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(this interview was conducted in Japanese on February 9 2002).
YUKO SAKURAMOTO: I’m with Atsushi Nishijima. Atsushi is a sound artist from Kyoto, Japan. His work and activities are diverse, including sound installation, he live performance, and research on soundscape. He just made an installation at Location One in New York.
So, first please tell us about your installation at Location One :
ATSUSHI NISHIJIMA: I used TV monitors, video tapes, and solar batteries to design the sound system for the installation. For the video screening, I used two different types of sequences: one features images of natural glimmering from the sun and the moon, the other consists of a man-made rhythm resulting from evolving neon signs and the cityscape that I shot at Times Square. Sound was produced by the changing lights, and on screen, color and movement were transformed into electric signals through the use of solar batteries.
YS: Your exhibition was titled, “Subtractive Creation.” Could you explain the meaning of ‘subtractive creation’ , and tell us how you came up with the idea?
AN: Usually, when I think of an idea, I tend to think of different kinds of things by analogy. For instance, in the case of sound and light, they are interesting to me because they are both wave forms. We perceive colors when the waves within the sunlight or streetlights are reflected on things, so that the waves that could be seen red or blue out of all the spectrum of light only reach our eyes. In other words, we simply receive something that is subtracted from some existent totality. In this sense, I am interested in the relationship of the totality, a thing as its part, and myself, and how they interact with each other. Using the earlier example, rather than mixing or adding ‘red’ and ‘blue’ to create something, my concern is how something can be subtracted, mediated by my work, and what the outcome will look like.
YS: So-called “Sound Art” has been gaining popularity recently. As new technology or the computer software has become more available, it seems that everyone can become musicians. What is your definition of Sound Art?
AN: As for the technology, I don’t make any distinction between high and low technology. A friend of mine told me that some people still use the terms ‘new media’ and ‘old media’ for categorization. For me, it seems to be a matter of methodology or choice. Some people use a digital camera, and others opt for a traditional camera with photographic film. Rather than claiming which is good or bad, new or old, it’s becoming more like a matter of one’s taste. The question is how to utilize them, how to use the media ! I heard an interesting story concerning the invention of Hovercrafts. A group of ship specialists started the project in an attempt to produce a high-speed vehicle on the water. They first tried to elaborate the design of the hull, improve the screws, the engine and so on, but failed in their attempts. At some point a specialist on aviation technology joined the team that was working on this project and proposed to create a “flying ship”, which is neither a ship nor an airplane. Ship specialists couldn’t even conceive of such an idea. They were only concerned with the idea of updating the qualities of the ship, and could not imagine a ship hovering in the air. I found the story really interesting. I titled my installation at Location One, “Subtractive Creation” in a rather symbolic sense, as opposed to the idea of creation by addition or mixing. I don’t think adding or mixing is enough. You need to reach a completely different idea in order to create something interesting and new. Unless you can create different ways of looking or thinking, or produce interesting concepts; if I use the example of the ship, you would end up upgrading its performance, efficiency or comfort level. In my case, although I compose and perform music, I want to present different ways of listening to music through my work, or compose and create in relation to the way in which music is listened to. Proposing new ways of listening and hearing, that is my focus. As for the definition of Sound Art, it’s a difficult question. Generally when the work utilizes sound as a medium, it’s often refered to as “Sound Art”. For me, whether sound is used or not, this is not the issue. What matters is whether the work is conceived from “sound”. As long as it is conceived or designed from the perspective of sound, it can be called “sound art”, regardless of whether it is painting, sculpture, or photography. Because what we refer to as “sound” has various aspects. A good example is a musical instrument. Like, when we think of a box whose volume is identical to the volume of a violin, since the shape is different the box doesn’t produce the same sound as the violin, even though the volume is the same. In other words, shape, material, and volume as components of the instrument, the architectural space or environment in which these components are found, all these elements can relate to sound either as a whole or individually. Either way, since it is related to sound, it has that distinct shape and space. To put it in reverse, whether it’s painting, sculpture, photography or architecture, I think “sound art” has interesting possibilities.