Name: Kaori Suzuki
Occupation: Composer, sound artist
Current release: Kaori Suzuki's Music For Modified Melodica is out via Moving Furniture.
If you enjoyed these thoughts by Kaori Suzuki and would like to find out more about her work, visit her official website.
What's your take on how your upbringing and cultural surrounding have influenced your sonic preferences?
I'm a common example of someone who wasn't encouraged or taught music as a child in any meaningful or special way.
Of course exposure to sound and music or having a creatively stimulating upbringing, if one's lucky enough, can shape one's sonic preferences in unmeasurable ways, but even then I still believe that the particles that bring profound dimension to one's creative life comes from the individual … and sometimes through intensely private or obsessive engagements with the subject.
I think it also has to speak to you in ways that the outside / social world doesn't.
How would you describe the shift of moving towards music which places the focus foremost on sound, both from your perspective as a listener and a creator?
The shift of moving towards "music which places the focus on sound (in and of themselves)", completely cracked open my world as a young adult. Without intellectualizing it then, I just welcomed it through the music I was drawn to- electronic music, free jazz, avant rock, all these musics contained sounds that absorbed and transformed my ears. Through that shift occurring in my listening, I could locate a sense of fascination and wonder towards sound that I would have or feel as a child--- and this many years later, I still seek music which brings this sense back to me.
That shift manifests itself through my creating of music, too. However, with the many possibilities to shape timbres and texture in electronic music, it's important to tune my ear towards what I find most sonically striking--and then to step away from all the micro-details and start listening to the macro-effect of the music.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and working with sound? Do you see yourself as part of a tradition or historic lineage when it comes to your way of working with sound?
The key ideas in my music are located in the conceptual-aesthetic zones of instrument building, use of repetition / duration, and use of various psychoacoustic phenomena at rudimentary levels. I often work in a reductive process, not necessarily to make it "sound simple", but to place emphasis on its most direct sound potential. My attention is in creating a sound art-- which may not always be so "musical" in a sense, but it is geared towards a vivid experience for the ears.
When I'm creating work, I don't think much about my place within a tradition. With that said, the aesthetic and conceptual elements associated to my music can definitely be traced to "20th century western avant-garde" and Minimalism. This doesn't point to a formula to work with, but the musical aim towards the experiential, by way of anti-composition, is there. I don't think that it's inherently entrapping to say that one's own work follows a clear lineage, either, especially when it involves a genuine reflection into what it is about that lineage which one carries on, and why.
I say this because it seems we've reached a point in Western experimental music where artists are incredibly self-conscious and verbose about where their work "fits in", sometimes musically---but increasingly politically and socially. I think that music requires a kind of dedication which is unadulterated by its supposed associations or cultural rewards, no less a sense of virtue behind it. Without that, the work is deprived of music's sensorial-perceptual potentials.
To return to the question of tradition, I could also say that my work with sound simply follows the foundations and concerns of early electronic music, or certain non-western musics: expanding the possibilities or amplitude, the capacities of tuning, use of duration, and altering the experience of time / space.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, from instruments via software tools and recording equipment. What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I used the programming software Supercollider to create a work called Conduit in 2017. It was ideal for pushing out multiple pure tones of precise high frequencies and patterns at once.
I've noticed that some people are drawn to its "crisp, clean computer music" aesthetic, however, while one can hear those qualities within it, my approach and intention towards the music couldn't have stemmed out of a "dirtier sound art" aesthetic. In order to hear interesting distortions in the inner ear, I wanted to move these frequencies around, in shifting audio-moiré type patterns, in the hopes of creating fantastical physiological effects especially when moving around the room.
A multi-output, precise program that I can tweak and alter, without really ruining anything, was ideal for it.
From the point of view of your creative process, how do you work with sounds? Can you take me through your process on the basis of a project or album that's particularly dear to you?
For Music for Modified Melodica, all the joy was in performing it live.
It started as a physical tuning activity of the metal reeds, then building the foot-playing mechanism, and finally listening to its sound over and over and over. I worked slowly during that stage and I was engrossed in working with the sounds, but performing it is always where the pure intensity is--through listening in the moment and the endurance of the moment. There is a transformation in the way I hear the sounds played back in the room, through each cycle and shift in frequency interaction. So all the ecstasy is there. I once heard Jung Hee Choi reflect on a process this way (re: locating where the ecstasy lies), and I related to the notion very much.
