srijeda, 6. ožujka 2013.

Aki Onda - Cassette Memories Volume 3: South Of The Border (2013)

Nadrealni zvukovni putopis Japanca koji je otišao u Meksiko da bi se tamo prisjećao svojih djetinjih predodžaba o Meksiku. Kasetne snimke tehnički su sjebane pa se kroz njihovo zavlačenje i šištanje probijaju filmični zvukovi ptica, guma, valova, udaljenih pop-napjeva, uličnog benda... Kao da smo na pokvarenom radiju trebali slušati prijenos nogometne utakmice sa Svjetskog prvenstva u Meksiku no sportski je komentator eto, upravo prošvikao, napustio stadion i zaputio se na ulice i polja...

For more than two decades, I have been using the cassette Walkman for making field recordings which I keep as a sound diary. I consider these recordings to be personal memories, and not just sounds. I stage a performance by physically manipulating Walkmans by hand, re-collecting and re-constructing concrete sounds. What emerges from my sound memories is a sonic collage of ritualistic tape music.
I call this project "Cassette Memories." By documenting fragments of sound from my personal life, something is revealed in the accumulation. The meanings of the original events are stripped of their significance, exposing the essence of memory.
I realize "Cassette Memories" as a site-specific performance. I have found from past experience that my music is the strongest when I perform in a space which has its own memories--at a historic building, abandoned factory, old theater, even a street corner. It's a strange ritual. I am trying to both extract and abstract the essence of memory by playing my own field recordings, so to speak my personal memories, at a location that is saturated with its own memories. The result is invisible but one can feel live memories awaking sleeping memories. - Aki Onda

South of The Border is the third installment of my Cassette Memories album series. All field recordings were taped in Mexico, a country I've had a special fondness for since I was a little child. My first memory was watching photographs and Super-8 films my father shot in Mexico City from his time there during the 1968 Summer Olympics, where he competed as a member of the Japanese national hockey team. It made me realize there is a place completely different from Japan, and I started dreaming about "another world." When I was a teenager, I encountered Alejandro Jodorowsky's seminal film El Topo, which shocked me with its surreal images and strong mysticism. That experience shaped my primal image of the country, although I wasn't sure if it was true reality or pure imagination. Finally, I made my first visit to Mexico in 2005. I was amazed that everything was as I had envisioned. Mexico embraces extreme wealth and poverty, highly contemporary and primitive lifestyles, intellect and superstition, and any sort of polarities all in one. Somehow, in this chaos, the boundary between reality and imagination disappears. In this way, everything is possible, and that's what I believe.
Technical notes: I had three cassette walkmans to make field recordings while I was traveling in Mexico. Two became broken due to tape head and motor wear, but I continued using them. Some of the beautifully messed-up sound collages you will hear were produced accidentally due to the imperfect condition of the recorders. -

"Aki Onda is an electronic musician, composer, and visual artist... particularly known for his Cassette Memories project -- works compiled from a 'sound diary' of field-recordings collected by Onda over a span of two decades." "South of the Border is the third installment of my Cassette Memories album series. All field recordings were taped in Mexico, a country I've had a special fondness for since I was a little child. My first memory was watching photographs and Super 8 films my father shot in Mexico City from his time there during the 1968 Summer Olympics, where he competed as a member of the Japanese national hockey team. It made me realize there is a place completely different from Japan, and I started dreaming about 'another world.' When I was a teenager, I encountered Alejandro Jodorowsky's seminal film El Topo, which shocked me with its surreal images and strong mysticism. That experience shaped my primal image of the country, although I wasn't sure if it was true reality or pure imagination. Finally, I made my first visit to Mexico in 2005. I was amazed that everything was as I had envisioned. Mexico embraces extreme wealth and poverty, highly contemporary and primitive lifestyles, intellect and superstition, and any sort of polarities all in one. Somehow, in this chaos, the boundary between reality and imagination disappears. In this way, everything is possible, and that's what I believe. Technical notes: I had three cassette Walkmans to make field recordings while I was traveling in Mexico. Two became broken due to tape head and motor wear, but I continued using them. Some of the beautifully messed-up sound collages you will hear were produced accidentally due to the imperfect condition of the recorders." -
The appeal of Aki Onda’s work is in it’s messiness. Listening is often discomfiting at the outset but its inherent materiality – that is to say, the warm touch of the cassette tape with its limitations and degradations all fuzzy, wobbly, hissy – give the work it’s character, and similar to the haze of memory or flicker of old film reels and low frame rates, Onda’s tape diaries have a certain heft.
Less abrasive than some other releases, Cassette Memories Vol. 3 is Onda’s diary of a trip down to Mexico recorded on three cassette walkmans – two of which, it is revealed, barely work. This works to his advantage. It’s engaging listening, trying to identify textures and vague sound forms as they emerge. Some are easy to pick out – others, you have to assemble yourself: snatches of passing voices, trains, street noise, what seems like beat-up Mariachi garbled and crawling through loudspeakers, local radio, ramshackle marching bands and a wall of bird noise through dirty tape heads. Everything seems distant, stretched out or shrouded in muck and fog. Representation slowly mushes into uncanny dreamlike goo, and it’s all beautiful din, night-bus nod. Album closer ‘I Tell a Story of Bodies That Change’ is the highlight, where molasses horns loop beneath prickly rattles overtop (bones? seashells?), until the half-dream slowly recedes into three minutes of waves on a shore. It’s exhilarating.
It’s also cinematic. On his blog, Onda speaks of a Mexico filtered through his Dad’s Super-8 films and Jodorowsky’s weirdo classic El Topo, impressed as a youngster by “another world full of dreamlike images, strong mysticism where the boundary between reality and imagination disappears” shaping a “primal image” of a country radically different from his. I wonder how it measured up when he played the tapes after.
I couldn’t help but think of the recently, dearly-departed Chris Marker, as segments of Cassette Memories spin out like chopped-and-screwed montages in Sans Soleil, Onda playing the role of letter-writer & wanderer Sandor Krasna, Mexico standing in for Japan and the Bijago Islands, musing about the shortfalls of representation and memory: We do our best with the recording devices at hand, even if it’s hard to make out what was going on. Memory makes the event into something else, anyway. Like Marker, Onda successfully manages to evoke the dopey, dreamlike excitement of navigating difference, of crowds, of travel, where jet lag, heat exhaustion, and temporal & cultural dissociation combine to make a fantastic buzz, and difficult to capture. Recommended. -

