sa Sound Arts vol.2

Interview with Akamatsu Masayuki

As most readers already know, "the soundtronics" field exhibition scheduled to 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 
musical instrument.

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 
about it.

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 
a network. 

AKAMATSU Masayuki (media composer) Interviewer: ARIMA 
Sumihisa  (musician/media art and computer music critic)  

Back to Xebec SoundArts Overview