I visited Ryoanji Temple yesterday and it was a bit like catching up with an old friend – familiar as I have visited many times before, but also different with the season (and of course because I have inevitably changed)



Of course its impossible to capture such an exquisite dry garden with a camera, but me & the Distagon tried!



After I had been there for maybe half an hour, something quite beautiful & unexpected happened…


The sun came out & due to it being autumn and the trees being bare, their shadows were projected on to the surface of the garden!


When I think of temples in Japan I always remember the feeling of peaceful contemplation, but at temples as famous as Ryoanji it can be a challenge. All of the above photos speak of a profound peaceful quiet but…


Just out of frame in every photo is this crowd of people, some quietly enjoying the temple, others chatting loudly & incessantly taking photos (as was I, of course) but the most annoying thing I experienced at Ryoanji was another gaijin with one of those ridiculous selfy sticks!?! I watched him for a bit & could imagine the photos he was taking ‘heres me at a temple, and heres me at the same temple, and heres me beside a shrub, and hes me, me, me, me…’ – as I said on Twitter a while ago, I am waiting patiently for the first report of a beating with a selfy stick! Time for your close up? Here let me help…

The antidote was to get as far away from him as possible… and the grounds of Ryoanji temple are beautiful! Peace returning, urge to beat imbecile receding…



I’m sure I’ve said it before, but one of the genius aspects of the design of the dry garden at Ryoanji is that it is composed of 15 rocks, but there is no viewpoint (other than maybe overhead) where you can actually see all 15 rocks…

And from wikipedia: In an article published by the science journal Nature, Gert van Tonder and Michael Lyons analyze the rock garden by generating a model of shape analysis (medial axis) in early visual processing. Using this model, they show that the empty space of the garden is implicitly structured, and is aligned with the temple’s architecture. According to the researchers, one critical axis of symmetry passes close to the centre of the main hall, which is the traditionally preferred viewing point. In essence, viewing the placement of the stones from a sightline along this point brings a shape from nature (a dichotomously branched tree with a mean branch length decreasing monotonically from the trunk to the tertiary level) in relief.
The researchers propose that the implicit structure of the garden is designed to appeal to the viewer’s unconscious visual sensitivity to axial-symmetry skeletons of stimulus shapes. In support of their findings, they found that imposing a random perturbation of the locations of individual rock features destroyed the special characteristics.

I can only guess that the composition and use of negative space was a motivating factor in John Cages work Ryoanji:


Back streets of Kyoto

’round and round, up and down, through the streets of your town…’ – excuse the nostalgic soundtrack…

On my way back from visiting temples in Kyoto and the National Museum, google maps gave me a few options to walk into city where the LISN store was, so I chose the path that avoided main roads.
I love wandering narrow alleyways & back streets in Japan, as you get a little glimpse into the lives of locals, which is infinitely more interesting than the main street shop fronts…


I was taking this photo of the digger as I liked the vivid colour, when suddenly this girl rode past on her bike wearing a jacket the exact same colour… Doh! missed it, but then she turned left and came back into shot for a moment..



Wandered past a bike shop & love these little bikes… but saw an adult riding one a bit later & it made me think more of the circus than a sensible commuting option…



As dusk fell, I wandered past little restaurants & bars – hidden away from tourists but no doubt well know to locals…



All photos taken with Fuji x100s – that last one is why I love the little Fuji camera, easy to have with you & sharp even when shooting handheld in low light…


closer crop of the same photo…

Relatedly back in Osaka the other day I visited the Fuji Gallery (one of the great things each of the companies in Japan who produce cameras do is run photo galleries, usually attached to a show room) and tried the Fuji x100T. I shouldn’t have, because now I want to upgrade! I didn’t play with it enough to appreciate the internal changes but the physical evolution was immediately obvious – key buttons had been moved to better positions and it felt so right when handheld… Will leave it for next visit to Japan…

Listening to incense

I’ve had a few interesting experiences in the last few days, listening to incense. And no, thats a turn of phrase I made up (aka burnt contact mics?) – it is apparently a traditional Japanese idea. I visited the Shoyeido incense store in Osaka yesterday, and their website describes it thus: “We use the expression “listening to incense” to describe the delicate process of enjoying the subtle fragrance of a tiny piece of aromatic wood. As we embrace the bowl in our palms, the gentle scent beckons us to use all of our senses–a process also known as “Mon-koh.” Have a read here for further instruction on this tradition

In the West, incense has a somewhat dubious association with hippies, but thats really just a case of appropriation – same for the crystal stores & like. Incense has been an important part of both religion and general life for centuries in Japan – the Shoyeido store states their incense is the result of 12 generations and 300 years of evolution and as well as having stores in Kyoto, Osaka & Tokyo also supply incense to the head temples of all the major Japanese Buddhist sects. So I guess I couldn’t have a better reason to erase the horrid hippy connotations and open my mind & olfactory organs to some new experiences.


