RACHEL CARVOSSO | INSTRUMENTS OF THE EVERY DAY (SOUND AS SYMBOLATE)
Japanese sound artist Mamoru explores sound to create post verbal narratives that transcend cultural boundaries.
Concentric circles, circles of identity, family, community and culture, our tribal instinct is embedded deep within our psyches. If, as Marshall McLuhan predicted, technology reflects our desires(1) then the message we are communicating is that we want to connect across boundaries of nationality and geography. Tools are transportable and functions are translatable between mediums. This hybridity is reflected in the strategies of contemporary artists. While scientists, designers and engineers are busy figuring out the how of globalization it is the cultural theorists poets, musicians and artists who are pondering the results and direction we are heading through their cultural productions.
Sound artist Mamoru is no stranger to questions of cultural identity moving from Japan to New York in 1996. He is currently based in the southern city of Osaka and is representative of a new generation of Japanese artists who seek to not be defined solely by their ethnicity. Japan is a unique country, closed to foreigners until 1853 it maintained a strong sense of tradition and cultural identity in many arts – Ikebana (flower arranging), Shodo (calligraphy), origami and performance based forms such as Kabuki, Noh and Rakugo(2). Two inverse movements followed the opening of Japan, a strong fascination with the East crystallizing into a focus on “Oriental” aesthetics that inspired many artists such as Van Gogh, and Japans’ infatuation with the West. This creative heritage has left many Japanese artists with a melting pot of influences but criticisms of being merely decorative. Mamoru combines earlier strategies of the American and Japanese Gutai and Fluxus movements with a new re-mix mentality(3). His work certain elements of culturally specific concepts – in the instance of Japan a sense of transience – but engages with them on a phenomenological level.
Sound is a non-verbal form of communication that can express and evoke emotions. Sounds cause vibration that affects our physical bodies. It is visceral and, as such, more easily translated across cultures. His performances skillfully move between two very distinct modes– the verbal and non-verbal. The audience experiences an encounter with everyday objects and the sounds that they make when we are not listening. His performances share certain characteristics with the Fluxus happenings and the work of John Cage. It is a kind of performance that has less in common with creating an artificial reality than on fine-tuning our perceptions of what is already here.
The work also focuses on time as a medium. Live looped “noise” is mixed and layered in a custom built mixer that he controls with his feet. These delicate, mesmerizing and fragile sounds open our eyes and ears to the sound possibilities within everyday objects. The “readymade” is re-established as an object open to personal re-interpretation through its physical properties and its place in our experience. In his recent Tokyo performance a straw was transformed from a branded café’s expendable goods into a kind of flute. The dry sound echoed against the of a gamelan balls’ high metallic tinkle. The narratives that he creates are local, specific and yet universal. The straw is from a particular location in Tokyo but could easily be found anywhere.
The idea is to inspire people to imagine or remember the experience/their own narrative. I call these series as narratives. However, it doesn’t tell a story. It is the platform of the stories. People who join can draw their own narratives. (4)
He is creating the possibility of a new way of encountering spaces and objects. Out of this new way of perceiving a new “narrative” is created. The narrative is one that explores the nature of the human desire to interweave stories around things. By looking at a straw from a new perspective we can become aware of the set of meanings that we already assign to it. We become aware that our everyday consciousness is cluttered with signifiers that we might not be aware of. His performances invite an awareness of our preconceptions and the language that we have interpreted the objects through. By relating to them as part of a narrative of everyday happenings AND as sound producing objects with material qualities he transcends the Saussurean idea that only language creates meaning. In his performances it adds meaning but the meaning is created within the context of the objects materiality. There is the possibility of multiple narratives of a linguistic and post linguistic nature. This layering is seen throughout newly created forms of technology. The 21st century is a century that embraces multiplicity and specifity, which seeks to unite these opposing dichotomies.
As the narrative is built up, as the performance becomes another layer of an archive archive, it is translated into a web sound file or a readymade object for a new project. New technologies allow a whole new audience to enter into the experience. We are living in an age of archiving and an age of discontinuity. Communicating globally dislocates us from time. We seek to share narratives that are universal in a world that is fragmented. Mamorus’ work shows us that part of our common humanity is our physicality and our desire to make and share stories. We may not always share common narratives and perspectives but in realizing that we create this we can begin to examine what we do have in common and focus on the wonder of the ordinary.
1) Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964
2) Kabuki is stylized Japanese drama, Noh is musical drama, Rakugo is a form of humorous storytelling.
3) Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media, MIT Press 2001