Aki Onda: Interview
“After I do a field recording, I will normally leave the tapes for some years. I need some kind of detachment from the sounds I collected.”
When I arranged to meet with New York-based sound artist Aki Onda for coffee somewhere on London’s South Bank, there were so many points I felt needed to be addressed. Sure, I had already filled half a notebook with questions I wanted to ask regarding the appropriation of his incredible soundscapes, the editing process behind his heartfelt field-recordings, and his methods for archiving material, but listening to Cassette Memories Vol. 3: South of the Border once again on my way to the meeting, there were so many other things I felt curious about. When an artist as well-traveled and knowledgeable as Aki releases an album, it cuts so much more deeply than any generic field recording, and I wanted to get behind that, find out how it all came together; I wanted to see the bigger picture.
Aki is more open and eloquent about his art than I could have possibly imagined, and though he shared a great deal, I’ve stopped the transcript at the point I turned my recorder off — for inside the hustle and bustle of a busy coffee house, Aki divulged a great deal about his artistic processes, his technique, his influences, and his live performance, all in a manner that was warm, friendly, and sincere. This is a man who is passionate about his recordings, and it’s a privilege to present this interview for all that it is — a conversation about art.
You recently sent me a link to a short film that was set in France, where you were recently on tour. Can you tell me a bit about the idea behind it?
I did a site-specific performance at Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, which is a French art school, at the beginning of last month. It’s the highest level French art school, like the Royal Academy in London. The location was great — it was made in the 16th Century and it is a historical landmark — they have to preserve their buildings as they are, which can really make the setting special. There were many interesting buildings inside the campus, which are so rustic since many buildings have not been renovated. I was especially amazed by La chapel des Petits-Augustins, that looks like a chapel but without any religious connotation. Instead of religious icons, they put many artworks inside, so it is like a church of art. It is interesting because they installed a number of Italian renaissance artworks there, which were all copies from original pieces that had been made in Italy.
How did you find that your music was responded to within that context?
There is particular kind of strangeness since all artworks there are imitations and not originals. I wanted to create a soundscape that matches to that atmosphere. For a Cassette Memories performance, I play a selection of field recordings, which I recorded myself. They are from my past memories, and the spaces that I play in have their own memories. I also do location hunting in advance — normally I select intuitively, and then do some historical research, but the historical facts are not the main factor of deciding where I play — its more intuitive. If you go to a historic place or an old building, you feel something from its presence. This is obvious, and anybody can feel it. If you are standing inside a building which was built centuries ago. But what is that feeling? It’s aura or psyche of the building. And what is that aura you feel? It’s an energy! So, in a sense, I try to directly touch and feel the energy of the space, by looking at Eastern philosophy and Eastern medicine. It’s really about energy control. But that’s why, if you think about what I do in a linguistic way, or in a logical way, it doesn’t make sense. But if you take this as the energy — it begins to make sense.
Photos: Aure´lien Mole
The whole concept of collecting these sonic diaries is that you must feel some sort of personal attachment with the recordings you get. You must feel something — you’ll record a fragment of time, and you’ll go back and listen to it later on and that will trigger some memory of the place where you were, which seems very personal. And then you are finding a place to project these memories for an audience — what does it feel like when you are sharing these?
After I do a field recording, I normally leave the tapes for some years. I need some kind of detachment from the sounds I collected. Sound is abstract, much more than visual images, and if I listen to the tapes, I remember where and how I recorded for some of them, but many tapes, I often don’t remember.
Does that help with the process of playing back, if you have forgotten where or how you have recorded something?
It’s actually more about forgetting something. During that process of archiving my cassettes, I try to throwing them into the void. I have to cut the bond with the original meanings first. Then, I’ll be able to use them for re-creating the other meanings. So it’s not like telling you about my personal history, which I’m not interested in at all. I’d like to make it abstract and open to the others.
Why did you start doing this? I understand it was when your camera broke that you first thought about recording sounds.
