Toshiya Tsunoda is a field recordist, and as with any field recordist context and point of view is everything. But Toshiya-san is an atypical recordist – as much a sound artist as field recordist, exploring naturally occurring sounds in particularly unique ways.
From an interview in Erstwords blog
“My field recordings feature the transmission of vibrations, and any location can be interesting. The question is what is happening in actual vibrations in a specific place. I picked several different locations and repeated recordings to see the depth of activity, which has slight differences every time. Any particular place forms a pattern of vibrations that is specific to the place depending on the physical condition of the space. By seeking the point for recording, I search for the nature of the place.”
And from a great interview in THE WIRE magazine:
“I think that the word ‘field’ of ‘field recording’ does not mean only the physical place,” he asserts. “Place or space always depends on one’s consideration. We can think of a gymnasium as a particular place. Also a public park is a space. We can call a town or woods a particular space. But what do we recognise in those spaces? The awareness of space changes with one’s intentionality. So my recording work mostly needs some explanation in the liner notes. The listener’s recognition of space or place will change if the sound is heard after reading it.
“If you think about it carefully, the activity of an actual space always moves,” he continues. If you put a contact mic on the ground or the wall of a space as I do, you can hear the standing wave that persists in the place. There is a complex mechanism there even if the wave seems simple. Probably all things – material, construction, temperature, humidity and so on – that concern the place might be a factor here. Place is always moving, like a sleeping cat.”
Toshiya Tsunoda | Low Frequency Observed At Maguchi Bay | Hibari Music | 2007
“One CD that [Tsunoda] is particularly fond of is Low Frequency Observed At Maguchi Bay, released on Hibari in 2007. It contains a rare example of processed sound in his work — the filtering out of almost the entire audio signal on half of the album. There are eight tracks, sourced from four contact mic field recordings. The odd-numbered tracks contain the original recordings, and the even numbered tracks replay the identical material with all sound above 20 Hz (ie the threshold of human hearing) removed. Listening to it, one becomes aware of something there but not-there, as the throbbing speakers seem to try to express something under extreme duress. “Maguchi Bay is a very ordinary fishing bay in Japan, a quiet place,” he recounts. “But the place was mysterious for me. There are many piers and breakwaters at the bay. When a contact mic is attached to one of the smallest and oldest piers, a huge amplitude of very low frequency sound is spread there. It was an unusual case in my field work. I discovered the low frequency about ten years ago. The mysterious thing for me is that this low-frequency vibration doesn’t relate to any sound that one hears in the air. First, I thought that it was the effect of the wind shaking the pier. But then it happened when there was no wind. Then, I thought that the sound was the vibration of a distant ship resonating across the bay, bouncing off the hill and making itself felt under water in the bay. But this guess was wrong too, as it would have been possible to detect the sound with the air microphone. It was so mysterious. My next guess was that there was a cause at the bottom of the sea,” he continues. “So I asked a fisherman who lives there. His answer was that the seabed terrain was extremely rugged. The water currents at the bottom of the sea are terrible. So the low frequencies came from the seabed. It was the vibration of the underwater currents hitting the pier supports where they met the seabed. The low frequency that I observed is an essential feature of Maguchi Bay and it’s directly related to the structure of that place. It only became a fishing bay when a lot of breakwaters were built to calm down the terrible sea currents. So there is a local history that I became aware of through the low frequency. I came to love the place, which I’ve known since I was a child, more than before. This is an ideal example of my field work. However, this wonderful result is for only myself. The CD listener cannot know it, but it’s very important for me. Making the CD, I decided to delete everything over 20 Hz from the recording material,” he concludes. “There’s nothing to hear, but the loudspeaker moves on the even-numbered tracks. I wanted to give the listener the mysterious encounter with low frequencies that I had at Maguchi. The moving speaker is like a moving sculpture in the listener’s room. This is an example of my conceptual work.”
Toshiya Tsunoda | Extract From Field Recording Archive #2: The Air Vibration Inside A Hollow | Häpna | 1999
Toshiya Tsunoda | Extract From Field Recording Archive #1 | WrK | 1997
There is also an interesting interview with Toshiya Tsunoda here
PLOP：You say the mikes and other devices that are used for recordings are constructed with pieces bought around Akihabara in Tokyo. What are they like? And could you tell us about the usual set-ups and locations for the recordings?
TT: “I use contact mikes which were developed for medical equipment. I guess they were unwanted by doctors founding them sold as junk, so I bought up nearly everything left over the course of years. Its pre-amp is mounted onto piezo-ceramic disc and it has a very high sensitivity. I connect those to batteries and some other parts. Air mikes are found, though only the head parts, at professional device shops. They are very expensive and have good efficiency although their diameter is 3mm and their span is 20mm. Again those can not be used as they are, so some modifications are required to connect to the batteries. Recording is done onto portable DAT player with those two types of microphones. Because they are all tiny and light, set-up is pretty easy with clips and gaffa tapes. I don’t really process the recorded sounds so I concentrate on searching the recording points.”
Thanks to Martin Kay for making me aware of Toshiya Tsunoda work!
And lastly, a slightly secret piece of advice: if you are considering buying a contact mic for recording I would hold off for about a month. Some very interesting developments are afoot…. and that is all I can say!