Aki Onda "Diary" & "First Thought Best Thought"

 

Musicworks, Canada, 2012
Text by Chris Kennedy

 


Cassette tapes have been one of the more unlikely sound devices to have a resurgence in popularity these last few years. Vinyl can at least by claim to high sound fidelity, but what's the motive for making space on the shelf for a new wave of cassette releases—let alone for digging out the old Sony Walkman that has been lying dormant for almost a decade?

 

One artist for whom a cassette-only release seems most appropriate is Aki Onda, who has been recording and performing with audiocassette tapes for over twenty years. A new CD of his Cassette Memories project will be released in late 2012 on Important Records, but in the meantime, these two tapes serve as a lovely retrospective of Onda's work.

 

Diary pairs a cassette with a small book that reproduces forty life-size photographs of a selection of the cassettes Onda uses in performance. To look at the book is both to enjoy the various manufactured styles of tapes and to see how Onda has personalized and coded them for his own purposes. Onda fans will enjoy reading the short descriptions on the labels and puzzling out the cryptic code that he has developed, using circle-shaped stickers. The cassette features two different beach recordings—one at night and one during the day—so you can flip through the book to the sound of crashing waves.

 

The second release, First Thought Best Thought, gives good reason to consider dusting off the Walkman. A direct copy of the only surviving tape of the first three cassettes he ever recorded, the release documents a trip to Morocco in 1988. The audio is a document of two discoveries—the aural excitement the young traveller found in Marrakech and Tangiers and the new technology he was adapting into a musical instrument. The wealth of Moroccan musical culture that Onda records is collaged into a constant series of sonic fits and jolts, simultaneously developing a unique style and giving the listener a raw sense of the stimulation Onda encountered throughout his journey.

 

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