Aki Onda "South of The Border" Cassette Memories Vol. 3


The Liminal, USA, 2012
Text by Christopher Olson


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, South of The Border, 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.