The latest collection of Cassette Memories from Japanese field recording maverick Aki Onda comes spun along a grizzled cocktail of bewitched and alienating tape hiss. Cinematic by the project’s distinctive virtue, this warped and distorted concoction arranges spliced chunks of stock excerpts from the artist’s curious expeditions to Mexico: birds screeching, tires spinning, waves crashing, distant pop tunes wavering, and a slipshod assembly of marching street bands, all over a rickety tide of AM crackle and gorged, tumultuous static. This most recent installment is momentous, an exploit that commands one’s attention as a nostalgic journey is curated, across the border, via an assemblage of busted tape recorders and crackerjack manipulation techniques.
What makes South of the Border such a strapping listen is the measures deployed in embedding the hypnotic, meditative clutter residing within these soundscapes, but contemplative listens lead to a number of questions concerning the album’s very premise: With a production quality so rough and coarse, why were these segments recorded in the first place? Were they purely captured for audience playback, or did there exist some alternate intent? The overarching title is a generous giveaway, as each chapter embodies specific recollections that Onda has decided to impose through his favored medium of documentation. This album is the third in a series that has taken him around New York, New Hampshire, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Tokyo, Paris, Tangier, Valencia, Lisbon, and London. Abstract tonalities are captured on location before they are edited, using an assortment of magnetic tape tools and evocative effects to create rugged textures.
One of the central principles behind Onda’s work is that each piece should resemble the sounds of daily life; they are about people, places, and activities that occur with distinct regularity. The final mix embodies instances of an outsider peering in to observe the fractured interplay that exists between the practitioner and his subject, the former expertly wielding his skill at mangling the results in creating what he refers to on his website as “cinema for the ear.” Indeed, Onda’s initial motive for moving to New York in the 1990s was his love for film. It was in developing his passion for motion pictures that he began to work on Cassette Memories, the latest episode of which bears an uncanny resemblance to a curious adventure his father embarked upon around Mexico with a movie camera in 1968. As part of the Japanese Olympic hockey team, Onda’s dad documented his travels in Mexico City with a Super 8 camera in an attempt to present foreign environments for the benefit of his friends and family back home, a feat that he accomplished using an apparatus now revered for its crumbling, gritty style. It is plausible to assume that South of the Border is an attempt at recreating a disjointed soundtrack to memories of watching that escapade, flickering rickety through an old projector.
The results are as cross-grained as disintegrating Kodachrome. Two of Onda’s tape recorders were broken beyond repair during the recording process, a technological defect that has been rigorously flaunted and that works to the project’s advantage. This grating, bungled style is demonstrated right from the very outset, where “A Day of Pilgrimage” bursts on the scene with sporadic marching drums and shrill trumpet blasts. The music is heavy, but only because it dutifully replicates the importance of noise for individuals traveling abroad or working in foreign environments. Noise remains integral to experiencing foreign surroundings, regardless of the form it takes — a busted boom box cranked to ear-splitting volume at a Burmese village celebration; the roar of motorbike horns and tuk-tuks in full throttle during rush hour traffic in Mumbai; the harsh chirping of insects courting in Sri Lankan jungle thicket or the blistering silence of Auschwitz — noise builds on magnitude with the unfamiliar, and that is delightfully captured on this extraordinarily pounding sequence. The fractured intensity of those marching drums is cut between the hiss of a broken tape deck and the laughter of gamesome children. Strangers beckon and shout as the pilgrimage shifts its direction; the festivities gradually fade away, the rumbling of tires proceeds driftless prattling, and the intensity subsides.
Whatever daily utterances sheathe “A Day of Pilgrimage,” they were clearly part of an event that impacted the artist. The arrangement is not just a reorganized and braided interpretation of what he was exposed to; splinters of conversation and inconsequential resonance are so intricately framed that they surely bear importance for the man who experienced this entire caper on the back of his father’s film experiments. On “Bruise and Bite,” it feels as though the microphone has been buried in a sandpit, unable to pick up anything but aural portions of what is happening elsewhere. A propeller fan hisses and loops while people chatter behind frazzled radio pop melodies that shimmer somewhere distant. The remaining minutes sound like they were chronicled in a cave, choral singing looped and pitched shifted to create a sorrowful and tender mood, the chorus rippling along solicitous looping as the feedback of broken kit meshes the track together. It’s an awesome listen, part of an incredibly robust and imaginative composition that uses the most unorthodox recording methods while conjuring a daringly intrusive and powerful atmosphere. It feels as though a secret is being slowly divulged, fragments of Onda’s journey as he re-imagines his father’s concept.
The forceful wind instruments that allow for such power to be construed are revisited on “I Tell a Story of Bodies That Change,” which is both an extension of their presence on the album and an instrumental mantra that swells and pulsates amid the weird scraping of dodgy implements. At this point, it appears as though the cassette deck has been dropped in a bucket of glue and played back through a completely obliterated walkman — the dirge it creates is incredibly tense and impossibly alienating. Although the final number is particularly long, it allows for sequences hinged on repetition to hook themselves into the rest of this accomplished release, which bolsters the premise that these are not just random modulations captured off the cuff and dished out on disc; they are expertly mixed, well-comprehended configurations that encourage disjointed layers and textures to bloom while cushioning the artist’s lo-fi tendencies.
This cracking supplement to the Cassette Memories series brings location to the fore in a more prominent way than any of its predecessors, and the connection it has with Onda’s father punctuates the importance of the public events and the conversations presented here. The arrangement of material and the aural environment that surrounds it is exceptionally well-treated, making this a genuine triumph in field recording and sound collage. Onda has taken great care with a bold and imaginative concept, assembling a beautifully emotive addition to his catalog, an embracing cinematic depth-charge that encapsulates the full scope of his potential within a tapestry of recordings that remain delicate and subtle, despite the aggressive sibilance each track is wrapped up in. - Birkut

After a decade-long hiatus, Aki Onda returns to his field recording series with a collage of recordings made during his first trip to Mexico back in 2005. While the recordings themselves form a evocative and sometimes beautiful narrative, the surreality of Aki's travelogue is further enhanced by the fact that two of his three recorders began malfunctioning during the project. As a result, South of the Border is occasionally bizarre enough to transcend the field recording genre and drift into relatively uncharted and unpredictable territory.
South of the Border endearingly begins in what is quite possibly the least hip and experimental way possible, as "A Day of Pilgrimage" is essentially nothing more than a recording of a vaguely sad and out-of-tune-sounding marching band followed by a minute or so of muted, subtly distorted street noise. Such an odd opening to the album definitely wrong-footed me, as it seems like there is nothing at all particularly artful about the piece: it is literally just a fairly lo-fi recording of a parade and nothing more. Still, it had enough of ramshackle charm and mystery to it to make me want to keep listening, which turned out to be a good decision.
My gratification was not exactly instant, however, as the 9-minute piece that follows (the prosaically titled "Dust") seems to be just a largely untreated recording of a dust storm. Fortunately, a few hints of something more begin to appear, as odd mechanical noises and an brief tape-distressed voice intrude upon the desolate-sounding low roar of the wind. Thankfully, this quizzical effort finally blossoms about a third of the way through "Bruise and Bite," as the seemingly directionless hiss and crackle that opens the piece suddenly gives way to a very clear and haunting flute melody of some kind.
The transition caught me completely off-guard, as South of the Border immediately went from sounding like something harvested from Chris Watson's studio trash to something that sounds like a beatless Muslimgauze. From that point onward, it became clear to me that while Aki's mental process may be entirely baffling to me, he is actually in complete control of what he is doing. As the forlorn flute is joined by blurred and indecipherable human voices and a tortured-sounding counter-melody, "Bruise and Bite" evolves into something truly beautiful and moving. Of course, it would have been nice if Onda's triumph was not bloated by its seemingly pointless four-minute introduction, but I suppose all of that unpromising hiss and clatter was necessary for the big surprise.
Happily, Onda's hot streak continues off and on for the rest of the album. The unpromising marching band tenaciousnessly returns for "The Sun Clings to the Earth and There is No Darkness," but they are gradually drowned out by a rather distressed recording of a flock of birds that sounds sounds increasingly menacing and apocalyptic. Then the album's lengthy final piece, "I Tell A Story of Bodies That Change," successfully reprises the droning-and-melancholy-flutes aesthetic of "Bruise and Bite." It never comes anywhere near reproducing the aching beauty of its predecessor, but Aki gets significantly more ambitious with his collaging, so its 17 minutes follow a compelling unpredictable and subtly shifting trajectory.
Uncharacteristically, I have listened to this album several times without ever quite figuring out quite what Onda is trying to do or whether or not he may have succeeded. I do know that Mexico is a very significant place for Aki, which stems from both a love of Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo and Aki's own childhood memories of his Olympian father's videos taken during the '68 Summer Olympics. Consequently, I suspect that there is a lot of hidden meaning and emotion in these recordings that does not quite translate to me. Still, my jaded ears were definitely struck by both "Bruise and Bite" and the subsequent bird attack. Otherwise, South of the Border remains something of an enigma for me, lying somewhere between "15 great minutes embedded in a sea of relative non-inspiration" and "a mysterious aesthetic too personal and unique for me to fully grasp." Odds are, it is the former, but it is certainly an unusual and curiously ambiguous effort regardless. -

Aki Onda Interview with Daniele Balit

Aki Onda interview Cassette Memories project in Paris

By Daniele Balit (Birdcage)

Balit: What are your thoughts about locations you visited in Paris such as the Parc des Buttes Chaumont and the Court Carrée at the Louvre?

