sa Sound Arts vol.2
Interview with Akamatsu Masayuki
|As most readers already know, "the soundtronics" field exhibition
be held from January 18 to March 5, 1995 had to be canceled due to the
earthquake. As of January 16, 24 computers had been set up in the foyer and
all of the program parameters had been adjusted. Everything was ready for the
opening. Unfortunately, it wound up being a phantom exhibition, and the
January 21 performance, "MAKIGAMI Koichi vs. soundtronics," couldn't be held
either. Afterwards, from March 8 to April 16, soundtronics field was exhibited at
the T-Brain Club in Tokyo's Tama Center. Besides the following report on the
show , in this interview, we talked to AKAMATSU Masayuki about his work and
other activities. ARIMA Sumihisa, producer of the exhibition at T-Brain Club,
acted as interviewer.
soundtronics is a program developed by Akamatsu made up of
Macintosh computers used as multi-track recorders that automatically record
and repeatedly play back sounds. In the Tokyo exhibition, 20 Macintoshes were
set up in the hall, and feedback was created by sounds passing back and forth
between the machines . The installation was constructed from cut-up and
remixed sounds from the hall. On March 26, the vocal performer, MAKIGAMI
Koichi was invited as a guest, and a performance was given using his voice as
the material to be modulated and developed by soundtronics in real time.
Despite the bad weather that day in Tokyo, snow fell for the first time in a long
time, a large audience gathered, and at the end, visitors were able to use the
computers as much as they pleased to make their own performances. In this
interview, which took place just after Akamatsu had finished setting up in Tokyo,
the artist explains his vision of soundtronics.
Interview: AKAMATSU Masayuki
Arima(Q): When did you first start getting involved with
Akamatsu(A): I first started doing music when I was in high
school, and I used to make things like sound collages with tape
recorders and an analog synthesizer. I also liked sequencers and
used them in all kinds of different ways, but the number of sounds
that could fit in the memory of sequencers in those days was still very
few, so you couldn't use them the way you really wanted to. I had
heard that with a computer you could do a wider variety of things, so I
bought one, and that was the beginning. At that time, using a
computer meant writing a program, and from that, I made a fairly
natural transition into the programming world.
Q: You are active in a wide range of areas, like developing
software for the Mac and writing essays for books, but when did you
first start using a Mac?
A:I started using a Mac about 6 or 7 years ago, when the Mac
II first came out. I don't make the fundamental programs for the
computer; mostly what I do is make applications to use the various
functions the computer has. So the excellence of the computer's
library becomes very valuable. And since the Mac is equipped with
an enormous toolbox, I have kept on using it.
Q: Recently, a lot of your work seems to be in the form of
installations such as soundtronics field. When did you start doing
installations and sound performances?
A:About three years ago. At the beginning, a lot of them used
MIDI and a sound source to make sounds. Then as Macs gradually
got cheaper and easier to get ahold of, the installations started to
become like they are now, and my interest shifted to works that
couldn't be realized without a large number of Macs.
Q: Was soundtronics developed with the assumption that it
would be used in an installation like this one?
A:More than that, soundtronics itself was conceived as a tool
to automatically remix sound in my own performances. But after I had
finished the program, I thought I 'd like to try and construct something
to see how interesting it would be to control sounds in a group, and
that led to the kind of sound installations I'm doing now. The program
can be run with just one Mac, but because each of their actions is
controlled by evaluating the sounds around them, each of them turns
into what you might call a living thing, or somewhat like an automaton.
And because they are interactive, a group-produced sound is created.
So my desire to try and make this type of situation led to the basic
plan for this installation.
Q: Would you say that your works are based on concepts
taken from software?
A:Yes, I think so. I thought up soundtronics because the Mac
has a function that can record and play back sounds simultaneously.
I thought I'd like to do something utilizing that. And as opposed to
using a multi-track recorder or a delay, I thought I'd like to do
something that couldn't be done without the capability of
simultaneous recording and playback.
Q: There are quite a few artists who use MIDI or MAX to make
installations, but there are very few artists who use the Mac itself. If
anything, there seem to be a lot of artists who approach it as a
A:One of the reasons is that I wanted to make the system
small. Usually, most people use a heap of functions and a mountain
of equipment like Rick Wakeman. Instead of something like that, I
rather like the image of making sounds with, for example, one small
machine like the Newton plunked down somewhere. And rather than
a complicated work, I thought I'd like to make something that was as
easy to understand as possible.
