Toshiya Tsunoda Ridge of Undulation

[Häpna; 2005]

Styles: sound art, minimalism, field recordings
Others: John Cage, Hands To/Jeph Jerman, Francisco Lopez

On the topic of whether sound artist Jeph Jerman's Hands To was "music," he replied to one EMF Institute interviewer,

At first, I decided that Hands To wasn't music, simply because the pieces I was working on didn't seem to fit into any a priori idea of music. There was also at the time a lot of playing with ideas about what sound does to the listener physically. Friends argued the point with me, and these days I'd be more inclined to say that the Hands To works definitely are music. They are sounds, arranged according to my own likes and dislikes, and set into a context, albeit a sometimes rather obtuse one!

It's in the concept of arrangement that I'm able to wrap my head around Ridge of Undulation's three seashore field recordings. These tracks are all untouched with the exception of a "volume adjustment" indicated in the liner notes. He's chosen these specific recordings both as singular moments in time and as pieces of the album's philosophical vision. The easy joke would involve Target commissioning him to record a nature sounds CD, but Tsunoda places the ocean waves literally between sine waves, a great aural/spatial pun if I've ever heard one.

For the other five tracks, the Japanese sound artist placed piezoceramic sensors on metal and aluminum to record their vibration, which he fused with, well, undulating sine waves. The low pulsing drones of "An aluminum plate with low frequencies_2" and its following track hum like legs wrapped around a monolithic machine, but uncannily mimic "Seashore, Venice beach," which exemplifies the vision Tsunoda wants us to hear: our cognitive relationship with sound. Upon reading some of his notes for Ridge of Undulation, I was a bit wary of his concept, but once I heard and felt the natural/man-made correlation, it was a bit unnerving and almost revelatory. Granted, the album arranges and essentially forces the listener to such a realization, but it's a fascinating dynamic between the artist and the audience and whether one is willing to accept the story.

(Warning: do not listen to this album on headphones. On a philosophical level, if you're going to take in Tsunoda's concept, there needs to be a spatial territory for you to allow outside noise. Aural interaction in space seems to be the meme here. On a personal level, the high-pitched sine waves on two tracks may cause spatial bleeding of the ear canal.)

1. Sine waves mixed with the sound of a vibrating surface_1
2. Seashore, Venice beach_31 Jul 01
3. An aluminum plate with low frequencies_1
4. Metal pieces with high frequencies
5. At stern, Tokyo bay_11 Dec 97
6. Arrival, Kisarazu bay_11 Dec 97
7. An aluminum plate with low frequencies_2
8. Sine waves mixed with the sound of a vibrating surface_2