Onda: The Parc des Buttes Chaumont is a very interesting place. I had heard about the Petite Ceinture - an abandoned railway tunnel that used be a part of the circle line of Paris, and went to the park to find an access to it. I was amazed by the rich landscape of the park. There were a small lake, rocky mountains, gardens, forest, and an intriguing juxtaposition of natural and man-made structures, like scattered buildings or monuments. I learned that historically, Buttes Chaumont used be an execution ground and a garbage dump, and it was rebuilt into a park by Napoleon III in the 19th century. Perhaps this historical complexity adds an unusual texture to the landscape. When I visited the Petite Ceinture and walked into the tunnel, I started to play my cassette sounds through a small portable amp. I was immediately struck by the strange resounding echo of the tunnel, somehow very spooky. It is a completely forgotten place, and the echoes resonate exactly like that! After the tunnel, I walked up to the Temple of Sybil on top of a rock mountain, and it sounded completely different within the acoustics of a stone kiosk, in the open air. The wide view, and sound, of the city of Paris below was lovely. I wanted to mix my sounds together with that rich ambient sound.

The Court Carré at the Louvre is one of my favorite places in Paris. It's unusual to see such a wide open space in this crowded central area of the city. The acoustics are really special. I'm not sure if the square was designed for this, but the space transmits sound easily and spreads it vastly. The architecture itself works as a sort of an amplifier. If you hear a violinist playing on one side of the large square, you can hear it at the other side. I prefer to go there in the evening, when the buildings around the square are lit up, and the noises of the city calm down. You can hear subtle noises – foot steps of a passersby, their conversations, the sounds of the water fountain create this kind of dreamy atmosphere.

Balit: The preparation for this Cassettes Memories project has implicated selecting a suitable location. What makes you decide if a location is suitable and what type of parameters you focus your attention ? (acoustics, symbolical, etc... )

Onda: I like haunted spaces, that's one key point. When I visit a location, I basically make the decision if it’s suitable for a performance intuitively. Then, I’ll do some research afterward and check the historical background, architecture and acoustics of the location.

Balit: What kind of use you make of the portable battery amp?

Onda: Using a portable battery powered amp gives me the flexibility to immediately modify acoustics by changing the position and direction of the sound source within the dimensions of the space. This flexibility is not possible with fixed speakers. If I move around in the space with the amp, I hear the same sound source as it drastically changes with different echo and reverberation. And sometimes I find a dead spot that mutes all reflections of the sound.

Balit: William Burroughs saw the potentiality of portable tape recorders as locational tools and suggested to use them as sonic weapons to break the associational lines of our experienced reality... Does a small and portable amp like the one you tested open new territories for your practice?

Onda: When I started using a portable cassette recorder back in the late eighties, it surely changed my practice. It was a revelation to me. But the portable amp, which I only began using last year, has not made as profound an impact. Now I can move around freely in a performance space with the amp, and I don’t need to stand up in the same position all the time, and that’s an important shift. But, I would modestly say that it added a new colour in my sound palette.

I was a big fan of Burroughs' work when I was a teenager and read all of his books translated into Japanese. So when I started using a cassette Walkman, I had Burroughs' and Gysin's cut-up technique in my mind. If you listen to my first ever made cassette in Morocco back in 1988, its influence is obvious. However the process of developing my cassette work is more focused on the notion of ‘keeping a diary’.

Conceptually, a portable cassette recorder, to me a Sony Walkman, is a tool for keeping a diary. I was a photographer before becoming a composer/musician, and I was taking snap shots of my daily life. What I’m doing with a Walkman is basically the same. In a sense, Cassette Memories could have been realized by using a different medium like photography, film, or text. It happened to be sound.

Balit: Can you describe the kind of "landscapes" you're trying to build through these site specific interventions ? What type of processes between the visual and the aural are in play ? In which way this social/public space outside of a venue important for you?

Onda: It’s a strange ritual. I try to both extract and abstract the essence of memory by playing my field recordings, so to speak my personal memories, at a location that is also saturated with its own memories. It’s invisible, but you would feel that live memories awake sleeping memories.

It’s not just “soundscape” of memories, but also “landscape” as you can visualize the location and it would affect your perception of hearing very much. It’s constant inspiration to me that sound and vision are so inextricably linked, and that they affect each other organically.

I can see endless possibilities with site-specific performances "outside" conventional venues these days, and I'd love to explore more. Each location has a very different historical background, architectural design and acoustics, and each performance could be very different from the others. To be honest, I'm becoming almost bored with playing at concert halls and clubs. In traditional venues, sound is very much controlled because of sound systems, on and off-stage mixing, and the architecture of the spaces. If it's a classical music hall, it is believed to be designed for acoustic instruments, but really only for Western instruments. The frequency spectrum of my cassettes contains rich noises and overtones, more like African or Asian instruments. When I amplify my cassette sounds on stage in a classical music hall, I often hear some overtones disappearing because of that beautiful echo and reverberation which basically compliments the frequency range of classical instruments. But to me, a rock venue is worse. Many rock venues have almost dead acoustics, and audiences only hear the sound pushed through a speaker system. I mainly use old vintage amps that spread sound in wider directions, like wrapping the space in a blanket of sound softly, so I would prefer to perform in a room that features rich acoustics. I often feel that the sound of those speakers in a club are too unidirectional and heavily occupy the space. They are aggressive. Of course there are many different types of venues. But most of the venues I’ve performed in are designed and built by these stereotypical principals. Not just the sound, but the stage and the audience are separated from each other, and reactions to each other are somewhat restricted. The visual element is often controlled too much. Audiences watch musicians singing or playing instruments, there might be some actions and visual elements, but I'd like to have a room for unexpected happenings. I need a greater sense of freedom.

Balit: Is the "location hunting" something that enriches your practice or is it a purely practical phase?  Is the fact of choosing the place a key factor?

Onda: Location hunting – or, walking around a city and seeking out locations for performance, is an important part of my practice. Maybe it has something to do with my childhood experience. I grew up in Nara, which was the capital of Japan from 710 to 784. Nara is filled with historic temples, shrines and the ancient tombs of emperors or aristocrats. Some are preserved, but others were ruined and hidden beneath the ground. You don't see them, but you can feel some sort of strong energy when you walk through these places. There were hundreds of these sacred places around the area where my family lived. I used to walk around and hunt for power spots. I became quite skilled at finding relics like fragments of a broken vase, arrowheads, etc. which were buried in the ground with a corpse of an aristocrat. I was collecting those treasure troves. In a sense, the location hunting that I practice now is born from that same childhood desire to explore energy fields, only now I’m using sound to map those fields. It’s an archaeological dig for the memory spots of a city.


Flickering Memory and Glimpses of What Lies Beyond
Liner notes of Aki Onda's album Ancient & Modern
Text by Aki Onda
Translated by Haruna Ito

