"The Third Festivity on an Ancient Hill --For Sacred Sites"

A Report on a Japanese Sound Art Festival by K.K. (journalist)

You've probably heard about international sound art festivals, but how about one in Japan? The "Festivity on an Ancient Hill" is a wonderful festival held in Kyoto's Tango Region that this year played host to the world's leading sound artists, providing visitors with a variety of interesting events and opportunities for discovery. The festival, given for the third time this year, is produced by the sound artist SUZUKI Akio, known to many readers through the lengthy interviews that appeared in SA last year. For those who were unable to attend, K.K., a young newspaper reporter, brings news of the unique sights and sounds he experienced.

The Third Festivity on an Ancient Hill

Over a few breezy, clear days in May, a sound art festival called "Festivity on an Ancient Hill" was held in Tango, the northern part of Kyoto Prefecture. Artists at the forefront of their field internationally came to this distant area dotted with burial mounds from the ancient past to enjoy themselves, give performances, and create installations. In the modern age, people have lost the ability to hear the sounds of nature. But by coming into contact with sound art, it is hoped that listeners will be able to regain the ears of a baby and return to a mental state that is open and pure. This, at least, is the goal of the producer.

The production of this three-day event is handled by one of the pioneers of Japanese sound art, Suzuki Akio. In 1987, Suzuki moved from Tokyo to Kyoto's Amino-cho, and in 1989, took up residence in the neighboring town, Tango-cho. The festival started as a kind of private "play," but the third edition this year, was expanded to include spaces in Amino-cho and Kumihama-cho. Support from people of the town and surrounding areas has increased, and this year a bus tour taking visitors to the exhibition and performance spaces was organized. The tour made it convenient for people to bridge the distance between the spaces, and focused especially on the work of foreign sound artists.

After a nearly three-hour trip on an express train from Kyoto Station, I arrived at Kumihama Station, where I was met by NAKAGAWA Shin, the leader of the Darma Budaya gamelan ensemble. His group performs primarily with bronze percussion instruments from Indonesia that have became quite well-known for their ability to stimulate the brain in positive ways such as increasing alpha waves. In the square surrounding the front of the station, about 100 people came to hear the group's performance. Along with the pleasant sensations created by the gentle, metallic reverberations, the music created a relaxing atmosphere.

Of the artists who came to "play," four were from foreign countries: from Germany there were Rolf JULIUS and Hans Peter KUHN, and from Holland Paul PANHUYSEN and Felix HESS, all of whom had worked with Suzuki in the past.

The theme of this year's event was "For Sacred Sights." This meant that each of the four artists chose their own installation or performance site--either a truly sacred space such as a shrine or temple, or a sight they considered sacred such as a work place used by local people; in one case, the fishing port.

Lotus 2

Julius Image

Julius: Lotus 2

 After boarding the bus, the first place I visited was Sounji Temple in Kumihama-cho. Julius's sound installation, "Lotus 2," had been set up here. Based on the idea of having "a few sounds blossom in the pond in front of the temple gate," there were loudspeakers installed at two places in the pond and one on the temple's mountain gate. Cassette tapes played metallic sounds with other bird-like chirps mixed in.

 Visitors could take a seat around the pond and listen as long as they liked. There was a line of 400-500-year-old cedar trees, patches of sunshine slipping through them, fresh air to breath, and a gentle breeze. It was all very calm and peaceful. After a time, the clear timbre of a flute could be heard. When I walked in the direction of the sound, I found Suzuki playing an iwabue (stone flute) beneath the bell in the bell tower.

"I made all the sounds I used here myself. There are sounds from a buzzer and computer sounds all mixed together in complicated ways," explained Julius, "There are some sounds that could only be possible in this place. The grounds of this temple have a relaxed atmosphere and the passage of time is slow. It would be boring to use the same type of peaceful sounds, so I chose the opposite--sounds that convulse." At first, it seemed difficult for the listeners to relax. But Julius reacted by saying, "Listeners are another part of the work--a living part. This is a great experience for me." The sounds of a baby crying or trains passing in the distance became elements that increased the silence of the surroundings. A truly wondrous space had been created.

Sounds for a 'Space in the Sun'

The next place I visited was "Space in the Sun," an area built on the side of Mount Takaten in Amino-cho. This is the most northerly land area on the meridian of 135 degrees east longitude and 35 degrees north latitude. In 1988, Suzuki built two 3.3-meter-high, 17-meter-long walls here out of handmade bricks. On one fall day, he used the seven-meter space between them to give a performance that consisted of listening to the natural sounds around him.

