Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre, New Plymouth, New Zealand
4 August–18 November, 2018
Curation: Sarah Wall
Artists: Len Lye, Yuko Mohri (JP), Sergei Tcherepnin (US) and Danae Valenza (AU)
My career began with a sound installation inspired by Erik Satie’s “Vexations.” This musical work is accompanied by an instruction: “In order to play this motif,” which consists of 52 beats and has the duration of about one minute, “840 times in succession, it would be advisable to prepare oneself beforehand, and in the deepest silence, by serious immobilities.” Exactly 110 years after “Vexations,” I produced my vexations: c.i.p. (composition in progress) (2005–09) based on the following speculation: “What kind of music Satie would have made if he had lived to see the world today, where computer is the norm?” The first performance, executed “in the deepest silence,” is fed into the computer, together with the soundscape of the exhibition space in which it rang out. Rewritten as a score, it is performed for the second time, now by an automated piano. This second performance in turn is fed into the computer with its ambient sound and converted into a third performance, which in turn. . . . As this feedback loop repeats itself 860 times, the piece’s “serious immobilities” are radically affected by the specific ambience of each iteration, its melody transformed.
The premier of Satie’s “Vexations” occurred in 1963, led by John Cage. It was perhaps Cage’s orientation, rather than Satie’s, that determined vexations: c.i.p. (composition in progress). As “Furniture Music” famously shows, Satie did not exclude noise. I am not entirely sure, though, how tolerant he was of the transformations imposed on the composition. In Cage’s case, it seems to me, what had started as a way to overcome the then predominant compositional method of Serialism turned into an interest in change itself via D. T. Suzuki’s Zen Buddhism and the philosophy of I Ching [The Book of Changes].
For me, however, a sound installation is not a method of composition but a way to bring into focus “phenomena” that are constantly changing in response to various conditions including environment. Marcel Duchamp once said that the work of art remains incomplete until the viewer sees it. Sound, magnetism, electricity, light—these invisible and intangible phenomena persist, independent of the existence of humans, and continue to change by the force of nature. They do not exclude humans, but are basically unrelated to them. All humans can do is to conjure up the phenomena and bring them into focus, as a lightning rod does. Or rather, I think that a “human” itself is a phenomenon. Roughly speaking, there are three elements I introduce to my work to focus on the phenomena per se: contingency, improvisation and feedback.
My contribution to the present exhibition, Moré Moré (Leaky), is an installation that stages artificial water leakage. This emergency is dealt with in an improvisational manner, with a set of everyday objects (the operation as such is indeed a familiar sight in the Tokyo subway). In the end a water feedback system is built, using a pump. We will have a construct in three dimension, liberated from any aesthetic point of view. The choice of its component objects is “based on a reaction of visual indifference,” “with a total absence of good or bad taste,” because the priority is on responding to the emergency (the quotes are from Duchamp, “Apropos of ‘Readymades,’” 1961). I would like the viewers to sense the diverse “phenomena per se”—sound chief among them—conjured up through the construct.
(Translated by Kondō Gaku)
Sensory Agents [group]