has a lengthy conversation between Ikeda and critic Akira Asada, discussing Ikedas history, influences and ideas…. totally fascinating!
For anyone unfamiliar with his work, a copy of the program notes:
“Ikeda creates sounds and visuals that are beyond our perception, making excellent use of computer and state-of-art technology. The one day only audiovisual concert takes place in the vast space of Kyoto Art Theater Shunjuza! Based in Paris, Ikeda is one of the world’s leading electronic composers and visual artists and his new work is always eagerly anticipated. His large solo exhibition “+/-[the infinite between 0 and 1]” at Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo and spectra[nagoya], which was done as a massive installation at Nagoya Castle with a high voltage search light that reached the stratosphere (Aichi Triennale 2011), have both left, sonically as well as visually, a great impact on audiences.
datamatics [ver.2.0], in which Ikeda uses all sorts of data such as microscopic DNA and molecules all the way to the macroscopic cosmos in an attempt to grasp the world by exploring the limit of human perception, is the final piece of a series that began in 2006. Creating infinite sequences at high speed, he composes the almost violent performance with great precision. Ikeda’s ultra minimalistic world offers a sublime audio-visual experience. In 2013, his new work, superposition, will come to Kyoto for its Japanese premiere.”
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.
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…
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!!
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…
And to see a very impressive solar generator… impatience levels rising…
Until finally we all donned hard hats & walked 500m down the road to this innocuous looking building….
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…
So slowly we descended until we walked out into one of the largest interior spaces I have ever been!!!
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…
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…
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!
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…
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…
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!
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…
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)
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 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!
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..
We loaded the coordinates into the car navi and cruised along the quiet country roads until we arrived at Teshima Art Museum
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…
Expectation grew as we followed the path through a small forest…
At the entrance we were given a short lecture: no photos inside, please take off your shoes..
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….
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
Some more detailed information about Teshima Museum here