Akio Suzuki has been making work that crosses the boundaries between sound, performance, and conceptual art since the early 1960s. His early practice was inspired by gutai, a Japanese avant-garde movement that was also a major influence on the happenings of artists such as Allan Kaprow and Nam Jun Paik and the activities of international artists’ network Fluxus. Lacking any formal artistic training, Suzuki sought to learn about art by immersing himself in the surrounding natural environment, developing a concept of “listening as performance” that eventually led to works such as “Space in the Sun” (1988), where he sat from sunrise to sunset between two walls he had built and listened to the changing sounds around him, and “Otodate” (1996), which involved marking out numerous ‘listening points’ around the city of Berlin. Suzuki’s approach challenges the presumed passivity of listening, making it a central and consciously acknowledged component of the art work. The performative contribution made by listening to the constitution of a given situation, be it located in a busy urban environment or a site far from human habitation, is drawn out and explored in his work.
In 2005 Suzuki travelled with artist and Room40 label owner Lawrence English to the Boombana forest area near Brisbane, Australia. English recorded Suzuki performing in the eucalypt woodland and sub-tropical rainforest of the region, accompanied by the analogue buzz of cicadas and leaf hoppers; further recording was done in Brisbane, with Suzuki playing his unique Analapos self-built instrument and English on hand percussion and electronics. The three tracks compiled for this release on the Winds Measure imprint recreate the powerfully immersive and disquietening sensory effects of forests by invoking their qualities as reverberant, visually and acoustically ambiguous spaces. Suzuki’s echoing sounds take pleasure in blurring easy distinctions such as human/animal and man-made/natural; the music echoes the forest’s role as a liminal space between the ordinary and the magical.
The release is not an attempt at documentary sound recording, nor does it promise access to Boombana’s natural acoustic ‘essence’. Rather, the emphasis would seem to be on consciousness of the act of listening as one attempts to identify and locate sounds within a mysterious and disorienting acoustic field — the reflexivity of listening to oneself listening, if you will – and upon the role this listening plays in the experience of environments and/as art. Suzuki’s performance invites both listener and environment to participate in the production of the work, as if both were required for its completion, and English’s intelligent editing and subtle accompaniments play an key role in making space for this participation. This is an important work of sound art, and an excellent example of art’s ability to help us grasp the complexity of our perceptions of and interactions with the environments in which we find ourselves.