Yeah, that was in London in 1988. I was living in Brixton and bought a Sony Walkman from a black guy selling junk on a street. It was just before I was leaving for Morocco and I thought it might be a good way to somehow record my trip. The camera that I had been using for some years had just broken and I did not have enough money for a new one. So I settled for a cheap cassette Walkman. I just wanted to document my trip as a diary, and didn’t think I would use it for more than two decades later.
Dance performances are really inspiring to me, because the performers use their body and space as a composition. So, I started thinking about the relationship between the sound and the space and that pushed me more to do site specific performances. If I perform in a special situation, I have to think about my sound and the natural environment itself. So I started questioning something, and that gave me new possibilities.
A ha, this is interesting: when you first started documenting your surroundings, you started with photography. Do you find that you can still archive in the same way when you are using purely sound as opposed to imagery?
I use a Walkman in the same way that I would use a camera, or a film camera. So, in a sense, what I am doing is wrong, completely wrong! But, that’s how I found a way to make my own art, and I am applying techniques across different mediums. I wasn’t conscious about that before — but now, after 20-something years, I know what I’m doing.
How do you archive this material?
Well, it’s easy to record, but it takes considerable time to play back. So, usually after I make field recording, I don’t listen to those for a few years or more. I put them in a cardboard box and leave them. I have many cardboard boxes, and many tapes are not even labelled. Sometimes I pick up those and start to play back, and look for interesting sounds. If I don’t find anything, then I will recycle those tapes. Basically there are two different kinds of tapes. [Aki pulls out a box of multicolored tapes and fumbles one into his Walkman, presses play and a loud siren blares from the speaker, the waitress looks over.] This one, I recorded hundreds of fragmented sounds on one tape, then when I finished until the end, I left it for a couple of years and then went back to it, again layered randomly on top. This process makes messy and dense sound collage — all of my experiences are recorded in a decontextualised manner — it’s not really music — It’s more like outsider art. When I compose or perform, I use those tapes, do live editing and transform the raw materials into music.
Another kind is… [Aki inserts another tape, which is color coded and has doodles on it — various conversations play back at volume.] This was recorded in a Vietnamese restaurant in Paris… I don’t remember which year, but a long time ago. So, this kind of tape, I record one field recording sound from beginning to end of the tape. It’s like an act of deep listening, and documenting that experience.
When you are playing live and you have a box of different cassettes — how do you chose what to play?
It depends on an occasion as I sometimes improvise and sometimes play a meticulously composed piece. Both cases, I have certain way to make an order of my tapes, and it works as a sort of graphic score. Or, I often draw a graphic score including information of how I set the time line, order of the cassettes I play and how to play those.
But when you have an album release, like South of the Border, it’s all from a specific time, from a specific country?
It also depends. It could be from a specific time or a specific city or country, or I could juxtapose different times and places.
All sounds I used for South of the Border were recorded in Mexico in 2005. I was staying in Mexico city and traveling around in the country side for more than one month and made so many field recordings. That’s was a fantastic experience to just be there and it inspired me a lot. So I wanted to make my own… almost fantasy like portrait of the country, and it was a bit like Alejandro Jodorowsky described that country in his films. It’s really interesting that there is no borderline between the reality and imagination there. Do you remember the first scene of Jodorowsky’s film “Santa Sangre”? A lot of prostitutes are marching and seducing horny men in a market for food or daily goods. It’s like selling sex as if selling vegetable or meat, and looks so surreal and unreal. But, it’s a real place, and if you go there, you can see it as it is. Something is twisted in that country, and Mexican people are so conscious about it. Jodorowsky is a Chilean, and that’s why he could observe Mexican life and myth clearly. I wanted to adopt that sort of a foreigner’s point of view when I was making this album. Also, I had a long term relationship with that country since I was a little child. My father joined Mexico Olympics, as a member of the Japanese national hockey team, and in our house, there were photos and super 8 films he shot during his stay. I was too little and didn’t understand what Mexico is. But, those images looked so different from Japan where I grew up, and I started dreaming about another world. When you wrote a review of the album for Tiny Mix Tape several months ago, you said that South of the Border is an attempt to make a soundtrack to memories of watching those images my father shot. Well, I wasn’t conscious about it until you pointed out. But, I have to admit that is true. There are many things you don’t know when you are making. I think that’s why we keep making something…
Through the exploration of captured sound?
