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

Scattered Light 182


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!