It was such a pleasure to visit this store. Standing out on the busy street prior to entering I inhaled the mix of cold autumn air & vehicle fumes & thought about the contrast: how would it smell when I opened that door? The smell of anticipation… And when comparing incense I wondered if there was an equivalent taste cleansing such as that of the cracker when wine tasting, or eating ginger between trying different types of sushi & sashimi…


I planned from the outset to cover my bases by buying a variety of incense, so I can slowly learn to appreciate the different types and find what I actually prefer under different circumstances. My primary aim is to find an incense that I can use to alter my state of mind, for example if I busy doing some boring work (accounts, metadata entry etc..) and I finish that work & wish to then have some fun writing/producing music, it is pretty obvious a completely different state of consciousness is required and to find an incense that I really really enjoy AND can be used to inform my subconscious I am finished with the accounts and am now going to make some drones or beats or whatever, could be an invaluable aid. Suspect I already know the right incense for playing bass, but who knows? Maybe I find an incense that is perfect for modular synth wiggling!?!


I tried a number of different varieties, and it was interesting how easily a scent was replaced by the next – a quick sniff didn’t linger in my mind, despite clarifying what I did and didn’t like.. So I bought a decent selection of incense: some selector packs, a few larger boxes and an interesting book (in english) The Book of Incense: Enjoying the Traditional Art of Japanese Scents


My second experience was remarkably different, this time I visited the LISN store in Kyoto. LISN is actually owned by Shoyeido but takes a different approach to selling incense, reinventing itself for a contemporary, presumably younger market with brightly coloured packaging and even a 2D incense chart to help categorise the different kinds… I was also partly motivated to visit this store due to its incredibly beautiful minimalist interior design by Shigemasa Noi – check out this and some of his other work here


This time trying the many different flavours was more like taking little sips from a cup – fragrances were grouped together, so for example sniffing my way through the ‘floral’ section was quite quick & I was given a little tray to place my selections on… It will be interesting to actually try these at home as it became a little overwhelming, and I got the impression with the bright colours & huge range of scents that these were produced via chemistry rather than traditionally but that may be a side effect of the way they are presented, compared with the traditional Shoyeido store…


Its certainly been a fascinating cultural learning experience, and it will be an ongoing experiment at my home & studio exploring how my olfactory organs influence what I hear & make! Thanks to Ken for this article providing invaluable insight to finding these stores!


Mitzushima Port Ship Factory

After the weekend on Shodoshima we caught the ferry to Okayama and then drove in heavy rain to Mitzushima Port, a fairly industrial area that I had visited once before and had discovered this huge SANOYAS ship factory which I wanted to revisit with my field recording gear. After a bit of research I found a hotel called the Kurashiki Beach side Hotel and while it was beside the sea it was also right beside the ship factory, and was originally built for the factory. Thanks to that existing connection we were able to go on a 30 minute free guided tour of the factory, with strict instructions we had to stay in the van – ship factories being fairly dangerous places. But it gave me a chance to see everything close up, take some photos and basically do a recce for recording.



(aerial photo ex the Sanoyas site)

You can see the factory from miles away due to the pair of huge cranes, and to give some idea of scale thats a full size container freighting ship to the right of the following photo…


To build a ship takes 2.5 years and they start with the rear as that is the most complex part, housing the engine & steering as well as all the living spaces etc… Those two Goliath cranes can lift 800 ton, while the older jib crane can lift 240 tons!


The rest of the ship is constructed in sections and then those cranes move the sections into position where they are welded together. Interestingly the maximum width of the ship is dictated by the width of Panama Canal…


On the two big cranes the small angular part sticking out the side is where the driver works…


Both cranes were busy when we visited, and when one of them moved along the huge tracks it made me blink my eyes – the scale just seemed unreal!


After the tour we checked out of the hotel and I rigged up my mics and found a location on the exterior of the perimeter of the factory. I started off recording in quad but it felt a bit too wide and I was getting too much of the wharf activity behind me into the omni mics, so I ditched those & got my KTek Boom out and managed to mount it quite stably on top of the Manfrotto tripod: how to listen over walls!


I listened via headphones from inside the car, and it sounded gorgeous: occasional big resonant metal hits, distant hammering and all sorts of other diffuse sound. After capturing maybe 45 minutes of material we went for a drive around the area – the factory seemed to be surrounded by chemical factories


As with some of the steel factories I tried to record in Osaka it was hard to get close to activity, but we managed to find a few legitimate spots to record from…


Its maybe a strange form of tourism and obviously not for everyone, but I loved spending the day here. I would so LOVE to have access to record inside the factory, when we first drove on to the factory grounds we drove by someone doing some large scale welding: massive showers of sparks were pouring down & the sound was incredible. But as with any factory safety is paramount & there really isn’t much incentive to waste time guiding some gaijin sound recordist around! I was very happy just to see some of what goes on & to record some of the activity… Will post some sounds, but probably not until I get home

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light leaking in through a crack, MeiPam 2 Shodoshima shot with 5DmkIII and Distagon lens

MeiPam02 Exhibition Launched

My exhibition A DROP BECOMES THE OCEAN is live now at MeiPam 2 Gallery on Shodoshima – it was lots of work getting everything ready but I am very happy with how it looks/functions and as with many creative acts, making it ‘real’ has already had lots of beneficial effects.
The day I got the prints made in Osaka I was like a small child on Xmas morning: practically jumping up & down excitedly at the counter as each print was produced. Same thing happened when the prints arrived from the framer… But installing the prints & the video works in the gallery was an even greater evolutionary stage for me.