Here at the edge of the East Village, I’m sitting on the sidewalk, on a tossed out sofa, letting the cassette tape recorder roll on / the mid summer sun searing / lively chatter of people meld into the salsa rhythms that waft by from somewhere / footsteps cross my vision, somehow familiar / like pressing my ear to her breast, hearing the pulse of her heart / this cumulation of memory, piling up over this city New York / where is it the vanish to, these sounds once emitted? / streets eased with clam, an odor if fermented garbage / whimpering woman, the underground complex of the subway trembles at the echoing bitterness / a sudden man’s shout, fuck you, go to hell! / I let my cassette recorder roll on / the Tokyo night, off balance, about to crumble… / skin chafing skin, voice escaping the lip unable to shape words / reversed vision, or the world, sounds darting in / pressing my ear to the freeway, the roar, surely the sound of earth revolving / rooftop of a skyscraper, the drone of the city encompassing / head swollen with drunkenness, the muffle of all things / and two of us, whisper in the ear, on the brink of falling into slumber / amidst the bustle of Shinjuku, bodies that bump, jostle, rub and scrape / on and on, the cassette recorder rolls / Simon asks, what are you doing tomorrow? / I like the city Rio, and do you know why…
It was about a decade ago. In South London’s Brixton, I bought a cassette tape recorder from a guy selling junk there on a street corner. An ordinary fit-in-your-palm, Walkman-type that one might see anywhere. Going about my life, walking about town, on my travels, I would press the record button whenever I come across a sound that I liked, and magnetically imprinted its memory onto tape. It was like a diary of sound. Why did I do this? I still don’t quite know. Perhaps I was obsessed. After a while, the tapes began to pile up. They just pile up and soon storage space become a problem, so I then took these recorded tapes and randomly began layering new sounds onto them. It was fun to simply collect these sounds recklessly, innocently. After repeating this for a while, I realized that I had now wound up with some incredible sonic collage that just invented themselves. My personal time and space, which I had once occupied, had become curiously entangled, reappearing before me as strange soundscapes now severed entirely from reality.
At some point I began doing performances using the cassette recorder. Playing back these recorded tapes, making loops from parts that I liked, reversing them, expanding them in an improvisational way. These concrete sounds, cut out from reality, would then lose their meanings and begin to resonate as pure sound. My personal recollections too would lose their subjectivity, and begin to resonate purely as the memory of sound.
There is always the desire for the moment when one is freed from all meaning. To cease control of the music, and abandon oneself to the motion of these particles of sound. At this point, you realize that you stand alone in the midst of a certain clam. The more you accelerate, the more your field of vision expands, and the deeper the clam. There, the concept of speed is extinguished; any and all motion become possible. You are dissolving into the music.

There is no particular meaning to the use of the cassette recorder. It is economical, and has quick response: all purely practical reasons. These factors mean nothing. I’m interested not in the frame within which music is created, but in the world that comes into view beyond it, the world at which you arrive beyond it. An attempt to bring the surface, beyond the flickering of memory, a certain state of musicality.
I have continued to be inspired by the work of people such as Jonas Mekas, Peter Beard, Robert Frank, Phill Niblock, Luc Ferrari. There are all people who have obsessed over the mechanism of the human capacity for memory. And then people like Jon Appleton, SFT, Toshio Kajiwara and DJ Olive have lent me concrete opportunities for grasping at this certain state of musicality. The music I make exists in the expanse of music shaped by the memories of many people.
 New York, August, 2002.

Bon Voyage! On a Journey Tracing Memory
Liner notes of Aki Onda's album Bon Voyage!
Text by Aki Onda
Translated by Haruna Ito

The Paris morning breaks, squinting against the glare of the early sun, leaning against the wall of a building grey with soot, and turning an ear to the song of the birds / the roar of the Metro as it speeds past, just have to wait for the next train, if it's time, there's plenty of that / the cassette recorder keeps rolling / Rio de Janeiro, roaming about a street over which a decrepit air hangs, heat rising from asphalt makes my head swoon, If I could first just get a drink, then.... / Salvador, an old man, black and dirtied, sitting on the street corner strumming a guitar and singing, mud-caked and looking like he grew out of the ground / for a moment, grazing the back of my mind, that Velvet Underground song, All Tomorrows' Parties / now took here, you listen well, none of these things you're thinking, I don't understand them at all..... seeing only the lips move, opening and closing, their sound is drowned out / the sudden shower, unable to move for the violent rain, stunned, people huddle in the entrance of the subway at Union Square, can you spare me enough for the fare, pesters a black beggar beside me, I can't get back home, I pass him a couple dollar bills / drawing his black hat deep over his eyes, wine glass in hand and pursing his lips, Jonas says, me, I hate art / Lisbon, I have been to this town before, I've seen this steep slope that descends to the sea, this is how I feel, but I cannot, for the life of me, remember when it was / always, anytime, all the time, the cassette recorder keeps rolling / only the sound of skin chafing skin, the sensation, remains ringing in my ears / to Narita Airport, gazing on the scenery outside the window streaming past, I try to remember the events of the previous day, and manage only a dim recollection / yes, it's all passed by now.....
In my life so far, it seems I've done a fair amount of traveling. Moving in a whirlwind from town to town, with the characteristic carefree nature of a bohemian able to go anywhere, as well as the loneliness of someone never able to belong anywhere. It was not as though I wanted this. I was raised in Japan, but simply could not fit into its society (I was in fact nothing other than a stranger in that country), and having forfeited a home to which I could return, I had no choice but to seek a place where I could settle (well, over time, that became irrelevant too.... but somehow, just the roaming instinct stuck).
I took the cassette recorder with me wherever I went. It was my travel companion. When I came upon a sound I liked, I'd click the record button on, carving the magnet of memory onto tape. Like a diary of sound. Why did I keep doing this? I still don't know. I was probably obsessed by something. After a while, an enormous bulk of field recordings began to pile up. Without listening to them over again, I tossed them into a cardboard box, and when I felt like it, during yet a new journey, I began to randomly lay sounds on top of them. In this way, the many tapes documenting my everyday life leapt across time and space, and, inhaling the odors of many places, varnished by dust and finger marks, they were transformed into strange soundscapes that were utterly severed from reality.
This album Bon Voyage! compiles those field recordings accumulated over the last 14 years. Apart from the last two tracks which include the addition of loops, none of the other pieces contain any edits whatsoever. All is shaped by layering according to chance. This is a mad road movie that mingles electro-acoustic and chance operation. For myself, it is a personal record of journeys and memories. It is also a journey traversing the world that unfolds outside of the self, as well as an inner trip that submerges into the depths of the soul. It is reality as much as it is metaphor. What can this be? How to explain? Shall I call it a music that was born of hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, countless memories?
And yet, the past is still nothing more than the past. Each single memory reduced to a foggy herd of sheep, wedging itself into the realm of forgottenness. They are mere shadows of the reality of former days, which have by now lost their vivid texture. Despite this, when innocently cavorting with these countless fragments of memories, something resembling the essence of memory, swathed in a transparent light, may rise up to the surface out of the chaotic sediment. This is a lucid moment when scenes witnessed before, sounds heard before, all seem to flash back in a single spectacle. This may be something like a primal landscape of memory, which all individuals retain in their minds. Invisible to the eye, but undeniably existing in this world, it is where each finds solace and foundation for his or her life. My desire was to weave my own story while arriving at something that transcended personal attributes and could be shared with others.
I have been deeply inspired by the work of people such as Jonas Mekas, Robert Frank, and Peter Beard. These are people who have been obsessed by this innate human mechanism of memory. I feel quite lucky that I had encountered their works during my impressionable teen years. And I am grateful to Jon Appleton, who has continued to give me encouragement over the last three years. Through him, I was able to absorb much from the currents of electronic music, and furthermore was made aware of the importance of being my own self within them. Needless to say, this journey of mine, which traces memory, seems to intersect with countless other journeys that many people have themselves traced.
New York, May, 2003.

 Back in Analogue Land"

Revue & Corrigée, Vol. 63, France, May 2005
Text by Rui Eduardo Paes

The world traveler born in Japan is recovering the audio cassette as a means of musical creation. After all, in present times digital technology isn't the only way. Let's have some noisy, dirty sound surfaces again.

He could be one of the greatest studio producers working in New York right now, both in the fields of pop music and electroacoustics, but Aki Onda choose another way: he's in love with portable cassette tape recorders and cheap audio cassettes and uses them to make good, experimental, democratic electronic/concrete music. Myself a devotee of the cassette format, which I used in the beginning of the Nineties with my plunderphonic industrial-punk-noise project Astronauta Desaparecido, I had to interview him and ask everything there is to ask about his use and abuse of those tools. Welcome back to analogland...

Rui Eduardo Paes: You used to work with samplers and computers, you have a long experience as a producer and a studio technician and you're specialized in sound synthesis. With this digital background, what really made you turn to audio cassettes? You said already that your cassette option doesn't mean anything. It's hard to believe... Maybe you don't have grand philosophic explanations, but something justify certainly your decision to work with lo-fi technology. What? The portability? You have DAT recorders...

Aki Onda: They are just tools for making music. Digital and analogue equipment have different sound characters. I use both of them to bring out the best they have, and to combine them together. It's impossible to get the warmness of cassette sound by using laptop. But when I do serious and tedious editing, I prefer using a computer and Pro-Tools. It depends on what kind of music you make, and your music determines the method. The reverse is not true.

