Sound Art of the Asia Pacific Region and New World Music


To help mark the start of operations at the world's largest synchrotron facility (SPring-8) in Harima Science Garden City, located in western Hyogo Prefecture about an hour's drive west of Kobe, a multitude of events are being planned. These will include the unique music events "Sound Art" and "New World Music." In this article, music critic KAKINUMA Toshie, chairperson of the planning committee, explains the concept behind the events.
This fall the large-scale synchrotron facility, SPring-8, presently under construction in western Hyogo Prefecture in Harima Science Garden City, will open. Construction of the city, extolled for bringing about "harmony between people and nature with Technology," is set to create a unified environment of science, culture, and the arts. In celebration of its completion, plans are being made for a some sound and music-related events. After being asked to organize an appropriate program, the members of the planning committee (myself as musical director, SHIBA Shunichi, FUJIEDA Mamoru, Larry POLANSKY), with TAKAHASHI Yuji serving as advisor, considered a number of ideas last year, and came to a decision about the concepts we wanted to address.

To begin with, the ideas behind the city construction project were devised in large part by the architect ISOZAKI Arata, and were based on the three-pronged theme of "technology, ecology, ethnicity." In essence, the project aims to create a city which combines nature, science, and regional character, and in line with this theme, we submitted a plan for the "Sound Art of the Asia Pacific Region and New World Music" project. This will, in other words, be an event consisting of two parts, "Sound Art" and "New World Music."


The principles of modern music, currently under reexamination, having long dealt with established problems such as "technology and music" and "tradition and modernism in music," will soon cease to be valid. There is a need for sensitivity with a flexible attitude toward nature and regionalism, and this is linked to a search for "sound" rather than "music." Within such circumstances, the role of technology too should become more flexible. The reason we have suggested "Sound Art" for this project was our feeling that this new art will give rise to unforeseen elements of nature and the environment with sound as its context, and that this will present an opportunity to throw out new questions concerning the places human beings dwell. "New World Music," a name which takes some getting used to, was conceived as a means of presenting a new type of ethnic music without being restricted by the contemporary notion of "tradition." By distancing ourselves from the tendency of music to be based on standards of modern Western logic, this will instead be music that gives preference to regional and ethnic logic, which doesn't necessarily mean that it will be "ethnic music." While it might be new music, it will not be based on the principles of organic construction or unification as they have appeared in contemporary music. Instead, what we are after here is music that is gently structured and similar to a dialogue in form.

Harima Science Garden City is located roughly in the center of Nishi Harima Technopolis in the hilly region that stretches across the towns of Shingu, Kamigori, Mikazuki, and is surrounded by an abundance of nature.

For this event, designed to foster regionalism, we have chosen a wire (power lines) installation by the Australian sound artist Alan LAMB. Lamb, a native of Scotland born in 1944, spent his childhood in a rural village in Parthshire County, where the event that inspired him to later create "Wire Music" occurred. When Lamb was about five, during a walk around the village with his nanny, whom he called "My," she put her ear against a telephone pole, and said, "Have a listen to the sound of the earth." Lamb recalls imitating what he had seen My do and the faint sound the telephone pole made.





In Lamb's dreams, this memory would sometimes come back in the form of a steam whistle on a locomotive with the pitch of a major sixth, but he didn't hear the real thing again until after moving to Australia, when as a medical student he returned to Scotland on a visit. After stopping his van on the shoulder of the road and trying to get some sleep, he not only heard a hum suddenly being emitted from the telephone wires, but realized that it too was in a major sixth pitch. The sound, which depending on the wind grew louder or softer, and the wires continued to perform music complete with marvelous rhythms and harmonies until daybreak.

