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


The Wire, UK, 2013
Text by Joseph Stannard


As a child, Aki Onda was shown Super 8 footage of Mexico by his father, who was there as a member of the Japanese hockey team during the 1968 Olympics. This kicked off Onda's lifelong fascination for the country. Later on, a viewing Alejandro Jodorowsky's mystic Western El Topo added further fuel to his fantasies. The third volume of his Cassette Memories series is comprised of recordings he made in Mexico using three cassette Walkmans. Two of these ceased to function properly along the way. Nevertheless, he continued to use them for their intended purpose.


The implications of this decision are obvious and fascinating. Field recording is seldom a simple act of documentation - it inevitably involves elements of improvisation, processing and editing. But here, Onda presents us with a reality further modified by the functional quirks of the machines themselves. The title of the series therefore takes on an added significance: these memories are flawed, damaged, semi-present beyond even the usual limitations of the format. Onda must surely wonder, then, what was his motivation in continuing to use broken recording equipment?


It seems likely that Onda realized that he had chanced upon a way to recreate his private, mystic Mexico while employing fragments of the real thing. This methodology allows us to share a subjectivity which encompasses not only memory and lived experience but also preconception. It's highly effective, but it isn't always pretty. For instance, the marching band that opens "The Sun Clings To The Earth And There Is No Darkness" is gradually overwhelmed by the massed chirrups of a vast flock of birds. It's a violent, disturbing sound, gaining in density until it begins to overload the listener's head, blocking out rational thought. Which is apt, as rational thought would appear to be the last thing on Onda's mind. Taking cues from Jodorowsky while demonstrating awareness of his own outsider status, he consciously locates himself in the role of magic realist amid a landscape heavily foreshadowed by dreams. In his hands, therefore, the cassette recorder - becomes shamanic tool for the manifestation of other realities.