08 July 2009

Akio Suzuki :
a journey of joyful discovery
Akio Suzuki on hillside
Sometimes sound summons the world
with more certainty than my verse…
secretly, like twilight,
the world seems lost in listening,
trying to validate itself in each solitary sound.
– Shuntaro Tanikawa

In the notes to Akio Suzuki’s 2007 release, k7 box, Japanese poet Shuntaro Tanikawa poses a couple of questions that go to the heart of understanding and appreciating his body of work: Does Akio Suzuki create music? Or is he only making noise? To anyone who hasn’t heard Akio’s music, these might seem a little insulting – but to the artist himself, I’m sure they bring only a wry smile. Akio Suzuki is a sound artist who approaches his work as what might be termed ‘serious play’ – his methods and the pieces he creates are thoughtfully assembled, but with a sense of ‘play’ that is as natural and filled with delight as that of a child. The joy that he finds in his work – in the world, for that matter – is something tangible, and he communicates it well through his art.

There are no inorganic elements in his music – no computer-altered sounds, no synthesizers, no tape loops. What you hear when listening to one of his recordings is pure, unadulterated sound – some of it produced by instruments that are traditional in nature (such as the stone flute he uses from time to time), in other instances by ones that he has designed and created himself. At times he employs objects such as stones, toys, or the naturally occurring sounds of wind or water. He has also conceived devices that alter and target sounds, but (as far as I’m aware) without the use of electronics beyond a minimum amount of amplification. He has created installations in galleries in Japan and Europe that are as compelling visually as they are in the audio sense.

One of his original creations, the analapos, is, simply described, the audio equivalent of mirrors that are set up facing each other, thus reflecting their images an infinite number of times, combined with sound-carrying tubes. The device captures sounds and enhances and amplifies echoes – sometimes random noises that occur within the performance space, sometimes sounds that Akio produces, on instruments or otherwise. The effect is more complicated than my poor description can convey – here’s a more eloquent explanation, again from the notes to k7 box, this time from Shin Nakagawa, a professor at Osaka City University: The echo is the crucial element in Akio Suzuki’s sound. However…Suzuki’s use of echo does not involve listening to the reflection of the sound…Suzuki tries to hear the echo as it passes beyond the surfaces. Accordingly, his echoes drift through the infinite reaches of cosmic space – which is why listening to Suzuki’s music can feel like being swallowed up in boundless darkness. There are of course varying types of darkness – some inspire fear and insecurity…the darkness of Akio Suzuki’s music is (at least for me) more likely to surround the listener with a comfortable, entirely non-threatening sense of both contemplation and exploration. There is an atmosphere of solitude, of naturalness, discovery and calm, with a thread of joy / play drawn from the very act of creation running through all of it.
Akio Suzuki with De Koolmees
Akio Suzuki with De Koolmees, above and below
Akio Suzuki - LVF 04  (2004)
Another instrument that is obviously not an off-the-rack item is his De Koolmees, a sort of glass harmonica made up of glass tubes on a wire frame – he taps, rubs, touches, and (apparently, from the picture below), breathes on and / or vocalizes in close contact with the glass in order to produce sounds. Turning again to Shin Nakagawa: The coil of the analapos and the glass surfaces of his De Koolmees glass harmonica, each begins to vibrate quietly before they are touched by his fingers. He listens to that gentle vibration and, softly, he amplifies it…Suzuki is listening to sound that has eclipsed its creation. Now, Suzuki is merely present in the space where sound appears.
Akio Suzuki - Stone
Stone (1994)
The album Stone features the stone flute I mentioned above, as well as several tracks on which Akio creates sounds / music by rattling / rubbing stones together, knocking them against each other, &c. This description sounds about as un-musical as it could possibly be – but in his hands, born of his spirit and intellect and love of nature, there is a music to be found there that is as calming and reassuring as a walk down a gravel path in a Japanese garden.
Akio Suzuki - Na-gi
Na-gi (Lull in the wind) (1997)
Na-gi is a document of two sound creations recorded on a bay north of Kyoto – the sounds of the waves and the wind are heard throughout, providing the perfect setting for Suzuki’s audio art. In his own words, from the notes, Akio reveals a little of his artistic philosophy: ‘Throwing’ sounds into nature is like putting a cut flower into a vase. If one follows these sounds, one finds the original music of nature. On this disc, he utilizes De Koolmees, analapos, stone flute, voice and found stones and other objects – along with some of the naturally-occurring echoes of the cave in which it was recorded. One can hear the water dripping and waves lapping, along with the wind – it’s one of the most serene, yet stimulating things I’ve ever heard.
Akio Suzuki - Tubridge
Tubridge 99 – 00 (1999)
Tubridge is a bit different, at least in the location chosen for the performance…which of course lends its own color to the pieces. Rather than a gallery or pastoral outdoor setting, the sounds on this disc were captured in a traffic tunnel in Kyoto. It sounds like a simple concept – au contraire…see the diagram below (from the CD booklet, followed by an explanation translated from the German)…
Ako Suzuki - Tubridge diagram
The concept of Tubridge

Three flexible tubes x, y and z are installed. The sound of area O will transfer x by the tube into the area Q. The sound of area P is carried by the pipes y into the area R. The tube z connects sounds from both Q and R. If one places an ear by the tube’s opening, one hears in the area Q the three-dimensional sound of R, in the area R the three-dimensional sound of Q.