Lamb's wire installation is based on this memory of sound from his past. For him, hearing the sound of the power lines as the "sound of the earth" was a fateful experience that was branded in his memory. This experience directly parallels that of the equally unusual Australian-born composer Percy GRAINGER, whose obsession with the undulating sounds of waves and power lines he had heard as a child led to a lifelong preoccupation with designing "free music machines." Each of these experiences exerted a decisive effect on the composers. After returning to Australia, he began with a project using electric poles and wires that were set to be discarded on his younger sister's farm near Fitzgerald National Park in western Australia, and thereafter, attempted a variety of wire installations. For the opening of Harima Science Garden City, Lamb is scheduled to create a wire installation that might best be called a compilation of his work until this point. Exactly what kind of sound will the electric poles and wires make on this expansive site under the climatic conditions of Harima? Lamb's wire installations were introduced last year on Heaven's Breath, a television program (aired on the 23 network stations of the TV Asahi Group) produced by Lyall WATSON, and have received much attention in recent years. In Harima, a "sound of the earth" workshop is also being planned for local elementary and junior high school pupils as well as the general public. As this project will be held on a massive site that would never be conceivable in Tokyo, we hope that as many people as possible will be able to come and experience this unique installation.




Heri Dono


Dono Drawing 1

Dono Bicycle

Dono Drawing 3

Heri DONO's drawings for Animal Journey

In addition to this installation, there are two sound art works that will be included in the Harima opening project. One is a work entitled "Animal Journey" by the Indonesian artist Heri DONO. The other is "Pianola Plantron(tentative title)" by the botanist DOGANE Yuji and the composer Fujieda Mamoru. Dono is a fine artist, who has received much attention for "Gamelan of Rumor," a piece that was shown at the Fukuoka City Museum, and "Glass Vehicle," which was shown at the Japan Foundation's ASEAN Culture Center, and is known for work that frequently incorporates sound. According to Dono including sound in his work was only natural, and for this event, he will present a daring new piece that is based on the sounds of 25 bicycles.

A tape recorder is connected to each bicycle, and the tape is played using energy generated by people pumping the pedals. Depending on how fast the bicycle is pedaled, the tape speeds up or slows down. On the tape, various kinds of Indonesian animal sounds can be heard at a variety of speeds. This explains the name of the piece. Not only an installation, this work is also a performance. The bicycles are set up in a round formation as if they were on a race track with five bicycles in each of the five lanes. When the signal is given by the conductor, sound is produced as the performers begin to pedal away. At the traffic signal set up around the track, animal masks are donned and riding continues. Alongside them, other performers flatten themselves down on the seats of Indonesian tricycles and beat Japanese drums as they ride around.

"Plantron," on the other hand, has been performed in a number of forms in the past, but for this event, computer interface will be connected from the plants to five digital pianos, where the data will be converted into sound in a new version called "Pianola Plantron(tentative title)." In past versions, the sounds that were emitted caused the piano strings to reverberate, and without any further modifications were run through speakers. But this time, digital signals will be sent to the MIDI pianos, and these will be converted into piano sounds, which will be tuned in Just Intonation. The sound of this installation will change the space of the Center for Advanced Science and Technology into a garden filled with piano sounds emitted by plants.

In addition, a concert with two programs will be held as the other main opening event at Harima. One program will feature Takahashi Yuji in a performance of Japanese instruments such as the shamisen. The other will be a performance by the composer Ron NAGORUKA, a resident of the island of Tasmania located south of Australia, using bird calls and the Aboriginal instrument, the didgeridoo.

Takahashi's pursuit in recent years of East Asian sound principles through Japanese instruments has become quite well-known. This particular performance will feature an ensemble that includes shamisen, koto, futozao-shamisen, shakuhachi, and percussion instruments.

For many years, Nagoruka has been making a collection of recordings of the sounds of animals such as birds, frogs, and the Tasmanian devil in the completely unpolluted Tasmanian environment. He is also a highly skilled didgeridoo performer, a wind instrument made from eucalyptus wood by the Tasmanian Aborigines, whose playing has enough power to send audiences into a trancelike state. This unique performance using samples of bird and other animal sounds, a keyboard tuned in Just Intonation, and the didgeridoo will undoubtedly create an unusual atmosphere in which the nature and climate of Tasmania are united with technology.

The sound installations mentioned above are scheduled to be held from September 27 to October 5, while the concert will be on October 5.

Back to this issue's Table of Contents

Back to Xebec SoundArts Issue Directory

Back to Carl Stone Home