However, I love the texture and timbre of the cassette sound. It's obscure, not clear enough for the reproduction purpose. Sound wouldn't be the same as the sound you listen to, it would be changed in a characteristic way. It's interesting that it gets richer because of its fault. Also, when I play cassettes, I plug them into an old guitar or bass amp, such as Fender, Vox, or Ampeg, instead of using loudspeakers. I can get the perfect sound for me from this combination. Although the amps should be vintage tube ones. I have a problem with the sound of new amps, even re-issued ones. It's too clear, and not punchy and cranky enough. As you know, I only play field recordings I have been collecting for more than a decade, and I consider them as memories of my personal life. They are not just sound, I could say... I also play memories. So, in a sense, I make the determination of sound quality by mimicking the human memory system. We don't remember things clearly and mathematically, like digital media does. Rather, the details of our memories are distorted and compressed, like fuzzy images wedging themselves into the realm of oblivion. My sound should be closer to those memorial images I have in my mind.

Paes: Are you aware of the work of other musicians/sound artists that use cassette recorders/players as instruments, like, for instance, the swiss Andres Bosshard and his "cassetten-machinen", several portable cassette recorders connected to a computer? And did you know about the cassette chains through the world in the Eighties, with musicians using the mail to receive and send cassettes of collective, added, work, with the results also comercialized in cassette format ("The Cassette Mythos Audio Alchemy" series coordinated by Robin James for What Next/Nonsequitur Foundation was one example of this "cassette culture")?

Onda: I don't know those musicians and artists you mentioned. But I know there was a worldwide community of musicians who used cassette medium for mailing their work to each other in the Eighties... In my case, picking up a cassette recorder was purely by chance. I bought the first Sony cassette Walkman at the market in Brixton, London, in 1988, just before visiting Morocco. When I was in that country, I was quite impressed by the exotic soundscape of the cities, and wanted to record them since I had just bought the brand new cassette recorder. My ears were also attracted by Moroccan traditional and modern pop music, which you could hear through radios, and purchase them by cassette tapes at cassette stores (not record stores!). I actually bought many of them at that time. The cassette format was still very popular in many Asian and African countries, and I guess it still is, even in the 21st century.

I wasn't aware of what I was doing in the beginning. I was young and inexperienced, and looking for what I could do. It was actually before I started making music. So, the first seven or eight years, I was collecting these sounds recklessly, innocently, just for fun, without knowing what to do with them. Although, after I started making music, I was playing sampler and computer, using cassette sound as a sampling source sometimes. Then, much later, I started performing with cassette Walkmans and my collection of field recording tapes around the year 2000, after I moved to the US from Japan. Eventually, it would lead me to start making the albums of the Cassette Memories series. The first one was released in 2003. Actually, it took fifteen years or so to reach the point where this project was ready to appear in public. I could say that it had automatically developed very slowly by itself.

Paes: In a text distributed with the CD Ancient & Modern you say that the "compositions" you make with your "cassette diaries" are only memories of sound, "dreamscapes," freed from all meaning, and even from your own subjectivity. You also told about these sounds that they're concrete (as you know, in concrete music the sound is separated from it's source and identity). Knowing this, there is something that puzzles me. The fact that you name some of your pieces with descriptive titles, like "The Little Girl in Tangier" or "Rain." In other words, you're telling what it is, you're conducting the attention to the origin of the sounds. But there's more: you don't simply press the rec key and stay with it - you walk and you choose the sounds you like, you record and you stop recording at will, in such a way that each recording is a choice made by you. There's really no random, no chance, factor in here, but your conscious choices. We hear your sound choices, not only your memories but the decisions you make to memorize. Even if you layer and mix it with other sounds, they're still choices. There's no contradiction in all this?

Onda: Well, it's a bit difficult to answer to this question. There is much logic in what you say. But you're trying to analyze my music from the "outside" by using the logic of language. But when I play music, I'm "inside." Music has another type of logic that you can't explain in words. It's much more intuitive, abstract, and momentary (how do you describe fluid movements of a dancer by using words? Can you catch them?). Also, when I write a text, I try to use words musically, or metaphorically. There is no contradiction if you are in it.

Paes: I feel there's a distance between the way you present your proceedings and what we hear in your work. Knowing that you mix different field recordings from different time-spaces, it's with some surprise that I hear very musical pieces, with what seems to be instrumental sounds, sometimes more present, even, than the field recordings recognisable as such. And you use loops very often, even to structure the pieces with a repetitive rhythm. So, in your records you don't give us only the sounds you collect in your travels. Not only you mix them, but you also process them (at least, it seems), you loop them, but you make us, listeners, not to focus in that side of your work. When you play live, yes, it's easy to understand that you're manipulating your cassettes, but listening to the records can be a bit puzzling if we follow your words about it. You insist in a "I found it" approach, forgetting the "I made it" part of the thing. Why?

Onda: When I play cassettes, so to speak my memories, I try to open up my unconsciousness, it's like automatic-writing, leave it wherever it goes. Sometimes, it takes me to a place where I wanted to go, sometimes it leads me to a place I didn't expected. I try not to control music, just control sound, the music itself does the work for me, as if the music made itself, and I just welcome it as it were. That means; I'd like to take off any intention at that very moment. And now, I'm talking about musicality, which is an abstract idea, but you are talking about the process of making music, or music production, which is the concrete idea. They are different, right?

Paes: Not necessarily. Another question: You're a radical experimentalist, you worked as a pop producer, you already told that encountering hip-hop and house music changed your life, and you worked until recently right in the middle of the electronics "establishment," in the Electro-Acoustic Music Studio at Dartmouth College, in New Hampshire, with a maverick in what concerns electronic music, Jon Appleton. How do you deal with all this? Are you the product of those "transversalities"? Do you feel divided in some way? I suppose we can't point you as an "experimental academic" or a "popular electro-acoustician" (laugh)...

Onda: You'd better stop giving a definition! It's a sickness (laugh)! I'm not a strange animal like "experimental academic" or "popular electro-acoustician," not even a radical experimentalist. I make music, and music tells you everything, period. Why don't you leave it as it is? I think it's quite normal to have this kind of mixed background nowadays. If I had studied, and developed music in a specifically established world like contemporary music, jazz, techno, or whatever, I would have taken a different path. But I was self-taught, and I still am. I always learn something from my own experience. Also, I've been exposed to many different types of music, and curious to all of them, like many other musicians in our generation. It's the natural consequence of circumstances.

I was staying as a visiting composer in the Electro-Acoustic Music Studio at Dartmouth College, which Jon Appleton serves as the director. But my term, which was three years, was over. I don't think I've been a part of the academia. The reason Jon Appleton hired me was, I had another type of experience, outside academic world, and he expected me to bring those experiences into the academic institution. More than that, it is all about the friendship between Jon and I. Our relationship wasn't like master and pupil. We understood each other, exchanged our ideas and experiences on music. We actually had a wonderful time there. Jon is an open-minded person, and has a huge appetite for open forms of music. He has been inviting many composers from different fields, for instance Don Cherry was there, and Jon and Don made an amazing duo album, Human Music, together for Bob Thiele's Flying Duchman. Someone should re-issue the album. It's so brilliant... Anyway, I moved to Brooklyn, New York, two years ago, where I've been working as a free-lance. New York is my hometown now.

Paes: I notice you have many references in free jazz and that you played with some free-improvisers, like Otomo Yoshihide, Ikue Mori, Alan Licht, Loren Connors, Noël Akchoté, Un Drame Musical Instantané, Jac Berrocal... How do you position yourself in relation to jazz and to improvisation, since it's evident you're not a jazz player?

Onda: Those musicians you mentioned have different backgrounds. Of course, they improvise, that's true, but they also compose. Besides, their ways of improvising (and composing) are rather different. However, they all have adventurous personalities. Their inquiring mind has inspired me so much. Anyhow, each of them has their own musical world, extremely strong ones. Probably, that's the biggest reason I've been collaborating with them.

