Akio Suzuki & Aki Onda – Ke I Te Ki

Image by Goran Vejvoda

Akio Suzuki and Aki Onda both think of sound in terms of space, and there’s an interesting dialogue between the area (into which the music leaks), and the music itself (which affects and shapes the area). It’s often easy to miss, but there’s a distinct tonal difference between the sound an audience will pick up on – due to distance and positioning – and the actual, raw sound of the music from its point of origin. Space influences, warps, and distorts sound. Lofty halls give off resounding echoes and stretched acoustics, whereas tighter, older buildings constrict the notes into cramped and enclosed tombs. Whenever a sound is made, there’ll always be a ripple-effect of absorption and reflection.

Suzuki and Onda are both aware of this metamorphosis, listening carefully to the results and responding in turn. Because of this, their music is awake and alert, ever-shifting in its fluid movements. That’s reflected in the title of this collaboration, ke i te ki, which is Japanese for the sound of an alarm or a whistle warning of an incoming hazardous event.

“We typically avoid conventional music venue concert settings, where the stage and audience area are separated and sound travels from one side to the other. Instead, we opt for an open space where the audience can surround us or position themselves throughout the space, depending on the occasion. It is non-directional.”

The work was recorded in New York in 2015 at The Emily Harvey Foundation, the building itself being a historic part of American avant-garde culture (the art space was once the studio of Fluxus founder George Maciunas, and Nam June Paik and Shigeko Kubota once resided there, too).

Architecture, environment, and space all influence and in one way or another affect the outpouring of sound once it leaves its base, and once it settles in the air, now cruising at the beginning of its long-haul flight, the psychogeography and the internal dynamics of the building’s atmosphere, along with the history of the place – unique every time – somehow creeps into the music. And that will remain a mystery.

Performing for two nights in the cramped studio, with gear snaking along the ground, the music came to life. Onda produced specific episodes within the wider piece, dropping field recordings and long, stable drones, which were generated by an industrial electric fan, into the overarching mix. Radio pulses and other sounds gathered pace, while Suzuki’s skeletal rhythms, melodic sequences, and found patterns entered smoothly. The result is an unrestrained album of flowing tones and distinctive sounds which exist outside of boundaries – proud of that fact, but always humble, too – finding the nearest exit within music’s restrictive genre-buildings. It never feels boxed-in or forced, but instead is gelatinous and oceanic, with aleatoric elements.

The live recording zooms in on a distinctive texture and timbre before thoroughly exploring and developing it, moving directly to the root of the music while still producing an occasional melody. The piece has both a structure and an internal rhythm – a heartbeat – thanks to its recurring oscillations and its deep thoughts. Suzuki and Onda demonstrate a playful side, too, the instrumental army providing less of a battleground and more of a playground. Different sounds produce different effects, and this in turn shapes the evolving atmosphere. Suzuki’s use of the Analapos, which is mind-bending in itself, a stone flute, and some discarded objects all make for a detailed and intricate experience, bringing colour to the music…while some kind of danger lurks in the corner, enwrapped in the masked tension and evidenced in the title itself.

The unconventional sounds travel in unconventional directions, not front to back, but vertical and sideways, at obtuse angles within the atmosphere, and the spherical placement of their microphones adds to the incorporeal sound. The pair paradoxically create a single entity through the multi-directional music. In the third and final part, the rhythm feels improvised, grating against a tense drone, but also providing relief with its phasing and a temporary pattern that one can latch onto. It isn’t possible to become familiar with the music, even after many a play-through, and so a higher level of mystery always surrounds the piece.

Their self-imposed rules:

The soundscape is multi-directional. There must be an acoustical response to the space within which the music is being played.

The pair used this to push themselves forward, leaving the listener with something unlimited in spite of its self-imposed rules, which are not restrictions at all, but the total opposite of what usually defines a rule. Onda says ‘it was a lesson for us in questioning ‘norms’ and exploring other possibilities. It’s having no determined limit or boundary.’ Music is both student and teacher.


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