Improvised Music from Japan

Bon Voyage! On a Journey Tracing Memory

Liner Notes of Aki Onda's CD Bon Voyage!

The Paris morning breaks, squinting against the glare of the early sun, leaning against the wall of a building grey with soot, and turning an ear to the song of the birds / the roar of the Metro as it speeds past, just have to wait for the next train, if it's time, there's plenty of that / the cassette recorder keeps rolling / Rio de Janeiro, roaming about a street over which a decrepit air hangs, heat rising from asphalt makes my head swoon, If I could first just get a drink, then.... / Salvador, an old man, black and dirtied, sitting on the street corner strumming a guitar and singing, mud-caked and looking like he grew out of the ground / for a moment, grazing the back of my mind, that Velvet Underground song, All Tomorrows' Parties / now took here, you listen well, none of these things you're thinking, I don't understand them at all..... seeing only the lips move, opening and closing, their sound is drowned out / the sudden shower, unable to move for the violent rain, stunned, people huddle in the entrance of the subway at Union Square, can you spare me enough for the fare, pesters a black beggar beside me, I can't get back home, I pass him a couple dollar bills / drawing his black hat deep over his eyes, wine glass in hand and pursing his lips, Jonas says, me, I hate art / Lisbon, I have been to this town before, I've seen this steep slope that descends to the sea, this is how I feel, but I cannot, for the life of me, remember when it was / always, anytime, all the time, the cassette recorder keeps rolling / only the sound of skin chafing skin, the sensation, remains ringing in my ears / to Narita Airport, gazing on the scenery outside the window streaming past, I try to remember the events of the previous day, and manage only a dim recollection / yes, it's all passed by now.....

In my life so far, it seems I've done a fair amount of traveling. Moving in a whirlwind from town to town, with the characteristic carefree nature of a bohemian able to go anywhere, as well as the loneliness of someone never able to belong anywhere. It was not as though I wanted this. I was raised in Japan, but simply could not fit into its society (I was in fact nothing other than a stranger in that country), and having forfeited a home to which I could return, I had no choice but to seek a place where I could settle (well, over time, that became irrelevant too.... but somehow, just the roaming instinct stuck).

I took the cassette recorder with me wherever I went. It was my travel companion. When I came upon a sound I liked, I'd click the record button on, carving the magnet of memory onto tape. Like a diary of sound. Why did I keep doing this? I still don't know. I was probably obsessed by something. After a while, an enormous bulk of field recordings began to pile up. Without listening to them over again, I tossed them into a cardboard box, and when I felt like it, during yet a new journey, I began to randomly lay sounds on top of them. In this way, the many tapes documenting my everyday life leapt across time and space, and, inhaling the odors of many places, varnished by dust and finger marks, they were transformed into strange soundscapes that were utterly severed from reality.

This album Bon Voyage! compiles those field recordings accumulated over the last 14 years. Apart from the last two tracks which include the addition of loops, none of the other pieces contain any edits whatsoever. All is shaped by layering according to chance. This is a mad road movie that mingles electro-acoustic and chance operation. For myself, it is a personal record of journeys and memories. It is also a journey traversing the world that unfolds outside of the self, as well as an inner trip that submerges into the depths of the soul. It is reality as much as it is metaphor. What can this be? How to explain? Shall I call it a music that was born of hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, countless memories?

And yet, the past is still nothing more than the past. Each single memory reduced to a foggy herd of sheep, wedging itself into the realm of forgottenness. They are mere shadows of the reality of former days, which have by now lost their vivid texture. Despite this, when innocently cavorting with these countless fragments of memories, something resembling the essence of memory, swathed in a transparent light, may rise up to the surface out of the chaotic sediment. This is a lucid moment when scenes witnessed before, sounds heard before, all seem to flash back in a single spectacle. This may be something like a primal landscape of memory, which all individuals retain in their minds. Invisible to the eye, but undeniably existing in this world, it is where each finds solace and foundation for his or her life. My desire was to weave my own story while arriving at something that transcended personal attributes and could be shared with others.

I have been deeply inspired by the work of people such as Jonas Mekas, Robert Frank, and Peter Beard. These are people who have been obsessed by this innate human mechanism of memory. I feel quite lucky that I had encountered their works during my impressionable teen years. And I am grateful to Jon Appleton, who has continued to give me encouragement over the last three years. Through him, I was able to absorb much from the currents of electronic music, and furthermore was made aware of the importance of being my own self within them. Needless to say, this journey of mine, which traces memory, seems to intersect with countless other journeys that many people have themselves traced.

Aki Onda
May 2003, New York

Translation: Haruna Ito