Also, another notable reason is... I'm not sure if you selected those names intentionally or not... Anyway, all of them are somehow connected to a visual mode of expression. Otomo Yoshihide has been making many soundtracks for Asian films (including Japanese ones). Ikue Mori also makes visual works. She has been one of my favorite musicians for the last fifteen years. I learned a lot about improvisation from her playing. Alan Licht founded Text of Light with Lee Ranaldo, which plays imaginary soundtracks for Brakhage's films. Loren Connors takes photos, draws paintings, and writes poems. I admire him, and his work, a lot. Noël Akchoté; has been strongly connected to film and photography. He has a vast knowledge about them and applies techniques of those media to music. Un Drame Musical Instantané; was the first group that played live music for a silent film, as I remember, in the Seventies. They made many theatrical pieces as well. Jac Berrocal is an amazing actor in his life (laugh). He's a devastating character who dreams the rock'n roll swindle! He's been making albums that would work as imaginary soundtracks as well. His music is full of visual images for me.

Have I been associating with jazz? I don't think so... However, the first record I liked in my life was Art Ensemble of Chicago's People in Sorrow. I was fourteen years old, I guess. I also listened to other jazz musicians' albums, John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, Cecil Taylor. It was because of my family environment. My father taught in a university, and my mother was a painter. So there were many scholars, artists, so called intellectuals, around us. And listening to avant-garde jazz was a sort of fashion among those people, although my parents were not interested in music at all. Those people introduced free jazz to me, and told me how radical and progressive this sort of music was. However, I mostly cared about the emotional impact of music since I didn't have any musical knowledge at that time. Because of that, I preferred Art Ensemble of Chicago and John Coltrane to Anthony Braxton and Cecil Taylor. Actually, Braxton and Taylor gave me headaches (laugh), because I couldn't understand the complexity of the musical structure. I'm listening to Cecil Taylor quite often now, and I like it very much though. Anyway, jazz, specially free jazz, was the first music that I was interested in, that's true, but it was only the beginning, and my curiosity to music expanded after that. It didn't take time to find Brigitte Fontaine's Comme A La Radio which was an epiphany for me, and other Saravah stuff like Nana Vasconcelos, Pierre Akendenge that led me to some other French groups like Un Drame Musical Instantané;, Jac Berrocal's Catalogue several years later, also some American composers who had the same kind of taste, narrative and visual oriented, with funny mixtures of styles, like Annette Peacock, Michael Mantler, Kip Hanrahan, John Zorn... Then, I started listening to hip-hop, which gave me a fresh surprise. It was amazing that they could make music just by playing turntables! That was one of the reasons that I bought a sampler and a computer. I thought I could make some kind of beats by using them although I didn't have any musical education... Another big influence I had was the French electro-acoustic music originated by Pierre Schaeffer. I was strongly inspired by early GRM records, especially Schaeffer, Francois Bayle, Bernard Parmegiani, and Luc Ferrari. The idea of musique concrete was naturally acceptable for someone who started making music with a sampler and a computer, like me, and their ideas opened up my mind, which was a bit captured by hip-hop beats. I started associating with an abstract way of composing, and thinking as well in terms of sound.

But I should stop talking about my listening background here otherwise it would last forever. This is just a little part of it. It's so amazing that when you start exploring the whole universe of music, even if it's just underground music, it's endless. You could enjoy the adventure for the rest of your life.

Paes: I know that the most part of your references aren't from the music field. Even if you point out Phill Niblock or Luc Ferrari, there's Jonas Mekas, an experimental cinema icon, Peter Beard, Robert Frank, Stan Brakhage (not Chris Marker?). Why does that happen? And you have also some literary influences, like Marguerite Duras (who directed films too, by the way), and I read a review somewhere in which the critic speaks about the philosopher Walter Benjamin to explain your music. And at what point are important for you the extra-musical references, and namely the ones coming from films and books? Are you going to tell me again that, since you make "soundscapes", you deal necessarily with cinematic qualities?

Onda: As far as I remember, I wasn't listening to any music before I encountered free jazz, not even ordinary pop music. I decided to be a painter, or a so-called artist, when I was four or five years old. I was familiar with painting, textile, and photography from an early age. Visual art had been my main concern until I really got into music. In school, from the beginning until I dropped out, I didn't understand why everybody had to do the same thing in a class, and I didn't obey their rules at all. I was a terrible troublemaker there. I skipped so many classes. Even if I attended classes, I built a wall around me, ignored the other students and teachers, and just read books silently. I could say that I learnt most of the things through my reading experience. When I was around fifteen, I started watching films, and some dance or theater pieces, instead of going to school. There were several nice underground film theaters in Osaka and Kyoto. I saw films by Marguerite Duras, Jonas Mekas, Kenneth Anger, Maya Deren, and some others, like Syuji Terayama (who was a Japanese theater director, filmmaker, and poet). I was immensely astonished by them, and concluded that this is the true reality, and that the reality I saw in the fucking boring Japanese society was a fake! Sounds very naive, but that's what I honestly felt. Since the environment in which I grew up in was so utterly un-Japanese, I had to develop my identity as a stranger within society. I needed freedom, but this was not needed in Japan. The visions of visionary filmmakers gave me courage and strength to live through in society as a stranger, and planted seeds inside me, which would eventually grow into my own vision much later. If you discover something that strikes you deeply when you are young, it can work as a kind of revelation, opening a new door and remaining in your mind for good until you die.

Last year, I had a few days off when I was touring in France. I visited a town called Trouville, in Normandy, where Marguerite Duras had an apartment in an old villa by the beach. This town is well known as the closest summer resort from Paris, but it was at the beginning of winter. No visitors were there. I walked around the empty streets alone, came to the villa, and went down the stairway by the building, which led down to the sandy white beach. I was amazed how much details of the town I began to recall. I strongly felt like I had been there before. It happened because of my intensive reading experience of Duras' novels when I was a teenager. Almost everything I saw was described in her books. It was a strong déjà vu, or a flashback of memories. I even felt that she was there in the scenes. More precisely, I heard the tone of her voice, the same voice I could hear in her writings, ghosts everywhere... After that experience, I wondered how much one's memory belongs to their own life. Was it my memory, her memory, or our memory? I think one has memory, a place has memory, and any kind of art form also has memory. They all have been connected somehow together, somewhere in the far greater void.

Paes: You're also a photographer, and you use in your visual work the layering procedures we can find in your music. So, here is the question: why the layers? (Niblock would tell me, as he did, that, when those layers are in phasing, he can obtain some shocks of frequencies and "phantom" sounds/crazy harmonics, but that's not your case...) Is it to achieve density? Intensity? What?

Onda: In a sense, I don't recognize so much difference between audio and visual. I'm not talking about the nature of the media, just talking about my sensitivity. They were raised together like twins inside myself. It's not easy to separate one from the other. That's probably why I'm still engaged in both. It seems like my music suggests some kind of visual images. It's funny that many concert organizers who asked me to perform, believed that I'd like to use visual images in my concert (laugh). But I prefer not to use any visual images when I play music, and I want to leave the visual side open for listeners. They can imagine whatever they want in my music. Then, the "phantom" effect happens by the collision between my sound and the visual images in their mind. Also, if there are one hundred people there, there are one hundred different images there, in the space. They would cause another "phantom" effect as well. If you want to create a strong energy, it's better to hit with something different. I suppose the idea is basically the same as Phill's, just our approaches to the effect are different.

I'm now working on audio-visual pieces. They are basically a series of still photo images which are shown by slide projections, and it would work as a film (The style is like Chris Marker's La Jetée, I eventually would like to transfer them to 16 mm film). Then, I ask other musicians, mostly a solo or duo guitarist, to improvise on the slide projections = film. So each time would be different because of the different music. I call it Cinemage, which means “homage for cinema,” or “images for cinema.” In this case, I'd like to avoid making both music and picture myself. I guess, my sensitivity towards both media is too close, so that if I do both, it wouldn't cause strong "phantom" effects. Maybe, maybe not... I have to try more before finding it out.

