My last weekend in Japan I made a trip to Tokyo primarily to visit this exhibition: Art & Music – Search for New Synaesthesia which was curated by Ryuichi Sakamoto and I am very glad I did as it was incredibly inspiring! So consider this a little review, but if you live in Tokyo then I highly reccomend visiting it as nothing I can write or show you is as good as experiencing such sublime works. The exhibition runs through until February 3rd 2013, so there is still time to see it – TokyoArtBeat says 86 days until it closes!
And an important note: I am really writing this for people who cannot go to the exhibition! If you can & do plan to visit it, please stop reading! Discovering each of the works for yourself is far more fun without any prior knowledge!!! This would be like reading a review full of spoilers before seeing a movie! OK?
By the time we arrived at the Museum of Contemporary Art I was excited like a small child on Christmas morning, and the exterior of the building just made me even more excited – it takes a city with a large population to be able to afford such grand architecture & it is one of the joys of travel, being able to experience such things!
We bought our tickets walked inside & into the first installation: Clinamen by Celeste Boursier-Mougenot who you might know of via a previous installation where he set up an electric guitar in an aviary at the Barbican center in London? If not check this video out. Anyway this particular installation was a feast for the ears and the eyes, and almost instantly imparted a sense of wonder. I can try to describe it, and I’ll post a video below but both are mere shadows of the spatial experience…
Imagine walking into a room, stark white walls & a brown floor, except the floor is dominated by a circular bright blue swimming pool. This pool has maybe 50 or 100 porcelian bowls floating in ti, all different sizes but all stark white.. And an unseen unheard current in the water is making all these bowls move around, gently bumping into each other.. Now imagine what that sounds like… The chiming resonances, the randomised rhythms and stereo spatialisation was just incredibly beautiful – like seeing and hearing real granular sounds where each grain is the size of a dinner plate! This video does not do it justice…
The next work I have posted before, but I’ll post the video again below. As an installation the work was distributed across a dozen or more digital photo frames, so it was impossible to focus on more than a few at a time.. And of course the sound from each photo frame was localised dependant on where you stood or looked, and of course the sync between frames was arbitrary…
“Forest and Trees” by Keita Onishi
The largest scale work at the exhibition was Otomo Yoshide limited ensembles (by Otomo Yoshihide, Yasutomo Aoyama, Sachiko M, Kanta Horio, Yuko Mohri) and when you first come across the installation your view is from upstairs:
Wow was all I could say!! And you should hear it!!
As you make your way through the rest of the exhibits you eventually can access the installation at ground level and walk amongst it all, and that is an amazing spatial experience. It might not be obvious but all the devices in that room are wired up to remote control and their activity is being orchestrated.
Once you are closer to the 129 turntables you also realise none of them have vinyl on them – they are ‘playing’ different surfaces…
And that grand piano was the most cleverly prepared piano I have ever seen or heard – with actuators controlling different mechanisms to strike notes, enable Ebows etc….
One sound I heard that I made a mental note to try myself is visible in the following photo:
If you look closely you can see a biscuit tin suspended, and it is acting as a resonator – hanging down from the tin is a thin wire and hanging from the bottom of it is a cooling fan from a computer… Every so often (as controlled by the remote orchestrator) the fan kicks into life and sends its vibrations up the wire…. The sound was really very interesting!!
You also can’t see them but there are a series of small amplifiers & speakers sending high frequency sine waves into the space… But the real beauty of the installation was in the minimal orchestration, as any one device might only sound once in a five minute period….
Ryuichi Sakamoto also had a work in the exhibition, in collaboration with Shiro Takatani, involving two beautiful grand pianos that were very, very sparsely playing notes & short phrases via actuators… Again the space they were in contributed beautifully as the pianos were spaced maybe 30 metres apart…. Also in the same room was a collaboration with architectural acoustic designer Seigen Ono which involved climbing inside an acoustically dampened space created by Ono as an aural tea room involving “Shizuka Stillness Panels”
The exhibition also included the datamatrix version of Ryoji Ikedas datamatic, distributed across 10 projections and this work was mesmerising in a different way (ie less ear shattering/traumatic) to the single screen projection I experienced in Kyoto…
Along with still images Carsten Nicolai also had an electro mechanical installation Interference Room which projected interference patterns on a screen via two physical oscillators. The work reminded me of the first Nicolai work I ever saw, Wellenwanne in London back in 2000…
All of the exhibits I’ve described so far are sound creating, and yet synaesthesia is not exclusively in the audio realm, so it was equally fascinating to experience the many visual works including paintings by Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Udomsak Krisanamis and graphic scores by Toru Takemitsu and John Cage. Each of these works immediately invoked your imagination as to how they would sound, but even more with by a large contraption in the same room – what looked like a mechanical synthesisor: The Language Instrument Parole Singer, created in 1974 by Michi Tanaka and Jiro Takamatsu – it took all my will power to not ignore the DONT TOUCH sign and try & find the on button!! Each key was labelled with a phonetic sound, implying that to play the instrument would be to enable it to speak or sing! The mind boggles….
The last exhibit I’ll mention was by Swedish artist Christine Odlund and comprised of a series of water colours with a theme of the Stress Call of the Stinging Nettle which investigated plant to plant communication and in the process created a graphic score, which was replayed via projection into the same space as the paintings. There is an excerpt of the video below:
“Art and music are considered different genres. However, surely there is art that is created through sound, just as there is music that is created visually. Also there are forms of expression that cannot be described as being either art or music and those that can be described as being both. By exploring the synesthesia of art and music, or the boundary between the two, we may be able to catch a glimpse of not only the origin of mankind’s artistic expression, but also its future. That is what I hope to achieve through this exhibition. ”