Yeah, that what always clicks my imagination and motivation.
It seems very personal, so how does that react when you are collaborating with someone else, like a filmmaker or another musician, such as Alan Licht or Michael Snow?
Alan is a walking dictionary of New York avant-garde and underground culture, and beyond. He knows a lot about film too. So we share many interests together, along with Michael Snow. We connect the past and the present at the same time. Unless I feel those kinds of similar interests with someone, I don’t usually collaborate. I tend to avoid playing as an improviser, or just as a musician — I’m not interested in that kind of style. I just want a kind of similar interest or perspective to art in general.
I am recording a 30-minute tape every day. But I also have these color buttons, so that I code the music — for every three weeks I have a different color button — which is also kind of like an art form. I changed the way to record a sound 180 degrees: Before, it was automatic, I was recording at a subconscious level without any decisions. What I am doing now is all 100 percent conscious decisions.
What about when you are working with a filmmaker?
Visual images trigger my imagination, more than sounds. So it’s natural to work with filmmakers. I think it’s because of my background. I was familiar with visual arts, photography and films since when I was a child, and I started working as a photographer when I was fifteen much before I became a musician. I was watching many avant-garde films back in the 80s in Japan too. Then, after I started visiting in New York around 1995, I spent so much time at film theaters like Anthology Film Archives and MoMA.
Was that for study?
Yeah, those were really good places to absorb the essence of New York avant-garde, and through that, I discovered artists like Michael Snow, Ken Jacobs, Jack Smith, Joseph Cornell, Harry Smith, Andy Warhol, Tony Conrad and so on. I’m in the lineage of those artists, and my cassette work is deeply influenced by that tradition — junk alchemy occultism that was very unique to New York. If I didn’t move to that city, I could have developed my cassette work completely in a different way, or maybe.. I simply couldn’t make it. In Anthology Film Archives, there is a collection of cassettes Harry Smith made. Those are the ambient sounds of Manhattan and other places - he wondered a street to street and made field recordings. It’s like re-mapping the city in his hermetic way. What I do is close to that sort of practice.
What about your workshops, then? You said you did a workshop in Paris…
Yeah, I did it when I was doing that performance at Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts.
So what happens at an Aki Onda workshop?
I did it with a Paris based curator Daniele Balit, who is more like a theoretician and I was more like a practitioner. We talked about site-specific art projects and cassette medium and… what else? I forgot…
But I imagine those workshops are quite popular, particularly with the cassette format digging its heels and remaining a popular medium…
I’m not sure if it’s popular, because cassette labels or artists only make 50 or 100 at a time. Also, many people do not have a cassette recorder any more. It’s a bit like a limited fashion, and I don’t take the hype so serious.
Sure, but smaller labels put out a number of cassette editions when the demand is there. I’m a big fan of the medium. I enjoy listening to cassettes — I enjoy the feel of the tape and the quality of the sounds that come from that, which comes with a past inclination for making mixtapes for mates.
Of course, I love the aesthetic. But I like more about the materiality — the quality or texture of cassette sound, as well as Super 8, or could be grainy black and white photos, that kind of rough and coarse feel. So for me it doesn’t have to be cassette. I just like things that are damaged, destroyed, scratched, ruined, wrecked, and not perfect.
There are a lot of interesting artists who are working with degradation…
That was one of the reasons I became interested in the New York avant-garde, from the 60s and 70s, also a bit from the 80s. Many of their artworks were roughy made. The ideas were more important than what actually materialized. For instance, the soundtracks Tony Conrad made for Jack Smith’s films. Those sounds are pretty much fucked up, the similar to the visual images.
Yeah, it’s haggard. But appealing!
Somehow I like the roughness. That’s beautiful and brutal.
Do you think this feeling is possible to achieve through digital recordings?