If one is completely quiet in area Q or area R, one can observe how the sounds blend themselves. The three-dimensional sounds of the two areas behave like liquid in the communicating tubes – the resulting audio conglomerate does not belong to either specific area acoustically, and one cannot differentiate between the two, or from which area either one originates.

This is however only an assumption…

But still, no artificial electronic alterations are applied – all of the effects heard in the recording are achieved by the means described above: organic sound manipulation and assembly. It’s astonishing work, and extremely effective and compelling.
Akio Suzuki + David Toop - Breath taking
Breath taking (2003)
Breath taking documents a live performance given by Suzuki in collaboration with English musician / composer / 'curator' David Toop at the sound323 space in London in 2003 – the two are credited with a wide array of ‘instruments’. Akio performs on kikkokikiriki (which I’m guessing is one of his instruments, I have no idea what it might be beyond that), small flute, small stones, pan pipe, ireba, and silent toy; David’s arsenal includes flutes, bone whistle, dog whistles, stones, whistling pot, organic materials and feedback device (the closest thing to what I would consider ‘electronics’ on any recording I’ve heard by Suzuki). The disc is presented as a single 37-minute track, and is one of the most incredible live recordings I’ve ever experienced – to capture the delicate sounds generated by these two artists and transfer them to a playable medium must have been a Herculean engineering effort.
Akio Suzuki - k7 box
k7 box (2007)
k7 box – Suzuki’s latest offering at the time of this writing, about which, he said before it was formally issued, he was ‘more excited than any other he’s released’. Three of the tracks were commissioned to be played at the opening and closing of the Yokosuka Museum of Art. The nine selections are titled according to the instrument / device used in creating them – four for the analapos, three for the De Koolmees, one that involves both of these, and one simply entitled ‘Bottle’ for reasons that become obvious when listening to it. This was the first disc of Akio’s that I held in my hands, the first into which I found myself sinking deeper and deeper with each successive hearing – and it’s one of my favorites in his catalogue. The recording quality of all these CDs is very high – the material presented practically demands it, with the dynamic range involved – but it’s especially crystalline on k7 box. Its near-one-hour playing time seems to fly by each time I hear it – I’m so completely immersed in the sounds this master artist is creating that I’m never ready for it to end. David Toop describes it this way in his notes to this recording: Human music can become tiring to our sensibilities, our overloaded memories, but somehow, these simple sounds by Akio Suzuki stay alive for me, always as new and enduring as wind in the chimney, heard when I was a child, or the woodpecker chicks I heard in their nest this morning.
For that matter, everything I’ve heard by Akio Suzuki bears repeated listening – whether the ideas and execution behind the recordings are simple (as in the case of the Stone CD and many parts of the others) or incredibly complex and carefully prepared (those presented on Tubridge), each time I hear them more seems to be revealed. Subtleties unfold, sounds previously unheard or unnoticed become clearer, moods and intuitive understanding deepen. This is amazing music. There is a calmness and serenity projected by Akio Suzuki – in his music, his art, in his writings and musings about his creations, his life and the world in general – that is rare in this age of complication. It has a grounding effect – at least on me – that is sorely needed to offset the stresses of our lives.

Check out his website below – there is information there in Japanese, English and French, with a profile and upcoming events available. The other link leads to a profile on the Resonant Spaces site, with a couple of sound samples available, so you can get a better idea of what this music sounds like than my poor words can convey. Erstwhile Records currently has Breath taking in stock – Mimaroglu Music Sales has k7 box as well as a couple of print items. At the moment, Soundohm in Italy has the most number of items available – they show k7 box, Tubridge 99 – 00, Breath taking, Na-gi, a double-CD called Odds and ends, and a museum-released book / CD combination (rather pricey, this one, at €28 plus shipping across the pond!). I’ve dealt with all of these sources in the past, and I can vouch for their integrity and reliability.

Akio Suzuki – official website

Resonant Spaces – Akio Suzuki profile

Erstwhile Records

Mimaroglu Music Sales (a sound sample here as well)


1 comment:

paramo said...

Dear Mr. Larry

Kanellopoulos films (mostly "excursion")can be found, where i live, only on VHS format. I have seen very few of them on greek tv years ago. If i discover anything more or a web source for them, i will comment...
Your blog is very interesting and your contributions fine!! There lots of things i will read here.

greatings from Greece

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