Interview with Ryoko Akama

On August of 2016 I had the privilege to meet, share the bill and play with Japanese artist Ryoko Akama in the cozy venue of Fuse in Bradford, England. Ryoko is a very active artist who has played in concerts and published in labels around the world; her work has been intriguing me for some time so I decided to interview her for Sonic Field.


Q. In your performance on Fuse there was an element of subtleness and delicacy that I found quite moving and in contrast when I listened to you composition Code of silence I noticed some elements of vehemence and brute force. What, if any, this contrast means to your creative process?

A. It’s fascinating that you find vehemence and brutality in code of silence. A sound provides different perceptions to listeners. One noise musician once said that silence could be the most violent, with which I can not agree more. Void can be found in a stream of loud noises whilst intensity in a flow of silence. I don’t consciously create contrasts between the opposite elements though, I just work with sounding objects in relation to space, performers and audiences around me. I enjoy what comes out of quietness and almost nothing-ness in sound practice. My interest still lies on experiences of emptiness and enjoy what happens in a moment of not performing, but I have recently re-begun to explore performances with more dynamics. I can also say that performing at space differs from recording in studio. My concerts include more visual references than when I am at studio, recording sound materials. I am fond of the analogue synthesiser VCS 3 used in code of silence. I can’t use it in my works any more as I am too bothered by the internal noise of the machine. I am ok with accidental noises but am not patient with the constant noise leak that does not allow me to investigate on multiple tones to create beating patterns. It needs a super-end maintenance sometime soon. Instead, I have been working on fragile objects and phenomena that produce continuous tones, unpredictable noise and random movements. I utilise motors and magnets as well as materials such as glasses and balloons which you saw when I collaborated with Ben at Fuse Art Space.

 

Q. I noticed that cooking is a very important element in your everyday life. Do you see any direct or indirect relationship between cooking and your sound art creation?

A. Both are about experimenting with ingredients that make my life. I enjoy discovering new ingredients and familiarise myself with the ingredients for a long time if they fit me. My sound tools are never the products of my aims. I rarely buy tools apart from basic implements. I happen to find my objects/tools, or they come to me. Then, I compose them into my system. I use the same procedure when I make text scores too.

My relationship to technology is a trial and error, and I don’t want to stress on technology. I like applying invisible and arbitrary forces in order to experience fragility and kinetic subtlety which can be mistaken as nothing. Technology, for me, is a tool to actualise my compositional practice and to complete sociological relations between objects and space.

I work with cooking ingredients in the same way as my creative process. When I cook for myself, I experiment a lot. I tend to have aims and more service mindset when making foods for other people, which is a little different from my artistic attitude. I am not spiritually or ecologically attached to food but eating good food is inevitably important in my life. Everyone knows by now that the first question I ask when I go and play elsewhere is where and what we are eating that night. My body temperature gets very cold when I am too hungry. Sometimes, I am in studio working for hours, forgetting to eat until I suddenly realise I am shivering with cold even in summer. That’s no good, is it? I must eat well to capacitate myself to work creatively!

Q. How do you feel that moving from Japan to England influenced your work? Do you think thank the cultural, economical, sociological and environmental context in which you live and create plays a definitive role in the product of your artistic work?

A. Definitely. England is one of the most multi-cultured countries and has various levels of economies that affect life in general. Its political system produces a wider level of liberation as well as restriction. To survive as an artist in the UK is getting harder and harder, but this country still offers me much more liberated space to work on my practice as a female practitioner and a mother of two than Japan where sociological family constrains and a traditional predomination of men are still existent. Practically speaking, I can be more me in the UK than in Japan though I love both countries. Artistically speaking, I find the current experimental music scene in Japan more exciting than that of UK where has become more and more conservative over the last decade. The phenomenon like curators commissioning same artists over and over surely is a result of the country’s economical collapse and public fund suppression. I can’t stress enough that such reactionary attitude saddens me. Nonetheless, I love works by my friends here who inspire and encourage me. It is a humanistic bond that gets me going.

Another delightful factor in the UK is the amount of potential studio spaces available. I can’t work in a space where I don’t feel comfortable with. I have recently got a new studio in a derelict warehouse in a small village, sharing with a few other artists. It has an extension possibility on top of the already-huge floor for which we only pay 60 pounds per month! This kind of shared studios and community spaces must exist only in big cities in Japan.

Q. I learned in your website about your installation Treow, which was presented in Greenhead a park in your hometown of Huddersfield (population 162.949). Do you see an influence of the cultural context in which a certain work will be presented, in the way that you envision and produce it?

A. I am sure that treow produces different perceptions according to the installation site. It uses invisible features of nature including wind dynamics, tree body’s intensity and acoustic environment. Treow pays attention to the latent nature energy. Treow’s feedback system produces variable sounds for listeners in random dynamics.

