Interview with SUZUKI Akio (Part 3)

It all began with the desire to hear what a bucketful of empty cans and rubbish dropped down the stairs of the train platform at Nagoya Station would sound like. For close to thirty years, SUZUKI Akio has been performing sound events based on the central concepts of "casting" and "following" leaving in his wake unpredictable audience responses and reverberations of sound that are almost impossible to "follow."

As a leader of the sound art movement and a pioneering artist, he is active throughout the world. In 1993, the "+ - 0" exhibition was held at Xebec for two months. During that period, SUZUKI gave four performances about which he agreed to interviewed. In this issue, we present the final installment in this three-part series of interviews.

July 11, 1993 at Xebec
Interviewer: SHIMODA Nobuhisa (Xebec staff)
Additional comment: WADA Junko (dancer)

*Cardboard Boxes and Cellophane Tape

SHIMODA: In "Newspaper," the rule is that you have to tear the paper at the tips of your toes, but what kind of rules do you use in "Carton Box"?

SUZUKI : The only materials I use for this one are four cardboard boxes and four rolls of cellophane tape. When I use the tape it makes a sound like "biri, biri," and by sticking the end of the tape to the surface of the cardboard, I can amplify the sound. Wrapping the tape around the box is the best way to draw out the sound. Rather than being a condition I've placed on the performance, it's a situation where I become entangled in the materials. If I cling to the first box and finish one roll of tape I can get ahold of another box and start to wrap it with another roll. The natural movement of this process creates a continuous sound. But a certain amount of endurance is needed. It's kind of like working at a packing company, you have to do one job after another. I force myself into that position.
Suzuki Image

SHIMODA: It's work.

SUZUKI: Right, and when I take hold of the boxes, I forget where I'm at. When I turn the boxes around, I myself am turning, and as I'm spinning around I start losing track of which way the audience is facing and get lost in myself. This creates a rhythm to the work. "Bi--bi-bi," or something like that, but when I notice what I'm doing it has become a composition. I do one box and then another, and in being confronted with this huge square object, my body begins to take the necessary actions. The other day when I did the performance, it happened that the shape of the boxes was a little different and that led to a difference in the intervals between the sounds. The thing was it was such hard work that I had to dash all over the place. And by the end, I was actually running.

SHIMODA: You really wrapped the tape around beautifully too.

SUZUKI: It takes a concentrated effort to do it carefully, but that can be a way to create unintentional sounds. "Simple work" is one principle of the piece.

SHIMODA: After listening to that "biri-biri" sound that you get from such a simple operation, the feel of the tape and an image of the surface of the cardboard really start to take over your mind, and your head becomes filled with the feel and the stickiness of the tape.
Suzuki Stage

SUZUKI: It really does. When you continue to deal with it like that, the tape sounds you have thoughtlessly been making on a daily basis also start to take on an unusual quality. The minimal performance I do called "Dinner Plate" is the same way. At first, they are just ceramics. After a while it seems as if the plates are leading me. My body is just led by the plates. And gradually the quality of the plates changes to metal, and when they transform into some unbreakable cosmic substance, my job goes the smoothest. The piece of broken plate that happens to remain seems at the same time to have become some cosmic material.

SHIMODA: For me the tape is exactly the same--it isn't tape anymore.

SUZUKI: By doing all these weird things, I've been fortunate enough to let the audience see a number of "hyper scenes" with their own eyes. I've actually been allowed to do these things, even though they are strange.

SHIMODA: One thing I think everyone is puzzled by, and that includes me, is the characteristic or method you use in your work of not trying to express or structure anything.

SUZUKI: Right, it looks as if I'm doing some kind of magic, but it's really a case of the emperor's new clothes. I myself want to hear something interesting come out of this serious struggle that occurs when I perform live--without any kind of deception. I like it better when, like magic, nothing is left.
Suzuki Image2

SHIMODA: So that instant of sudden realization is more illuminating for you than savoring something that has been made to express a certain idea or produced according to a certain structure. The level of illumination is probably different, but I'm sure that many of the people who see your performances feel the same way as you do about what is interesting. When they leave the hall, they take something back with them into everyday life that they continue to consider for a long time. There are certainly some people who go home with something very valuable.

SUZUKI: If so, I would be very happy. I put special value on that sort of communication.

*Collaborating with Wada Junko

SHIMODA: There's one last thing. Tell me about "+ - 0" the event you're going to do with Junko on the last day of your performances at Xebec.

SUZUKI: I feel completely relaxed about this one because Junko is shouldering half the responsibility. In the past, I also had a duo with KOSUGI Takehisa. In these situations where I work in collaboration with someone, one of my other personalities emerges. (laughs) When I work alone, it takes a great deal of time to expand my movements. Working with another person is enjoyable because of the ease with which we can change direction. Actually, this dance work consists of nearly the same thing as a performance we did in Berlin in 1992 called "Als-ob." Junko thought up that philosophical title for it. There's a novel by MORI Ogai, who also lived in Berlin, called Kanoyoni. From this title, we were trying to capture the feeling of something tangible coming out of an incomprehensible chaos. It's been a year since the Berlin performance, so it's still quite fresh.
Wada Image

WADA: Didn't you want to try it out in Japan too and not only in Berlin?

SUZUKI: I think through our bodies we'll be able to experience better communication according to the reaction we got to "Als-ob" in Europe and the way it is understood in Japan--that also includes the topography of the sound and movement. That's an extremely sensorial sort of answer, but...

SHIMODA: Perhaps you meant to say "rule" or "composition"? Something that helps people read "+ - 0"?

SUZUKI: Yes, you can read the title anyway you choose, but we haven't tried to pronounce it. Because putting it into words would be an obstacle to the truth we're after. You might say this is an awareness of one part of the universe--something is added and something is taken away, and this happens at the same time in a perfect universe. It sounds like an exaggeration, but that's what happens. For the past several years we've been living in Tango surrounded by nature. One morning, KAWASAKI Yoshihiro, who's been providing us with technical support for our sound installations at Xebec, played us a tape he had recorded early one morning. He said, "Okay, where is this from?" There were insects delicately calling to each other along with the sounds of a murmuring brook that made me envision a calm, standing pool of water. No matter how hard the two of us tried, we couldn't figure out where it was. It was actually a swampy gorge just a short walk from our house around the place where the villagers dump their garbage. It was a place we had always just passed by. That was one point for him. (laughs) Everyday, as I strain to catch the sounds around me in my life in Tango, I learn from the signals that living things like insects and birds are sending. And in the end, the things I have studied come out in my life. The more you put yourself into nature, the more you get from it. It works the same way with Junko's dance. Although you might not necessarily be able to spot the influence, it does come out. That's the real thing. You'd know it was an influence of nature. That's why I'm just a "copy boy." (laughs) When you really start looking for the things that come out from the inside, you discover that even in chaos there are laws. You find a greater universe in smaller universes. The universe is founded on the act of copying. It has even been suggested that it all started with a copy. And what I'm trying to do is embody this phenomenon. Junko is also always searching for the movements of natural creation. So we are a copy boy and a copy girl.

SHIMODA: You wouldn't know it by watching you.

SUZUKI: Well, it's like that saying, "Seeing is believing." With words you can arbitrarily go wherever you'd like.
part three
Fluxus in Italy
Christopher Stephens
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