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…

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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..

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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…

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

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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…

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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.

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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…

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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!?!

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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

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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

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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…

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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.

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(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…

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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!

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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…

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

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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!

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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!

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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

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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…

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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