The Sound of Tokyo

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You described your work score (scene #1/Tokyo) in the following way – “The structures in a city – buildings, highways, indeed all of the built environment – could be imaginatively coded as musical notes in a symphony of urban instruments which play a certain ‘tune’. How did this project come about?

Originally, I had a strong interest in the relationship between society and people, particularly the way in which we formulate our perception surrounded by a city. It was still a vague image and I kept researching to find a visible output. Meanwhile, I read a novel about how to live in a real society. In that novel, the main character finally decides to survive in a society based on a capitalist system even though he feels somewhat wrong about living there. Through this reading and the experience I had in Tokyo city life, I conceived two key concepts. One is to regard the city as a kind of system which inevitably affects our inner world, and the other is focus on the various sounds which it gives rise to as the symbol showing its dynamism and energy.

Thus, I started to approach Tokyo once again from this new viewpoint. It made me look at every structure as a metaphor about musical matters: electrical wires as a staff notation, buildings as visual equalizers and so on. Consequently I came to realize the idea that Tokyo itself has its own “score” and that all the built environment are functioning simultaneously to play a certain “tune.” In this way, the image was becoming clear by means of relating my various experiences or thoughts on daily life.

The series of images accompanies the aural experience of Tokyo. Is there a piece of music or sound that would accompany it best in your mind?

I’m pleased to be able to answer this question. Because what I want to say the most through this work is: how the aural experience of a city influences our own subjectivity, while the built environment plays multiple part of a symphony for its tune. For me, the “tune” of Tokyo is a kind of rhythm like a pulsation. It’s a mix of some existent noises I can actually hear and non-existent sound in my mind all together. In fact, it sounds like the heartbeat of Tokyo as the organism.

Here is an example. There is a big highway quite near where I’m living now. Therefore, I vaguely hear the traffic noise roaring 24/7 from far away. As I keep hearing it, I’m not quite sure whether it is real or imaginary. That experience made me strongly evoke the image that Tokyo, furthermore a city itself, is one massive creature which keeps moving, changing every second, and growing vigorously. That is to say, it is subject to metabolism in order to maintain its life. It must be inevitable for us, city dwellers, to be affected, just like a fetus is by the mother’s body.

The work is architectural, musical, conceptual, etc. How would you personally describe it?

Personally, I’m not really interested in dividing genres, so I ‘m happy if people who see this work decide on their own.

For me, photography’s role is to depict the relationship between my inner and outer self – in other words, to visualize the fluctuating connection between my subjectivity and the world itself. They are closely tied and that is why it may appear to have various aspects as a result.

Also in this work, the city of Tokyo has been regarded as the multi-layerd landscape mixing reality with the image. Creating my work, I always consider which is the best way to embody the images or ideas in my mind. On the basis of that, I elaborately choose the theme and the subject by judging various angles.

No matter what genre, the important point is how to describe a new sense of value to update people’s perspectives by means of re-constructing various materials all over the world.

You’ve recently published this work as a photo book. What was the creative process like in making the book?

In publishing the photo book this time, what took great pains was figuring out how to show the temporal mobility. Apparently, music is a temporal art while photography itself manages a decisive moment. I paid attention to the way of arranging photographs to let people experience the “tune” of Tokyo as I actually had, when they turn the pages.

In regards to the actual editing process, I prepared the work, talking with Éanna de Fréine, who is a publisher, editor and designer of The Velvet Cell. Originally, I had a quite clear image about the book and he respected it. So, it was pretty smooth to proceed with the plan. Of course, Éanna gave me helpful advice about the publishing from a technical point, such as the format of the book, font shape, whether to include a statement or not. I really appreciate him.

Are there plans to do more “score” work in other cities and/or to continue the work in Tokyo?

When I started this project, I embarked on the work with a series in mind. And I still do. Through my point of view, which means to collect the various “score” of each cities, I thought I could relatively make a comparison between them. But at the present moment, it takes a little more time until I can deal with the next work. The main concept of this project is to not only visualize the dynamism of a city, but also describe the influence of it on my perception. Therefore, I may need to stay there for a while to understand the atmosphere of it. Anyway, I would like to keep continuing the series focusing on the individual characteristics of cities in some way.

Momoi Atsushi was born in Osaka, Japan. score (scene #1 / Tokyo) was published by The Velvet Cell and is available for purchase here.



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