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KOAN #5: Japan Field Recordings

“Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating” (John Cage, The future of music: Credo 1940).

I’m walking over the busiest crossing in the world - the famous Shibuya crossing in Tokyo. I cross the street, approaching the train and metro station. The past few days I’ve been searching for sounds in temples in Kamakura, recording mostly silence but also other sounds of the temples. I have my headphones over my two ears and the recording device in my pocket. And two small microphones taped with the bright orange tape on my two hands. Nobody really pays attention to my looks, even though I feel like inside of a space suit. I am thankful for the camera enthusiasm of the Japanese people. I deduce that’s the reason why it seems that I have free access to everywhere with my device – even the holiest temples. Japanese love cameras. I immediately love the Japanese people.

My initial purpose for this trip was to collect sounds from the Rinzai-Buddhist temples to broaden up the sound picture of my studio work so far. And to get closer understanding contextualizing the texts – Koans - that I have been using for my artistic work.

I have so far recorded a vast amount of silence, wind, birds, some interesting reverbs and different objects in the temples. Temples are quiet, and it’s very hard to get to sing in them. I also understand pretty fast that the access to the temples is very limited since the truly committed religious people couldn’t be less concerned about my study.

While walking down towards the big crossing, some amount of frustration hits me; What am I actually doing here, with the idiotic recording device? What is the purpose of this all? Why do I always need to put myself into these “travelling- alone -to strange- places” situations, maybe my intuition has finally failed me, the whole project is just a failure. What am I doing here? Alone?

These thoughts in my mind, on the busiest crossing in the world, it suddenly hits me; I hear the music. The train arriving on the station, the texture of the chattering sound of the language that I don’t understand, the sudden breaks in the sound texture, they all create a stream of the music piece that is beyond emotions and beyond a subject or the “musical act”. All is music, I am music, I resonate with the existence through sound and my body. This makes sense. After all.

In addition to having some great recording sessions throughout the city on my way to my actual recording targets- the temples. In doing this intense field recording trip I got very closely drawn into Pauline Oliveros work.

Pauline Oliveros is most well-known from her conception that extended to a whole institute of “Deep Listening”. Pauline Oliveros herself describes Deep Listening as “listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear no matter what one is doing.” She also makes a sharp separation between listening and hearing. I guess my personal deep listening experience was in Japan, where I practically didn’t talk for 10 days but listened to my surroundings. The power of experience must have been colored with the psychological need to connect with something while being in a foreign cultural setting alone. But whatever the reasons, the experience of truly “waking up” to the sound of the surroundings at that point, made the point of its importance.


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