winner of golden nica at prix ars 2015.

by nelo akamatsu:

“Chijikinkutsu” is a coinage, specially created for the title of this work by mingling two Japanese words: “Chijiki” and “Suikinkutsu.”

“Chijiki” means geomagnetism: terrestrial magnetic properties that cannot be sensed by the human body but that exist everywhere on earth. Since long before the Age of Discovery, people have traveled with navigation using compasses employing geomagnetism. In recent years, various devises that utilize geomagnetism have even been incorporated into smartphones. There are scientific researches that purport that the behavior of migratory birds, bees, and some types of bacteria and the cause of beautiful aurora have all certain relationship with geomagnetism. William Gilbert, an English physicist in the 16th century, described geomagnetism as the likes of lifeform in his book. However, its cause of generation is not yet completely unearthed by modern physics.

“Suikinkutsu” is a sound installation for a Japanese traditional garden, invented in the Edo period. The sounds of water drops falling into an earthenware pot buried under a stone wash basin resonate through hollow bamboo utensils. Since ancient times, Japanese people have had their own sensitivity to perceive Nature as it is, from the sound of the wind through pine trees or the singing of insects. “Suikinkutsu” has been developed with that kind of delicate sense.

During the period when I was working on this piece, I happened to visit my favorite temple standing in the the secluded mountain in Kyoto. The temple has an excellent garden with a big white pine tree spreading its branches in incredibly unique shapes. In a small corner of this garden was “Suikinkutsu.” And when I carefully listened to the profound sound from underground, I noticed that my work coincidentally had similarity in sound with “Suikinkutsu”. And afterwards, that awareness led to polishing the concept.

The concept of the work “Chijikinkutsu” does not derive from experimentalism of science and technology on which media arts rely, nor from architectural theory of western music upon which some sound arts lay their foundation. While utilizing the action of geomagnetism normally treated as a subject of science, this sound installation expands the subtle sounds of “Suikinkutsu” in the context of Japanese perspective on Nature.

The materials of which “Chijikinkutsu” consists are water, sewing needles, glass tumblers and coils of copper wire. The needles floating on the water in the tumblers are magnetized in advance. Therefore they are affected by geomagnetism and turn themselves to the direction of north and south. When electricity is supplied to the coil attached to the exterior of the tumblers, that creates a temporary magnetic field that draws the needle to the coil. And the small sound of the glass hit by the needle resonates from all around in the space. MIDI is used to control the system. A DTM sequencer app running on an iPAD sends MIDI data signals to the controllers which were especially designed for the work, and they distribute serial data to each port, switching electric current to the coils.

I did not include many elements into the work, but aimed to create a minimal expression like a painting with a large unpainted margin. Let me explain what it means, with the instance of human sense of taste. Until the late 20th century, only four of sweetness, sourness, saltiness, and bitterness had been thought to configure the complex human tastes. However, there proved to be a fifth category of taste corresponding to the flavor of glutamates. This pleasant savory taste is also known as “Umami” which is the most important element in Japanese cuisine. Instead of mixing many flavors to make a thick taste, Japanese people love to bring out the best of “Umami” from the ingredients themselves only adding minimum amounts of appropriate seasonings. In other words, their approach for taste is the pursuit of pureness. Getting back to my work, I did not add unnecessary elements like many colors, LED lights, amplification of sounds and etc.., so that the acoustic sounds would stand out and viewers could concentrate upon listening to them. And then, some might become aware that geomagnetism is the cause for the movement of the needles.

A round surface of water in the glass with a floating magnetized needle, reminds me somewhat of a tiny earth with geomagnetism. The smaller the sounds of the glasses will be, the more keenly viewers’ sensibility will be sharpened. In the meantime, they realize that the sounds don’t come from outside of their bodies, but already exist inside of their mind.

Miguel Isaza M

Listener, speaker.