The installation in this space was created by Hans Peter Kuhn. On one wall, there were eight loud speakers hanging from wires that played sounds from four CD players set up on the other side of the wall. On the opposite wall, eight Polaroids were attached to correspond to the speakers across from them.

"'Space in the Sun' is architecturally very sturdy. That's why I decided to take a simple approach and use a bunch of similar, small objects. To me, sound and color are deeply related. I chose objects with different colors, and made photographs to correspond to the color of the sounds. The eight photographs are eight small windows in the wall from which you can see eight different views of space," explained Kuhn. It was amazing to see this "perfectly realized" artificial space, through the power of Kuhn's work, completely melt into its natural surroundings.

Paul Panhuysen chose the fishing port in Tango-cho's Taiza section to present his installation/performance "Two Fans." Inside the market, seven steel wires from 8-30 meters in length were arranged to resemble the shape of two fans opposite each other when viewed from above. By slowly rubbing the wire with the palms of his pine-rosined hands, sound was emitted from oil drums that had been used to support the wires and had now become resonators. The sound was a grating, monotonous moan, but there was definitely something striking about it.

 Two Fans and The Transformation of Light into Sound

 Panhuysen image

 Paul Panhuysen

 Panhuysen said, "I perform improvisations to fit the environment I find myself in at the time. I don't worry about whether or not it's music. As an artist, the most important thing to me is that there is always a chance for some kind of new discovery to happen for me and for the listeners." Panhuysen used the flame of a lighter to cut the wires and finish the piece.

Hess Image

 Felix Hess

 "The Transformation of Light into Sound."

 The following day, after I enjoyed listening to and watching the music of Darma Budaya and the dance of WADA Junko in the Nochigahama section of Tango-cho, I went to Takeno Shrine to see Felix Hess's sound installation, "The Transformation of Light into Sound." On the four porches of the shrine were affixed 4-6 solar sensors, each measuring 7 x 3 centimeters. Any light that the sensors picked up was converted into electricity that was sent to the small, thin speakers.
 This was, in other words, a device to change light from the environment into sound. Depending on the solar cell or electric circuit that was used, or the stones that were placed on the speakers, a variety of sounds were produced. Hess said, "The equipment for the piece was set up about one week before I came to the shrine. In this piece, I am dealing with how subtle changes in the environment are sensed and sound is emitted. It's a kind of introduction to the power of sensitivity. The changes might be too slight in the course of our everyday lives, but that's what makes them interesting."

The Personal Search for Sound

Many people attended the festival, including of course, those from Kansai, the region that Kyoto is in, as well as Kanto and Kyushu. Was the artists' message about wanting everyone to regain the ability to hear natural sounds understood?

One middle-aged man from Kita-Kyushu said, "All of the accidental sounds around us and in nature are music. I realized once again that music is just what the Japanese characters for the word mean: 'the enjoyment of sound.'"

Listeners may have experienced some confusion over the splendid, yet strange, sounds they heard. But if this man's comments are any indication, everyone must have gone home with a deep feeling of joy and satisfaction after this brief escape from their daily routines to listen quietly and attentively in these natural surroundings. Gazing at the enchanted smiles of visitors watching the installations and performances, and answering cheerfully any question he was asked, it was clear that Suzuki Akio enjoyed this event more than anyone else. Especially during the final sound performance, "Otodate," in which two lines of participants beat slit drums with pieces of bamboo as they walked toward opposite sides of the Maruyama Burial Mound winding through the footpaths between the rice paddies, and crossing paths at the peak as they returned down again--it was like an echo game. I'll never forget the excited expression on Suzuki's face as he walked at the head of that line.

"The Third Festivity on an Ancient Hill"
May 24-26, 1996

Kumihama-cho: the front garden at Sounji Temple, the "Rainbow House" on Mount Kabuto.

Amino-cho: "Space in the Sun" on Mount Takaten.

Tango-cho: the Ancient Village Museum, "Process Vol. 1" on Naru Hill in Miya, Takeno Shrine, "Ascetic's Rock" in front of the Tango-cho Municipal Office, Tenkitenki Village on Nochigahama, Miya and Maruyama Burial Mounds, and the fishing port in Taiza.

Participating artists

Rolf Julius, Hans Peter Kuhn, Suzuki Akio, NOMURA Makoto, Felix Hess, Wada Junko, Nakagawa Shin, Darma Budaya, YAMAMIYA Takashi, KAWASAKI Yoshihiro, Paul Panhuysen.

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