Paes: Reading in the Internet one interview you gave sometime ago, I find the use of the word "obsession" several times, and also the word "passion" and, very important, the term "insanity." Are you specially interested in the way madness, the dark side of the human mind and spirit, can be reflected in an art creation, be it photography or music?

Onda: Some of my music might be intense and obsessive, for instance one of my Cassette Memories' albums, Ancient & Modern, but not all of them. It's just one side of my music. Those states of mind you picked up come from one's unconscious level. If you saw them in my music, probably they were there, but I didn't try to create them myself. They appeared naturally. So... I don't know.

Anyhow, your question reminded me one of my childhood experiences. My family was living in a small city in Nara prefecture, which is next to Osaka and Kyoto, in a small apartment in an old crusty building which was a dormitory for university professors' families. The building was surrounded by a big Buraku, which was a ghetto where discriminated-against people reside. They are like an outcast minority, not a racial or national minority, but their life was still separated from general public. I really liked playing with children there, and actually spending much time there. Luckily, my parents didn't care if I was there (In the first place, our family also had a sort of minority sensitivity. My father had the Korean background. We even didn't have clear identity as Japanese). The kids of Buraku and I had so much fun. We shoplifted many things, like cheap sweets, whatever goods, from stores, collected them in our fastness. We broke vending machines, and stole drinks, porno magazines. We often did a ritual that we burnt things we stole. We often peeked into a shack where couples were having sex... There was an anarchic mood in Buraku people's life since they all hid a feeling of "We are abandoned from the society" in their mind. In their poverty, there was sharp knife gloomy mood as well... One day, I remember, a car hit a girl of the Buraku accidentally, and she was hurt. Her father ran out of their house in anger, pulled the driver out from the car, and gave him violent blows. It was bloody... Many things I remember there are quite intense and impulsive, although the details are faded now. They are all pulled together in a foggy image, sound is erased, like a silent film, but there was a faintly phlegmatic sweet smell, like blood, sweat, semen, all permeated into the sandy black ground... The whole image became one of my primal visions... My parents bought a nice house in a nice residential area, and my family moved out from the apartment when I was ten or eleven years old. I was sad that I had to leave there. And in the Seventies and Eighties, many Buraku people moved out from their communities, and started living in the other areas, mostly in the big cities, partly because of the Braku Liberation Movement which was supported by the government. They hid where they came from, and started a new life in a new place. So the ghetto was taken down, went up in smoke with all its memories.

For the last several years, especially after I moved to New York, I suspect that I've been probably looking for similar sort of visions which I saw in my childhood and when I was a teen. It's strange that I had never looked back on my past when I was in my twenties. I was actually avoiding it. And, in the music world, I was trying to learn about producing, composing, engineering, even marketing as much as possible, to expand my knowledge about them and to develop my skills. But at some point, the importance and the achievement of the purposes ceased. My interest has shifted to the music itself, and to my own self. I rediscovered the experiences that I had in the past. Memories came back, and they were much richer than I thought... I'm recording my new album now, which will be released as Cassette Memories Vol.3. The title is Come Home. It's about where I came from...

"In Unknown Territory"

Tosho Shinbun / Book Review Press, issue #2593, August 10, 2002
Interview by Minoru Hatanaka (ICC)
Compiled and edited by Yui Yoshizumi (Tosho Shinbun / Book Review Press)
Translation by Haruna Ito

The rootless cosmopolitan

Hatanaka: In addition to a recorded repertoire of four solo albums, over the past two or three years you have been conducting solo performances as well, using cassette tapes of environmental and found sounds that you've recorded onto cassette tape. You have also pursued photography, which has taken shape in various exhibitions and slide shows. What I feel as the common denominator running through all varied manifestations of your work is the element of the "chance encounter." In your solo cassette tape work, you would put down to tape the sounds that you come across at that time, somewhat like keeping a diary. Could it be that your encounters with other musicians are similar in nature?

Onda: Now that you mention it, yes, I think it might be similar. In the case of my cassette tapes, I encounter sounds by chance, take them in, and record them. Of course, I wouldn’t press the record button unless a strong connection existed between myself and the recorded object. But I think that sounds that I feel a strong connection to, when I'm walking down the street, are not immediately comprehensible at that very moment. To explain how I go about creating a tape piece is, first, I would randomly record about ten seconds per scene, as I am wandering about. I would then let them lie on the shelf for about one or two years, then, again randomly, I layer more sounds over them. I am left with an accumulation of collages of disjointed experience and memory. At the moment I am recording, the sound may be that of a car or a person's voice speaking, with meaning attached to the sounds. That is, I am present in that moment and I understand their meaning because I can confirm it visually, but when it becomes purely recorded sound, any meaning is stripped away from its context. Then with the repetition of the collage process, by a certain point any meaning that may originally have been there will loose its significance utterly. It may be that in this way, I am trying to bring it closer to my own memory and its architecture. You know how the architecture of human memory is not a logical one, unlike the architecture of language.

Hatanaka: Filmmaker Jonas Mekas too, undertakes an approach to memory by shelving film for decades before applying any cuts to it.

Onda: Artists that I've been influenced by most deeply are Mekas, Robert Frank, Peter Beard, people who take memory as raw material to depict wondrous and mysterious phenomena... they are obsessed with memory. They do not try to solve the question of what memory is. Rather, they attempt to embody the architecture of memory.

Hatanaka: What first got you started in recording environmental sounds?

Onda: It's been close to ten years now. I've been the traveler type of person... simply meaning that I've been wandering like a rootless plant... and I have taken my DAT recorder everywhere I go, recording along the way. The first five years or so, I simply recorded as though obsessed, and I didn't try to explicate to myself where that would lead. And as I continued, I inevitably wound up with an immense pile of tapes. There were so many that I couldn't do anything but start layering over them. That's how I arrived this method. In the case of photography too, I started thinking that it was no fun just walking around every day with a recorder, so perhaps I would try carrying a camera in its place once a week.

Hatanaka: For you, is photography linked to what you are doing with music?

Onda: Basically, I think I am doing the same thing. I am documenting fragments of my personal life, and something is revealed in their accumulation. Looking upon such accumulation, the particulars within them lose significance. Rather, it's what begins to emerge from the glut of the accumulated--the architecture and essence of memory--that I am interested in. It is something from which concrete meaning has been stripped.
In the case of my photography, the sensibility at work is closer to being filmic. They are more like moving image than stills. Although the professional photographer slices out a single moment in time to regard them absolute, my own photographs consist of a moment within a movement, and I shoot them in a state where their context is apparent.

Hatanaka: This calls to mind Mekas' "frozen film frames."

Onda: Mekas himself has said that in his work, one is able to discern everything within just three or four frames. When I met Mekas in New York, it was by chance that he felt something from my photos and organized two exhibitions for me, but perhaps he saw something in common with his own work. In fact, until I met Mekas, I was not consciously pursuing this idea of memory. After spending time with him, I began becoming aware. I found someone similar, much like the way one might view a mirror.

Hatanaka: How did you come to encounter Mekas?

Onda: I can't remember so well, but I do recall that during my teens I saw "Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania" and was extremely moved by it. Mekas and Marguerite Duras both figured largely in my life then. Since the environment in which I grew up in was so utterly un-Japanese, I was forced to formulate my identity as a stranger within society. I was seeking freedom, but this was not needed in Japan. This is why I have lived like a rootless cosmopolitan. It was then, and these people, that taught me the resolution and courage to regard my own sensibilities as absolute, regardless of context.

In America

Hatanaka: So you are now active in America?

Onda: Everywhere I live is temporary. Basically my life currently consists of living half the time in New Hampshire and half the time in New York, a dual rural and urban lifestyle.

Hatanaka: And you have been conducting research on electronic music at Dartmouth College.