It was presented at the park as a part of sound art exhibition to uninformed audiences. It is obvious that these casual passer-by react to this kind of sound works differently from more informed audiences. I think it is important to present your works in both situations. We are not making works for curators but for audiences.

Q. Aside from your artistic duties you also work as curator. From a critic standpoint what do you think are the most common predictable and safe comfort zones in which sound artists tend to fall when they conceive and present their work?

A. We are bombarded with overflowing information of past, present and future. Thanks to ever- advancing technology, it has become very easy for artists to research, learn and investigate on anything wished for. We can have a zillion of references on a laptop and over internet, but this can be both advantageous and disadvantageous. Dissipated concentrations could cause a lack of focus which is a dangerous pitfall. Artists need to emphasise on what, why and how they do, rather than how much they know. We should be more active than passive. Personally speaking, I aim to deteriorate and degenerate now. This is my current standpoint.

Simultaneously, creative people are becoming more academic and forced to believe that their career must be based on educations and qualifications. Of course, we all require equal opportunities to receive appropriate educations if hoped for, but it seems that young generations have no choice but fall into academics. As a result, artistic works are more talked about than ephemerally experienced. I am not sure if this is a grand movement derived from the present society, but it is utterly affected by the politics and economical situation.

Recently, the American writer/researcher Jennie Gottschalk asked me what could be done to improve experimental music scene, to which I answered:

No boundary between academics and non-academics. Much better balance between female and male creators. Collaboration between broader genres of composers, performers and artists. Stronger support to practitioners by buying their physical projects such as CDs, artworks and books. More diverse and risky choices by curators. Less hierarchy.

I know this is not a direct answer to your question but can partially explain how I feel.

Q. In the Fuse show, Ben Gwilliam (who shared the bill and played with us) performed with a series of cups filled with boiled water attached to piezos, where in a way he removed himself from his own performance allowing for these animate objects to do the job. For me as audience this was absolutely refreshing, relevant and significant for a multitude of reasons. First the boundaries between performance and installation were blurred and secondly, it reflected the pertinence of exploring experience and knowledge outside the prevalence of humans over nonhuman objects as it is encouraged by lines of philosophy like Object oriented ontology and Speculative realism.

What are your thoughts on this matter?

A. I don’t tend to overthink ideas of performances in philosophical ways. However, it is true that I enjoy creative works that have no representation of ego. Whether I enjoy particular performances and installations seems not because of what they do but of how they present or how they approach. I have seen performances based on process in many places but not all performances were brilliant. Those who achieve both subtlety and vitality simultaneously are quite rare. A similar opinion can be said about installation arts. I like artists whose pivotal points balance well between conceptualism and materialism. It is a compositional skill in relation to other factors that appeals to me when it comes to minimalistic practice. In this sense, Ben’s approach is spectacular as you say. I am glad that we are working together.

I like works that talk of installation and performance at the same time. The idea of removing oneself from performance fascinates me. I never enjoy being in front of audiences, so the more my objects do my pieces animately the better for me.

Q. At the early beginnings of your career you explored electronic music where the corporeal emotional response of the listener could be an important factor. There has been any consideration in this regard on your subsequent sound art production?

A. I am not sure if the corporeal emotional response of the listener was important to my earlier stage of music making. That is what receivers would decide, not me. I think the main shift over the period of time is a question towards experience and an attitude towards composition. My music used to demonstrate musical forms; dynamics, patterns and a system of beginning-to-end. My current intent has erased all of that, it’s beyond time that invokes another sense of time. It is also more about experiencing the whole than sound per se. My compositions aim to relate to the space where individual factors are integrated into one unique environment that manifests moments of listening and being. I like my instruments to identify the space, transforming my compositional intents into one particular situation.

Q. Please answer as quickly as you can:

Q. Where would you like to perform in the world where you haven’t yet?

A. Korea, India.
Q. What is your favorite dish when you want to be emotionally uplifted?
A. A salad with lots of vegetables, nuts and seeds, followed by a piece of sweet.
Q. What album or song would you like to listen to at the very moment you are
reading this question?
A. Vashti Bunyan’s Just Another Diamond Day
Q. Name a sound art installation that you think everybody should know about.
A. She’s not a sound artist but I really enjoyed some of Mona Hatoum’s installation works which conceptual art and sound art intwined together.
Q. Is there any word in English whose sonority you particularly enjoy? Which one?
A. I like English with foreign accents.
Q. Is there any word in Japanese whose sonority you particularly enjoy? Which one?
A. I like Japanese with foreign accents.
Q. Name an artist that you would like to work with that you haven ́t yet.
A. Anne-F Jacques and suzueri
Q. If somewhere else, where would you like to be at the very moment you are
reading this question?
A. At a secret hot spring deep in the mountain somewhere in Japan.

To know more about Ryoko´s work visit her website.

Images are courtesy of the artist.