Annea Lockwood, Aki Onda, and Akio Suzuki
Presented by Blank Forms at Pioneer Works, October 29, 2017
The Brooklyn Rail, USA, 2017
Text by Andreas Petrossiants
In March 2016, the newly-founded curatorial platform Blank Forms hosted their first event: a seminar on composer Maryanne Amacher’s investigations of the “psychoacoustic dimensions of human perception.” The technical qualities of Amacher’s compositions and the research necessary in executing it, evince the various aims of the nomadic Blank Forms: supporting, preserving, and presenting experimental time-based practices. Founded and directed by Lawrence Kumpf, formerly artistic director of ISSUE Project Room, Blank Forms’ programming engages the many histories and ephemeral simultaneities of time-based work—often reopening the “forgotten,” or periodically demystifying the mythologized.
In October, Blank Forms presented Annea Lockwood, Aki Onda, and Akio Suzuki at Pioneer Works. Entering the space, spectators were greeted by a long table reminiscent of a well-organized stand at a funky yard sale. On the right, variously sized glass bells, magnets, tin funnels, a small amp, and tiny electronic motors were in Onda’s section. A frequent visitor to New York since 1995, and based here since 2003, Onda has often referenced the influence of everyday junk culture and downtown experimental scenes, particularly mentioning the influence gathered at Anthology Film Archives where he first encountered the work of Jack Smith, Tony Conrad, Ken Jacobs, and Michael Snow (the latter two frequent collaborators). Near the entrance to the high-ceilinged post-industrial building, the three performed Tabletop Music, first playing in duos, then transitioning into the full trio, to an audience seated neatly in rows. Brooklyn-based videographer Motoko Fukuyama projected their intricate movements and gestures in real time on a screen above, zooming in close on the performers hands as they produced a wide collection of sounds, manipulating them as they interacted with each other and the large space. Among many other objects and instruments, Onda utilized feedback as a fluid audio-spatial form, channeling its sound through various containers like a flower vase, Lockwood played a suspended and amplified bamboo rod (designed by sound and installation artists Elizabeth Phillips), and Suzuki played a wooden box, metal tins, combs, and a newspaper creating a vast array of different sounds from each object. While Onda and Suzuki have been frequent collaborators ever since a storied five-hour collaboration at Osaka Harbor in 2005, this was the first time the three performed together.
Lockwood’s practice revolves around an interest in timbre, and is “rooted in a belief in the complexity that deep listening can reveal,” per Blank Forms—this affinity for listening is surely what allowed the three to create such a cohesive piece. Her practice has long involved exploring the materiality of objects via the many sounds they can produce, but as I approached Pioneer Works along the East River, I thought of Lockwood’s sound maps of rivers, for which she has recorded the Hudson, Danube, and many others. (Later in the evening when Onda played cassette recordings of the ocean, and as the sound of rain trickled in through the open door to the garden, it felt as though the whole evening was draped in a curtain of water). Such a project clearly resonates with Onda’s Cassette Memories: “sound tapestries” that he has been recording on cassette Walkman since 1988. He often describes them as “cinema for the ears” because of his early transition from photography to music, and the tape’s specific form of documenting a particular site in time. But, when Onda plays the recordings for an audience in a different site from where they were recorded, the performance creates a new “shared memory.” As he remarks: “I am changing the meanings in the memories themselves,” making the sounds “abstract” and their references malleable. When performed, the recorded signature expands to the shape, dynamics, and specifics of a space; spectators and performers enter the new setting the recordings forges, and foster a new collectively-shared site via resonating sound.
After a brief intermission, Onda and Suzuki moved to the center of the large cathedral-like space. They performed fu-rai(also the title of their 2017 tour), surrounded by a large audience: now variously sitting, standing, and ambulating around them; both the performers and the audience became spatially dynamic (even if many continued to stay in one spot). Playing for ninety minutes—though their performances are usually twice that length—they probed the “shape” and echo of their music and its resonance within the space: employing “an attitude of close listening” as Suzuki has described their collaborative technique elsewhere. Their sonic investigation of space is evidenced by their usual request to have a full day for their sound check, though they normally do not plan or score the composition in advance.
Some days later, Onda remarked to me that he and Suzuki use both shape and sound as instruments. On this note, as Suzuki pushed a metal structure on the concrete floors, its echoes bouncing off the large windows buffeted by rain, it recalled his oft-referenced first performance for which he threw a bin filled with objects down a flight of stairs at the Nagoya train station (1963). Initially influenced by New York Happenings, many of which activated multiple senses in addition to sight, the rhythms produced by the falling objects moved him to consider the relations of the sounds, echoes, and spaces produced by an action.
Onda and Suzuki made use of all the scattered instruments and objects: a wind-up radio, a base drum, cassette players, the Analaplos (Suzuki’s trademark self-constructed instrument), a dozen pedals, lamps, cymbals strewn across the floor, metal forms, plastic bottles, and others. While Suzuki played his Analaplos—an instrument conceptually mimicking two mirrors facing one another, a container for reflections of sound—Onda played tapes. Later, he opened the large doors to the garden, extending their performance outside, and allowing the sounds of rain and passing cars to enter as well. As the composition continued, he turned stationary lamps on and off, and towards the end picked up a single light bulb on a long wire. Continuing to move about, he spun the chord around himself producing momentary circles of light. When I asked him about this, he quickly responded that shape, like sound, “has a personality.”