Onda: I belong to the electro-acoustic music institute, which is headed by the electronic music composer Jon Appleton. Academic institutions have reached a kind of stagnation, and Jon Appleton himself is feeling disillusioned by that arena. I think perhaps he wanted a person who had a sensibility different from that of the world of academia. I myself originally began creating music using samplers and computers, and although I had an interest in electronic music, I am an outsider, so to speak. That's why I felt I could gain a more clarified definition of where I stand, through the collation of the knowledge gained on my own and the manner of knowledge within academia.

I am moved by an intuitive curiosity towards things beyond my understanding. I can't respond to things that I already know and understand. This is simply because there is no excitement in it. I feel that the sensation of excitement is vital, in the influence it exerts on music and art. In the world of electronic music too, the people who were called its pioneers--they would be about 60 to 70 years old today--although it might be a bit of an exaggeration to say that they did things without understanding it, still, it is a fact that they were propelled by impulse. They lived, consumed by the sensation that, together with the progress of technology, they stood witness to the occurrence of something enormous. For example, Xenakis, with all his theoretical armor, what he was doing in fact was plunging himself into a profound obsession with his primal experiences during the war. This is probably why people sense an uncanny power in his works.

Such individuals, who pressed on into the unknown cultural territories of the age, were the ones that opened doors to it, deepening and furthering music. This force, though, even when restricting discussion to the field of electronic music alone, disappears by the eighties. Through supplanting it with intellect and systemization, an academic environment is created. Though today, there may exist discourse concerning the academism of electronic music, it consists of no more than what was ordered and organized in the eighties. Even if there is something that can be called the history of electronic music, if one ceases to regard it as a single solitary current and instead perceive the links connecting different people, one knows that there were an astounding number of people doing the same thing at the same time. There were many people doing similar things to Stockhausen, but of them all, Stockhausen was the one to gain societal recognition. I am convinced that it was not Stockhausen alone who was magnificent and singular.

Hatanaka: At the dawn of the age of electronic music, it was a music based on theory. A music meant to arrive at a certain goal, such as the layering of particular frequencies in order to create a given sound. But since it was not organized, the strange and uncanny could also emerge from it. That sort of capaciousness seems to have been responsible for the richness of electronic music.

Onda: Of course, I'm sure that structuring it according to intellect and reason probably did contribute to a further deepen the music. It's just that I think there must have been several vectors overlapping to generate a powerful force.

Hatanaka: Are you aware that you are a part of the genealogy of electronic music?

Onda: I do now, clearly. I mean this in the context of what I mentioned earlier about the connections between people, rather than a system within history. My two years with Jon Appleton is part of that. I plow through mountains of documents and recordings at the institute, and if there is anything I don't understand, I talk to Jon. I feel very keenly that I exist within the links connecting individual and individual, and that I am in touch with something big.

Artistic work as mirror

Hatanaka: I heard that your album "don't say anything" was inspired by a photograph.

Onda: There was a well-known poet in Paris in the late 19th century named Pierre Louÿs, roughly of the same generation as Alfred Jarry. He was a writer of unorthodox literature, like S & M and scatology. And meanwhile, unbeknownst to anyone, he had secretly amassed a collection of pornographic photographs he had taken himself. They were photos of all of the vast number of women with whom he had relations, collected in a scrapbook with commentary.

Hatanaka: How did you come upon these photographs?

Onda: I was in Paris, where I just happened to come across a shop specializing in art pornographic photography, and for a while, I found myself spending much time there. There were photos of that sort piled up high, like a huge garbage dump heaped with an enormous volumes of past memory. I spent day after day in there. Most of it was trash, but there was the occasional gem among them, and in a French magazine, I found a feature on his photography. When I saw it, I must have felt something. I bought it and took it home.

From the photographs, one can sense Pierre Louÿs' passion, teetering on a fine line with insanity. When one sees a tremendous piece of work, the viewer is compelled to see through the author's perspective, as though the work momentarily acts as a mirror. His photographs became a mirror for me, and I think I caught a glimpse of the passion and the fine line with insanity within my own self. And propelled by it, I began working on something without understanding where I was headed, and eventually arrived at "don't say anything."

Hatanaka: How did you arrive at this title?

Onda: Pierre Louÿs' attitude itself seemed to say "don't say anything." Attempting to affix his obsessions as they were onto the photograph without expressing it in words. In the erotic moment, one is obsessed, unexplainable by reason. This elation in my chest when touching something extraordinary--I wanted to create something as I held this sensation close. And I think that is what I did. My hope is that my work can act as a mirror for those who listen to it, so that they may imagine something else, in the way Pierre Louÿs' work created a mirror for my implanting something of my own. In the way that a mirror does not reflect itself, the moment my work is done, the existence of my self ceases to mean anything. In my solo cassette work, too; the constructing of collages and reordering of material for which I willfully walked and collected, creates a space open to others, and the autonomy of the recording is renounced. I want to create something that, while being a personal expression, passes through individualness forming something that can be shared with others.

Onda: It's most comfortable for me in New York City. There are people living there today who connect to varieties of cultures in a manner unchanged since the sixties, pursuing creative work. The memory of each of these generations remain scattered across the city like geological stratums laid bare. This is the difference with Tokyo. Post-war, Toyko transformed its lifestyles on the surface level, intent on erasing memories of the past. Particularly having lived there during the eighties, I have felt the presence of some basic incompatibility that this culture carries on its shoulders. For me, the idea of a culture that undergoes renewal in such a post-modern manner is far more abnormal.

Hatanaka: You've mentioned that you have an interest in small communities.

Onda: Well, it sounds fishy when you use words like "global" and "international."

Hatanaka: Were you in New York on September 11? The regular column that you and the editor Mr. Matsumura put together in the magazine STUDIO VOICE exhibited the effects of September 11 in quite sharp relief.

Onda: I was in New Hampshire at the time. When it occurred, I felt that I needed to act. It is necessary during such times to put into words, to grasp the situation. I acted on instinct, and so did those who wrote. We received a strong response.

Hatanaka: Has there been any effect on your life since?

Onda: Concerning post-September 11, the people living in New York are far more composed. New York has always had a majority of liberals, and they are able to react to the situation with calmness. But New Hampshire is a conservative region, even in America, so it was more frightening to be there. The sensibility of the general American public is exposed there.

After that incident occurred, everyone was forced to clarify their thoughts and their positions. The only ones that gained from it were the extreme right and the extreme left. Still, I think that perhaps it may have created a more productive environment for artists truly dedicated to their work. The U.S. was in the midst of a bubble-like situation, and the incident erased that aspect. Concretely speaking, money ceased to flow, and people ceased to seek things other than what they needed. There was a pruning of artists too. It became difficult for those who lacked commitment to continue their activities. New York has originally had a strong sense of community, but this sense of alliance was lost in the face of that bubble. But since, the severe situation has necessitated mutual help. The incident brought about the return of that sense of community, making it easier for artists to work. So it was not only bad that came of it.
July 23, 2002 at Hatsudai INTER COMMUNICATION CENTER, Tokyo

Articles & Reviews

"South of The Border" by Joseph Stannard, The Wire, 2013

"South of The Border" by Christopher Olson, The Liminal, 2012

"Diary" & "First Thought Best Thought" by Chris Kennedy, Musicworks, 2012
"Reeling in The Years" by Clive Bell, The Wire, 2009 *****

"Everydays" by Matthew Wuethrich, The Wire, 2008

"Everydays" by Brian Olewnick, The Spuid's Ear, 2008

"Everydays" by Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes, 2008
"In Dreams" by Brian Smith, Metro Times, 2008

"Ancient & Modern" by Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector, 2004
"Bon Voyage!" by Joel Hanson, Resonance, 2004

"Forget Aki Onda" by Ed Baxter, Improvised Music from Japan, 2004
"Aki Onda, Instants Chavirés, Paris" by Dan Warburton, The Wire, 2004
"Shelley Hirsch / Aki Onda at Tonic" by Phil Zampino, The Squid's Ear, 2004
"Ancient & Modern" by Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantic, 2003
"The Trace Memories and Travels of…" by Ian Penman, The Wire, 2003 *****
"Ancient & Modern" by Andy Beta, Pitchfork, 2003
"Existential Electronica" Rob Young, The Wire, 1999

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