I wouldn’t say that it’s not possible. But by using cassette medium, I can easily make that kind of audio quality. If it’s digital, I have to manipulate with plug-ins a lot, and it gets closer but not enough. I use Pro Tools when I do recordings, and it’s really convenient. But, I prefer analog sound sources. Usually I play cassettes through vintage tube amps and record the sounds through high quality condenser microphones with real tube amplifier, sometime though real tape echo. So it’s 100 percent analogue. However, when I do editing, it’s 100 percent digital. I am not against [new] media at all, I just need to use both analogue and digital in the right method. Many filmmakers shoot by Super 8 or 16 mm, but when they edit, they use Final Cut Pro. Some of them then transfer back to film after they have finished editing — it’s the same process.
What can you tell me about the transportation of these sounds, apart from severing personal bonds with them? Take Morocco, where you went to a foreign country to record — what was it like to transport and play your recordings in a different context?
If you transfer sounds, or visuals, or any kind of materials, to another context, the original meanings tend to change or shift. That’s what I like playing with. I tend to listen to sounds like watching visuals. Field recordings contain visual memory or information. So, if you listen to those, it’s easier to imagine visuals in your mind. In a sense, I edit sounds almost like editing visuals.
But with the images, there remains comparatively less doubt in the mind of the viewer about what they are experiencing. Whereas, with your Cassette Memories, that is a completely different case. I listen to your albums, and I feel I hear something very different from what the next person would hear.
It’s open to the imagination. It’s cinema for the ears.
So when do you decide to press record?
Whenever I ears catch an interesting sound. I just carry my Walkman either in my pocket or in my bag wherever I go. It became so automatic after doing this for 20-something years and I don’t have to decide anything. It’s instinctive response.
OK, so you are not thinking “this will sound interesting later on,” it’s just instinctual?
No no… I don’t think how to use the sound at that very moment… If you do it everyday, it’s a lot about banality. But, later on, I have to extract something special from the accumulation. Sometimes, it’s like finding a diamond in a mountain of garbage.
Anyway, I feel that the meaning of the act of recording has changed since the beginning. It was an obsession back then, really strong one. But, it’s not any more after 20-odd years. You can’t keep an obsession forever, and I don’t think it’s healthy to keep obsessions forever. Whether it’s good or bad, it became as my art practice.
I started a project last year and decided to make one field recording tape everyday for three years. Because… before I started this project, I realized that I hadn’t made any effort to make field recordings for at last several years. It became a way too automatic. So I wanted to reverse my habit 180 degree and made all conscious decisions first - OK, let’s use 30 minutes tape and record at least one side,15 minutes, per day. Let’s use six different color cassettes and make color patterns for each year. Let’s set a theme or strategy for what to record for each year etc. Then, after the three years, I will have more than one thousand tapes which will be an artwork itself… Before starting this project, I was making field recordings at a subconscious level without making any decision. What I am doing for this project is 100 percent conscious decisions. It’s a sort of study project, and I still don’t know what I get from this experience. Just try and see what happens…
Does recording so frequently make it difficult to get hold of the cassettes?
Yeah, It’s getting difficult for sure. And, the audio quality has been getting worse and worse, as well as the tape itself has been getting thinner and thinner. When you look back to the different times - the 80s, 90s, 2000s — cassette sounds are rather different. I can’t use most of commercially distributed cassettes after being produced 2000. The sound of those tapes is almost like the MP3, no top and bottom ends. But, that makes sense since the most of audio equipments got compatible to the digital sound. After Philips first produced a cassettes recorder in 1963, the cassette format had been improving during the 60s and 70s, until the 80s. If you play back cassettes using speakers and amplifier that were produced around the same period, that would sound best since the frequency spectrum of the cassette is compatible to audio equipments produced around that time. That’s why I always use old vintage tube amps for playing cassettes.
These days, somehow, many people give me tapes they don’t use anymore. They know I use cassettes (laugh). Those were probably forgotten in their attic and they had to clean up there, or they don’t have a cassette player anymore. A couple of years ago, a radio station in NY gave me hundreds of tapes in their archives after they cleaned up there. That was nice as I got many high quality chrome and metal tapes from the 80s. I still buy tapes, but directly from a manufacturer and make a bulk order - several hundreds at once.