Although I'm happy with the way the CD turned out, I probably won't listen back to it myself. The ecstasy is in the live performance. However, the CD is a document of the music which stands on its own now, and I'm very grateful to Moving Furniture Records for releasing it to share with the public.
The possibilities of modern production tools have allowed artists to realize ever more refined or extreme sounds. Is there a sound you would personally like to create but haven't been able to yet?
I wouldn't say so. Though I do feel we are faced with a lack of a more serious attempt towards presenting works that don't conform to commercially rooted demands such as time restrictions or spatial organization and one which values, for example, durational sonic experiences.
C.C. Hennix spoke about the idea of a 'sound shrine'--a place that is open 24 hours a day, that doesn't close its doors after a set show time, and one which may rarely face the problem of capacity because participation is available whenever the individual would like to experience it (much like the Dream House). This possibility begins to place value in accessing, or beginning to access, that intimate place of psycho-emotional or psycho-spiritual attention during a musical piece, if intended for that kind of experience.
Of course venues like these are difficult to pull off as far as staffing and operations are concerned, considering the culturally and spiritually bankrupt society we live in where we must always work, make rent and keep busy to basically abide by these structured environments.
The idea of acoustic ecology has drawn a lot of attention to the question of how much we are affected by the sound surrounding us. What's your take on this and on acoustic ecology as a movement in general?
I wouldn't argue the multiplicitous values in listening to the sounds of one's environment (with "ears more sensitive than one's eyes"). If the purpose is to be in and with the environment, to draw focus to, and to be transformed or informed by its aural experience, as I understand the "movement" historically to have come from (?), then I think that a commitment towards a real time experience, over months and years in that environment, is perhaps necessary.
I think that the ways in which we listen to our surroundings is never fixed or static, as we do inhabit this sphere that is bound through its acoustics and space in which we constantly witness change. The fact that sound is felt in our bodies and perceived subconsciously makes it a powerful presence--it is environment, but not in the sense that it is "background" or "passive", it's quite the opposite. As a professor of music, I've been witness to more and more young people suffering from noise sensitivities than ever before, to the point where they experience listening (to music) differently because of it. Their aural experiences have deeply permeated their experience of music in their lives.
Also, this may sound like an obvious idea but musicians forget that "music" holds completely different places in people's lives. It's not for everybody. In fact, when I go to the California desert on occasion, I sense almost no desire to listen to music. If I did, that music could sound so irrelevant and inauspicious. The definition and impact of musical experience ought to continue shifting naturally with our aural experience, both by the individual's own terms and by a larger community with which we live.
With that said, I think that the virtuousness of an "environmental activism" through musical activity, has got to be adequately challenged as I suspect that one's socio-political positioning, unless blatantly displayed in the actual work, doesn't become "musical" by claim.
We can listen to a pop song or open our window and simply take in the noises of the environment. Without going into the semantics of 'music vs field recordings', in which way are these experiences different and / or connected, do you feel?
If we're purely comparing between the sound experiences of music and the noises of the environment, I experience them very differently. Attempts to bring them together, I believe, usually points towards an intellectual exercise in thinking about sound, or the ways in which one listens. If the inquiry is not intended from that perspective, or about the semantics of "music vs field recordings" as you say, then we have to characterize the function of "a song" against the function of "an environmental sound" and I think that they exist by different measures.
A song which makes use of pitches, rhythms, and arrangements, understood through various cultural and historical developments and agreements, may excite a particular emotional / spiritual connection in me. I can't compare this experience to a pleasant tuning-into of my aural surroundings as it unfolds, like a daydream.
Perhaps this points to the particular way musical activity functions for me at the present, but the two use different perceptual apertures. They may be connected through a psycho-somatic or intellectual exercise in listening, but not much else.
From the concept of Nada Brahma to "In the Beginning was the Word", many spiritual traditions have regarded sound as the basis of the world. Regardless of whether you're taking a scientific or spiritual angle, what is your own take on the idea of a harmony of the spheres and sound as the foundational element of existence?
I think that we are experiencing sound as we know it on an earthly level, as vibration and as movement. The subjective realities of hearing, and of seeing, and of consciousness itself, is everything.