Q: Most works that use computers are interactive, but many of
them seem to respond individually to each other. In that sense,
soundtronics is quite different from these works.
A:When I see interactive works that use things like sensors, it
seems to me as if responses that occur after being triggered by
various outside stimuli are too arbitrary. With soundtronics, if it's a
voice, a voice triggers it. What the trigger calls up is not something I
have arbitrarily created, but surrounding sounds or sounds that
visitors make, and yet, it doesn't respond directly to the trigger. That's
what makes it different I think.
Q: Also by having so many machines, there is a natural
complexity that arises.
A:Like a rustling in the forest. The sound of individual leaves
rubbing against each other might not be especially interesting, but if
there are a large enough number of them, a rustle will be created in
the forest. I have a great interest in making something rich out of a
combination of simple things.
Q: Many of the works that are called 'sound art' are made by
artists with a background in art. Do you consider the visual aspect of
your work important?
A:No, the visual element is not particularly important to me.
You might say, the less there is visually the better. Of course, I don't
have a background in art, and I wasn't a musician either. I have no
experience in either of those areas.
Q: You seem to be closer to developers of media art like
Gideon May, or other artists whose work is based on engineering.
A:Yes, if anything, that would be the closest comparison. For
example, what I do is kind of like exploring a new environment that
has been provided, and making a work out of the things that are
found there. It's similar to creating new sound forms by introducing
new sound sources, or introducing a new style after new materials
have come out.
Q: Can you imagine doing a sound performance without any
computers at all?
A:With soundtronics, rather than being computers, the Macs
are really closer to machines I think. Of course, they have a CPU
(Central Processing Unit), and they've been programmed, but I think
it would be best if I could keep on simplifying the functions until it
became like rolling dice with sound equipment. They are computers,
but it isn't as if I've gone out of my way to pursue the idea of
Q: And unlike regular kinds of music, your final goal isn't to
compile the work in a package, like a CD, is it?
A:No, I'm not thinking of making a CD using soundtronics. If
anything, the most accurate idea might be to say that my works are
creating a "place." I'm not saying that it's absolutely necessary to use
computers for soundtronics either. In the end, having see-through
objects with the same functions would be the most ideal thing. The
present version, with its level meters, is constructed to look rather
computerish, but there isn't any special need for that and I've been
reconsidering that part of it.
Q: Ideally, it might only be a space with a speaker and
A:It might not even be necessary to have those things. A
space with nothing at all would be the most ideal. Like if there were
only sounds rippling through the space. But realistically, I do have to
use a Mac, and of course, there are other pieces of equipment too, so
it takes on the form of a sound installation. But I'm not particularly
attached to that form.
Q: You seem to be making "sound space" works. And in that
sense, the spatial element of the hall has quite a significant meaning
in your work.
A:As a matter of fact, the way the project ties together with the
space does carry a lot of weight. That's the most interesting part
Q: In that case, would there have been any differences
between the exhibition that was scheduled for Kobe and the one in
A:In Kobe, I had just finished setting everything up, and the
next day, "Boom!," it happened. (laughs) The biggest difference is
that there wouldn't have been the various types of musical
instruments for visitors to make sounds with in Kobe. At Xebec, since
the space is so big, I had imagined that that in itself would have had
some effect. There weren't going to be any limitations on sound
materials in Kobe, and that was closer to my basic conception of
soundtronics. But having the instruments here in Tokyo isn't at all
negative, and I think of this as one more version of the work.
Q: Tell us what kind of plans you have for the future.
A:I'm going to do some more sessions like the live one here
with other musicians, and I'm looking forward to using soundtronics
in a variety of situations--in a regular office or on a street corner. And
as I mentioned before, I'm very interested in how sounds are
produced with soundtronics in a group. I'd like to do an installation
with a greater number of computers. Also, I'd like to do more with
computer networks including commu and others. Since soundtronics
is fundamentally only a program, I could do performances
simultaneously by sending it out to various places in the world using
AKAMATSU Masayuki (media composer) Interviewer: ARIMA
Sumihisa (musician/media art and computer music critic)
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