[Aki examines one of the cassettes and looks at the label — he slots it into his Walkman and starts recording. He shows me another cassette which has the word “Rain” scrawled over it.]
This brand was produced in Russia, and I found this cassette at a store in Paris and bought all copies they had — about seventy. I have been using this tape for recording sounds from a radio — wherever I travel, I turn on the radio and make recordings. This one was taped in Berlin. I have a lot of recordings from a radio, and I will release a cassette album, which I just used those radio sounds, from My Dance The Skull in this coming autumn.
What about your distribution format? A lot of your work is on your website as well.
Music is free these days.
So how does it feel to present these sounds on a free, online format?
Well, I think online material is pretty good for getting to know something, as an introduction. But if you want to go deeper, you can get the original.
It isn’t enough to just listen on the SoundCloud account?
For me, not. But, I think MP3 has an advantage — it’s easier to spread the information online. That’s also changing the style of listening — it’s an interesting phenomena, which I am not so pessimistic about. The only thing I don’t like about online listening is: there are so many advertisements, which are really distracting. I think people are getting to used to it. But, I can’t… When people were listening to vinyl records, cassettes or CD, it wasn’t like that.
That might have changed with the Walkman, when people could easily fast-forward and rewind on a portable device. That’s also a technique you employ live. How has that been received in your recent shows?
Well, I like playing in Poland or Eastern European countries because this kind of music is kind of new and fresh to the people there. If you play in a big city like London or Paris, the audience think they already know the music — many of them just come to the concert to confirm something, not exploring something.
So I am not against [new] media at all, it’s just using it in the right method to get quality and texture; I need to have an analogue sound source. There are many filmmakers who are using Super 8, but when they are editing, many of them will use Final Cut Pro. Some of them then transfer back to film after they have finished editing — it’s the same process.
And you played the WRO festival in Poland this year?
The festival is for local people, its a pretty big biennial — the people are really curious about the new kinds of media art, which are not really new…
How did you fit in to the bill?
They had a music section, mostly audio-visual stuff, this year. They used a department store for an exhibition, which has lots of fashion boutiques inside. There were four or five empty spaces in the building, and they set installations there, which were pretty cool. One of the other buildings they used was an abandoned building, which Wioletta, one of the founders discovered, and she got permission to use it. The biennial has DIY spirit.
I used to live in that city — Wroclaw is great for those kind of art spaces, they have a lot of abandoned factories and breweries around the outskirts of the town.
Yeah, it’s very nice. I was supposed to do a site specific performance in a passage there, but it was raining, so I could not do it — it could have been a completely different kind of performance.
So how does that differ then, where you are playing outside, to playing in a venue?
Well, four or five years ago, I started to get a weird feeling when I go to a concert, and I stopped going. If you go to a music venue, let’s say a rock club or some sort, you hear the sound from the PA system, and there is no so much resonance in the room since those venues are designed for dead acoustics. The sound from the speakers is aggressive, direct, and one-dimensional. I use field recordings which were environmental sounds before captured, and I’d like to play back those in a three-dimensional space, like re-creating same sort of soundscape, but that doesn’t work so well in those venues. Also, classic concert halls are believed to have good acoustics. But, it’s only for Western classic instruments. I play cassettes, and the frequency spectrum of the sound is a bit closer to African or Asian traditional instruments, because it contains a lot of noise and overtones. It’s not refined at all. I realized that when I play in that concert hall situation, some frequencies and overtones tend to disappear because of the particular acoustic response in those concert halls have. So I started questioning what the fuck I’m doing in that situation, and that lead me more about exploring the possibilities of site-specific performances outside conventional venues. More than that, most of music venues tend to ignore visual elements. Those are not aesthetically appealing and its functions are limited to playing instruments or singing on stage, and listening to the sound in the separated seating area. It’s so passive experience for both performers and audience. If you think about the lighting system installed in those venues, the effect is so stereotyped and it’s the same shit everywhere. Well, I don’t think it’s a problem for them since those music venues are essentially places for “listening to sounds.” I’m aware that it’s actually “my problem” and not “their problem.” But, it’s unbelievable that people don’t question the situation they are given and limit what they can do. It’s almost like slavery. I personally think questioning your practice sometimes would be very healthy since that could possibly open up new possibilities for you.
