A Secret Shared / Drops of Love

Two more records from the Japanese art label Immeasurable based in Osaka and run by Hideaki Okamura. He sent us the first three catalogue items in July 2020, and I see he continues to employ the same striking and unusual packaging methods for these new records.

The one by the photographer Eiki Mori is a CD mounted on a circular disc of cardboard, and on the other side you can find a number of texts printed on circular pieces of tracing paper, stacked up neatly and held in place by a piece of card bearing the title. The texts, printed in English and Japanese, are evidently part of the overall art statement of Shibboleth – I peep the ocean through a hole of the torn cardigan (imm 004). Play the CD and you will hear one hour and 11 mins of short phrases being recited, from softly-spoken voices, perhaps fed through a distorting speaker inside an art gallery (much like the image on the cover). Having constructed his 15 Zen-like phrases – the artists calls them “shibboleths” – he invited 25 of his friends to pick their favourite one and read them out. This, pretty much, forms the basis for this art installation piece, and you could take the CD release as a record of the installation.

From his position as curator, Hideaki Okamura sees this work as a statement about the fundamental roots of music and song, assuming that we accept that repetition is the basis of music and a repeating voice is the basis of all song; it’s also making poignant points about language and meaning, how meaning may be expressed by intonation, and the intriguing notion of a “secret word” or secret language, where the meaning is only shared with those who hold the secret of the “password”. The creator Eiki Mori embraces all these notions, and adds that his “shibboleths” might serve as these vague and cryptical passwords, even though they don’t really mean anything in terms of real events, or even as symbols; instead, he’s in pursuit of something so fleeting, an impression of life so transient that it can barely be put into words. No doubt this accounts for the delicate, poetic nature of these short sentences. To bring these texts to life, Mori is in no doubt that a human voice is what’s needed; “all that could be done was to read each word with your heart” is his guiding principle, and note he deliberately chose his friends to help realise the work, rather than total strangers who might simply recite texts in an unengaged, dispassionate manner. Interestingly, the small representative sample of society that he selected includes people of many ages, races, nationality, belief, and sexual orientation, and is about as pro-actively inclusive as you could wish for.

I want to stress all this in case you get the impression that Shibboleth – I peep the ocean is part of an art lineage that includes the short text-based works of the Fluxus Group, whose work was somewhat more absurdist, provocative and subversive than Mori’s. I think Fluxus were trying to undermine the stability of the art establishment in some way, and doing it in a rather high-handed exclusive manner; Eiki Mori, by contrast, cares about humanity and wants to create something beautiful. All this said, you may find the actual record a pretty testing listen; it requires a certain amount of concentration and commitment, but at length the quiet and faintly distorted overlapping voices do create a strong sense of intimacy, and the sounds start to coalesce into a very gentle form of sound poetry. One of the key parts of the process is “sharing”, perhaps something about the sharing of a secret; in the words of the creator, “I would like you to experience the sound that echoes through the space and your body, as if it is whispered into your ears, or called from the distant to you.”

On Three Glasses (imm 005) by Takahiro Kawaguchi, we have two long pieces of very extreme sound art produced by the action of rubbing a wine glass until it sings. It’s the principle of the “glass harmonica” recast as a piece of modernist minimal composition. Kawaguchi set up quite an elaborate situation for the work to take place, and he also realised it in true Fluxus fashion by using a set of very simple prose instructions for the players rather than any type of conventional “score”. In the set-up, there were three containers of water suspended above the wine glasses, each of them dripping drops of water at very precise speeds; as the water accumulates in the glasses, then the music changes pitch.

At one level, you could regard Three Glasses as an hour-long document of a very simple process – as he puts it, “making audible how the level of 300cc water gradually shifts”. The other thing to note is that the two tracks document two very discrete parts of the work – in the first, the players simply watch the water dripping into the glasses and do nothing; in the second, the rubbing fingers go into action. This may not seem especially exciting, but the impressive thing is how the composer uses such a simple set of actions to generate a piece of such sustained duration; as minimal drones go, it’s hard to imagine anything as pure and basic as this one, whose pitch and tone alters very gradually and imperceptibly over the space of 38 mins. I also like the fact that it seems to be something entirely based in a gallery and using the principles of physics, rather than those of musical theory; even La Monte Young, for all his posturing and extreme durations, couldn’t always get around the composerly problems of harmony, pitch, and tone. Probably without even wishing to do so, Takahiro Kawaguchi bypasses all those Just Intonation theories at a stroke, with surprisingly beautiful (though testing) results.

The photographs of the set-up are documented on the cover, which – after you remove the transparent plastic band holding it together – unfolds into a long frieze depicting the containers, much plastic tubing, orange pipettes, and the wine glasses – a sumptuous visual affair in orange and white! One can’t help but read the image as containing suggestions of a saline drip in the hospital; in that context, the actions of the players rubbing the glasses are somehow even more poignant, as if they had to keep going in order to keep the patient alive.

Both the above from 22nd March 2021.