If you happen to live in or visit Japan and are considering a trip to Shodoshima, first stop is MeiPam 1 Gallery:


Directly across the street is the excellent MeiPam cafe – highly reccomended for a coffee, lunch or an oishi raspberry soda!


The MeiPam collective actually consist of four galleries and the cafe…

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 11.33.32 am

Up the street one block and around the corner is MeiPam 2 Gallery


Part of the excellent MeiPam ethos is repurposing old buildings, and MeiPam 02 is based on an old Shoyu-ya and rice warehouse which has been stripped to reveal the beautiful beams and sandstone walls. Apart from exhibitions MeiPam02 has also been used as a performance venue, and stepping through the door into the large space is a visual delight – it was such a pleasure to devise and install high resolution visual work there!



The work in my exhibition was created both on Shodoshima during my artists residency last year, and during my artists residency in Little Huia, New Zealand as well as subsequent work. But as I explained in my talk at the opening, all of my work is deeply influenced by my time spent on Shodoshima – it was such a pleasure to spend months of my life focused solely on personal work, and the ramifications of that time flow through everything I have done since and will do in future….

On the big screen/video projector are four works:



On one TV set EPHEMERAL ISLANDS – 9’25″ is looping



On the other TV set BIRDSONG PRELUDES is looping:


The remainder of the space features eight black & white prints: NEAR SILENCE






Two final thoughts

First, huge thanks to all of the MeiPam team. None of my work is for sale, this is purely an experiential exhibition and I greatly appreciate the opportunity for the work to be seen and enjoyed.

Secondly, in any form of creative endeavour there is profound benefit in completing the cycle: of creating, finishing & releasing work. I caught up with a friend of mine in Osaka yesterday who is in the early stages of publishing a book of his fantastic photos and we had arrived at the same realisation: as people who create work digitally and publish it online, it had been an unexpected joy and life altering process to see our own work transcend the digital world and become real. In hindsight this is slightly absurd, but creating the final works for this exhibition was literally the first time I have had any of my photos printed! But it has a similar effect as working away on a film for months and then attending a screening, or writing, recording & producing an album & suddenly having an actual album in your hands. I think it will be my mantra for 2015 & perhaps ever more: MAKE IT REAL!





Detritus 327

all I want for Xmas is… an 80 inch gong! (thank Richard)


▶ hear yourself happy?


▶ beautiful tech: mechanical calculators dissected


▶ fascinating insight into the reggae scene in Japan



▶ this is a great listen & quite funny – John Cage Q&A mp3 (thanks Greg)


▶ “_______ makes you more alive to your surroundings and, since the main ingredient of living, though you might not think so to look at most human beings, is to be alive, this is quite a worthwhile by-product”


▶ cats with eyes, of course!


▶ How to properly maintain your ears and earwax – comments worth a read too eg “I am an audiologist and I’ve seen my fair share of impacted wax due to Q-tips and even a few injuries… The best thing to do is to leave your ears alone.” YMMV


by Daniel Sierra – more info here



“Some of the most interesting sounds come from the most boring sources, like there was a tumble dryer backstage in Boston, it was making this very rhythmic, rolling sound. I used it as the basis of a loop of a kick drum. I don’t subscribe to the idea of recording things because they’re an interesting thing to record, rather that they’re an interesting sound.” – guess the artist


▶ now this is how to cook!

whoever chose that music at the end made me LOL!


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dusk, on the ferry from Tonosho, Shodoshima for Okayama – shot with Fuji x100s

Shodoshima beach


A Sunday morning visit to my favourite beach on Shodoshima, Japan… bliss!




Scattered Light 180


Just got back from a SUPER busy 3 day weekend:
first to Shodoshima where the above photo was taken. Finished installing exhibition at MeiPam2, attended opening & made a speech about sound, time, collaborating with nature & making new works.. then visited beach in photo, then to Haikyo Peacock Farm, then very slightly dinged our rental car while getting lost trying to find an infamous cafe, met at least six super helpful policemen who provided help & verified incident for insurance purposes, then caught ferry to Mitzushima Port, went for tour of very large scale ship factory (handy fact: it takes 2.5 years to make a ship!) then recorded some seriously beautiful ambiences aka spatial clang fest, from exterior perimeter of ship factory… then a couple of chemical factory ambiences & then drove 3 hours back to Osaka – love those expressways, so many tunnels!!

Food. drinks. sleep. in that order…. more photos/sounds to come..