I’ve been going to see more of visual art exhibitions or dance performances. I feel more of excitements in those fields and a sense of “anything can happen” which is almost died out in the current music field. And, those experiences are more beautiful and profound visually, which feed me as sources of inspiration even though for making sound or music.
Anyway, going back to “site-specific performance,” what I want to do is dealing with acoustics, architecture and psyche of the location. It’s a direct conversation with the location, and that experience, and the result, could be completely different each time.
Photo: Fridolin Schopper
What kind of environments are you interested in? I saw you were using a water fountain on the video you sent — there was a contrast between recorded water and natural water.
Yeah, I was playing back a recording of a stream or some running water. The performance was in a garden which has an old beautiful fountain in the middle of the space, and it was surrounded by a corridor - so the audience was listening to the recordings of the stream and the sound of the fountain mixed. The people were getting confused because they couldn’t separate my sound and the sound of fountain as I was playing my sound with a very low volume, almost not audible. Then, at some point, I stopped playing the sound but continued the performance for another several minutes. They were only listening to the sound of the natural fountain — the tiny dripping which they didn’t realize it was there - it really changed their perception.
Akio Suzuki has been experimenting in this realm for a long time now, what can we expect to see at your upcoming shows with him?
Akio Suzuki is a 72-year-old Japanese sound artist who has been doing studies about “echoes” for several decades — he is mostly interested in echoes and not original sounds. He invented many hand made instruments and developed a unique performance style, and has been presenting his work mainly in the sound art context. He lives in the far remote countryside, Tango in Kyoto prefecture — and he doesn’t have any distinction between his sound and the environment. We share lots of interests on relationship between the sound and space, the acoustics and architecture etc,. So, when we perform together, we prefer at site-specific [locations]. We are going to perform at Cafe Oto next week. It’s a music venue, but Cafe Oto could be good - we won’t use the stage area, we perform in the middle space and use the whole space, surrounded by the audience. We’ll be performing in five cities in Europe this time, and planning to do a longer duration performance, two to three hours non-stop, each time.
Do you find it is tiring to play for so long?
Not really… when Akio and I first performed in Osaka in 2005, it was five straight hours. So, two or three is easy. I think it’s nice to do something harder at the beginning. Then, things will be easier afterwards… The idea is extending the compositional or improvisational form. Make it slower and less sounds, but try to keep the tension. Also, playing with the space itself and bringing performative aspect are in our agendas. Akio actually started performing in a gallery space in Tokyo back in the 70s. When he had an exhibition there, he wanted to demonstrated how to play his well known instrument ANALAPOS. That was the beginning of his career as a performer, and he never considered himself as a musician. I like playing in the art context. Because it’s just different from the music context. The audience pays attention intermittently, as long as they want, and then they move to another artwork. So in a sense, the audience can control the time frame. This means, performers don’t have to follow the attention span or the fixed duration which is 40 - 60 minutes. It could be much shooter or much longer — just 3 minutes is OK, or could be hours, or even days!
But that means you must have a very strong connection with the person you are playing alongside — so when you do a show with Akio, you have to know his pallet, his style, but you also have to be focused on what he is doing and what his focus is…
Yeah, but with Akio, it’s pretty easy and things happen naturally. We don’t even discuss much to do.
What about a new album from you?
I am going to do a recording for Cassette Memories Vol.4 this summer in New York. All pieces are already composed, so I just need to tape it, then edit and mix. This time all sound materials were recorded in Morocco. Some from my first visit there in 1988, and the others were from 2010 when I visit there again. I’d like to mix two different sound sources recorded in different times. It will be a travelogue across both time and space.
I use a Walkman in the same way that I would use a camera. So, in a sense, what I am doing is wrong, completely wrong! But, I am applying a technique across different mediums. I wasn’t conscious about this before — but now, after 20-something years, now I am conscious.
