Improvised Music from Japan

Flickering Memory and Glimpses of What Lies Beyond

Liner Notes of Aki Onda's Album Ancient & Modern

Here at the edge of the East Village, I'm sitting on the sidewalk, on a tossed out sofa, letting the cassette tape recorder roll on / the mid summer sun searing / lively chatter of people meld into the salsa rhythms that waft by from somewhere / footsteps cross my vision, somehow familiar / like pressing my ear to her breast, hearing the pulse of her heart / this cumulation of memory, piling up over this city New York / where is it the vanish to, these sounds once emitted? / streets eased with clam, an odor if fermented garbage / whimpering woman, the underground complex of the subway trembles at the echoing bitterness / a sudden man's shout, fuck you, go to hell! / I let my cassette recorder roll on / the Tokyo night, off balance, about to crumble . . . / skin chafing skin, voice escaping the lip unable to shape words / reversed vision, or the world, sounds darting in / pressing my ear to the freeway, the roar, surely the sound of earth revolving / rooftop of a skyscraper, the drone of the city encompassing / head swollen with drunkenness, the muffle of all things / and two of us, whisper in the ear, on the brink of falling into slumber / amidst the bustle of Shinjuku, bodies that bump, jostle, rub and scrape / on and on, the cassette recorder rolls / Simon asks, what are you doing tomorrow? / I like the city Rio, and do you know why . . .

It was about a decade ago. In South London's Brixton, I bought a cassette tape recorder from a guy selling junk there on a street corner. An ordinary fit-in-your-palm, Walkman-type that one might see anywhere. Going about my life, walking about town, on my travels, I would press the record button whenever I come across a sound that I liked, and magnetically imprinted its memory onto tape. It was like a diary of sound. Why did I do this? I still don't quite know. Perhaps I was obsessed. After a while, the tapes began to pile up. They just pile up and soon storage space become a problem, so I then took these recorded tapes and randomly began layering new sounds onto them. It was fun to simply collect these sounds recklessly, innocently. After repeating this for a while, I realized that I had now wound up with some incredible sonic collage that just invented themselves. My personal time and space, which I had once occupied, had become curiously entangled, reappearing before me as strange soundscapes now severed entirely from reality.

At some point I began doing performances using the cassette recorder. Playing back these recorded tapes, making loops from parts that I liked, reversing them, expanding them in an improvisational way. These concrete sounds, cut out from reality, would then lose their meanings and begin to resonate as pure sound. My personal recollections too would lose their subjectivity, and begin to resonate purely as the memory of sound.

There is always the desire for the moment when one is freed from all meaning. To cease control of the music, and abandon oneself to the motion of these particles of sound. At this point, you realize that you stand alone in the midst of a certain clam. The more you accelerate, the more your field of vision expands, and the deeper the clam. There, the concept of speed is extinguished; any and all motion become possible. You are dissolving into the music.

There is no particular meaning to the use of the cassette recorder. It is economical, and has quick response: all purely practical reasons. These factors mean nothing. I'm interested not in the frame within which music is created, but in the world that comes into view beyond it, the world at which you arrive beyond it. An attempt to bring the surface, beyond the flickering of memory, a certain state of musicality.

I have continued to be inspired by the work of people such as Jonas Mekas, Peter Beard, Robert Frank, Phill Niblock, Luc Ferrari. There are all people who have obsessed over the mechanism of the human capacity for memory. And then people like Jon Appleton, SFT, Toshio Kajiwara and DJ Olive have lent me concrete opportunities for grasping at this certain state of musicality. The music I make exists in the expanse of music shaped by the memories of many people.

Aki Onda
August 2002, New York

Translation: Haruna Ito