Where did you go?
Back in 1988, starting from Marrakesh, I traveled to Fez and Tangier, but the second time I took the opposite route — I started from Tangier, then to Fez and Marrakesh.
I actually made three cassettes on my first visit, then I lost one of those and another one broke a long time ago. I only have one tape left, which I released as it is as a cassette from Important Record a few years ago. Have you seen James Benning’s film “One Way Boogie Woogie”? He shot locations in his home town Milwaukee in 1977. Then, he returned to Milwaukee and shot exactly the same locations and made another film called “One Way Boogie Woogie/27 Years Later” in 2005. I actually wanted to do the same and visited the same cities. Well, because… I didn’t remember many details of the first trip, and thought maybe I could recall something if I visit again. It was a bit like searching for lost memories after 22 years… However, it didn’t work as I imagined… not at all! I couldn’t recall not much and got so confused. Then, I realized that I was trying hard to hold memories for many years by the sounds left in my hand. If those were visual images, it could have worked. But, the sounds tend to be abstract and alienated from realities I experienced. Well, we can remember songs or music and hold them in our memory easily. But, ambient sounds, noise etc tend to slip away… So what I trying to do this time is, although I still don’t understand clearly, using that sort of function in our brain and create fucked up something with sounds… something haunts me… And, I’d like to figure out what is it.
It’s curious that you chose so many different locations to record your projects. Are you interested in some of the other Japanese artists?
Yeah, there are many unique artists in Japan. I admire Gozo Yoshimasu’s work - text, video, photography, performance… whatever he makes. He used to perform with Masayuki Takayanagi, Kaoru Abe or that sort of free jazz legends in the 60s and 70s. Keiji Haino is wonderful. There are some talented artists in the younger generation, like Tetsuya Umeda, Kanta Horio, Fuyuki Yamakawa…
I grew up in Osaka and Kyoto in the 80s. The Kansai’s noise and punk scene, and a lot of Boredoms related projects were very exciting. That was a pretty interesting period. They had a hyper active scene — and there was sense of violence in the air since it was so normal to take a risk at any level. I assume that was close to what was happening in New York around the same time - No Wave or related movements. They just had ideas, picked up their instruments and played. I also had many jaw-dropping experiences - Einstürzende Neubauten, John Zorn’s Naked City, Arto Lindsay and many others when I was working as a photographer. I was also staying in London from time to time and witnessed Public Enemy playing in the Brixton Academy, which was like a riot, or György Ligeti’s retrospective at the South Bank, he was there, or… Those experiences were great epiphanies and certainly changed my life, along with many other experiences in other fields like visual art, film, photography… To be honest, I don’t feel that level of excitement in the current music field anymore, and I guess many other people don’t too. Music was much more emotional and physical back then. The thrill has gone. But, I feel like if you look into other fields or around boundaries between fields, there is still so much exciting stuff. I’m messing around and finding many possibilities in “outside” these days.
Do you feel there is more of a distance now then, between the performer and the audience?
I think the intimacy between the performer and the audience is quite disengaged. But that’s what I really want to change. Let’s see how it goes with Akio Suzuki.
[It wasn’t until after I stopped recording that Aki began to speak about his childhood and his life growing up in urban Japan. He told me about where he was raised, and how he spent a great deal of his life being unable to communicate — we talked about the influence his father had on him, as well as his mother, and how that played into his ideas with Cassette Memories. Of course it was a moving experience, and I felt very grateful to Aki for opening up and discussing it, but no matter what he had encountered in the past, the most influential component to his work, at least regarding Cassette Memories, proved to be his love for film — it’s something we kept coming back to, wherein beautifully shot vignettes are spun and displayed for their visual worth, where short loops and subtle jump cuts creating a lasting impression in their brevity; this is where Aki’s interest lies — it isn’t about a grand, genre-defying plot, it’s about the wilderness of the moving image, which is reflected in his recordings. This is, after all, cinema for the ears.]
[Top photo: Maki Kaoru]