04 — 08.07.2021

Masamitsu Araki Kyoto

Public Address - Sound of Place


Théâtre Varia – Petit Varia

Japanese → FR, NL, EN | ⧖ 1h10 | €16 / €13

Having a background as a sound artist, Araki Masamitsu has often made field recordings. Public Address-Sound of Place, a dramaturgical gem, was presented for the first time in an alternative space in Tokyo, and will be shown here for the first time outside of Japan. The work was born when Masamitsu spent an entire day with a friend who is blind, during which he recorded all their conversations and the sounds of the surroundings. A gymnastics class; Kyoto subway stations; a volleyball match; and email updates on the earthquake and tsunami prevention plan: on stage, everything is reduced to pure sound. Like a technician preparing a performance, Masamitsu enters and exits the space for the sole purpose of rotating or adjusting the speakers ever so slightly, as if bringing the characters to life. In doing so, he mixes experimental sound practice with the tradition of Bunraku theatre, in which the puppeteers are visible on stage but ‘forgotten’ in the viewer’s mind. By following the experiences of Masamitsu’s friend in visualising reality through sound, Public Address-Sound of Place recalls the plurality of encountering a reality beyond the normative one. This is a sonic journey through the streets of Kyoto that becomes an ode to theatre and its power to fire the imagination.

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The sound of a place / The place of sound

Comment on Masamitsu Araki’s Public Address - Sound of Place

Kyoto-based artist Masamitsu Araki’s Public Address - Sound of Place is an attempt to resonate the sound of particular places in a performance space, and to construct a place where people gather within that performance space.

The performance space created by the sounds Araki collected and recorded is similar to the concept of social space proposed by the sociologist Henri Lefebvre. The social space in which we live is not an empty container, but rather a mass of woven interrelationships that are fabricated socially. Erika Fischer-Lichte argues in her book The Aesthetics of Performance that theatre space should be seen as a performative space rather than a geometrically built construction. The performative space she refers to is nothing other than the field of interaction with the audience, created by the performers’ actions and gestures.

When space is reinterpreted as something dynamic in this way, the observer follows a temporal process that the space generates and transforms, rather than grasping it as if looking at a static image. Instead of looking at a fixed object on an existing map, the observer immerses him/herself into an environment that flows and disappears.  

Through listening to the sounds of particular places, the audience is invited to the imaginary place that the sound creates within the performance space. Whereas the sense of sight apprehends the dimensional overview of the space and the layout of a place, the sense of hearing prompts consideration of the relationship between space and the passing of time. Auditory thinking intertwines with visual thinking to produce social spaces and places.

Public Address - Sound of Place pivoted on a conversation between Yokota-san, who was born blind, and Araki himself, who visited and interviewed him. Araki described his activities of visiting and recording the visually impaired interviewee Yokota-san in his room and in the places mentioned in the conversation as the borrowing of ears. The sound of place mediated by these borrowed ears is not a collection of raw recordings of the moment when Yokota-san himself was hearing, but is in fact a reconstruction through microphones that mimic his ears. The audience who receives the reconstructed acoustic space as the same sounds that Yokota-san heard, tries to locate themselves within Yokota-san’s sense of hearing through the music and sounds that he hears on a daily basis: up-tempo music at the dance class; a dull tone of Shishi-odoshi (a type of water fountain made from a bamboo tube used in traditional Japanese gardens to frighten away deer) and cicadas singing at the Buddhist temple of Shisendo; echoes of excited children’s voices talking loudly about an Ōsanshōuo (Japanese giant salamander).         

This performance Public Address - Sound of Place takes place in an empty room. Once the performance starts, Araki and his assistants enter the room, placing speakers and props to set up a simple visual stage: The center of the space is marked abstractly with wooden frames, turning it into a temporal space reminiscent of a four-and-a-half tatami room – considered to be the minimum living space in a Japanese house; two main speakers are placed in the middle of the room, one represents Yokota-san and the other does Araki; several speakers with background sounds (TV, radio, outdoor sounds, etc.) are set in both front sides as well as in the back sides of the room. By setting up the main speakers and the background speakers, Araki meticulously casts the sounds. This casting with the speakers indicates Araki’s intention to reconstruct the sounds anew, rather than simply to reproduce them as they are on the stage.         

The way in which sounds exist is chaotic in the first place, and so is the space. Physically, space is full of different sounds in general. Humans’ ears sort out noises from the sounds with heightened attention. The ability to distinguish the voice of a speaker from the noise of the crowd, for example, is due to this sorting ability, known as the cocktail party effect. By changing positions and sounds of the speakers, namely, situating speakers as disruptive performers, Araki seems to draw attention to the background sounds that flow into the room and might otherwise be unconsciously dismissed as noise.         

Towards the end of the conversation, the voice of Yokota-san heard through the center speaker, acting as the protagonist, disappears and emerges from the rear speakers. His voice is now only faintly heard in the background. At that moment, the voice of the conversation, which seemed to form the center of the place, became equivalent to the murmur of the periphery. We now hear the quality and tempo of the voice more than the words it speaks. At this point, his voice becomes more entangled in the murmur and noises of the surroundings than standing out from them. The audio traces of Yokota-san’s everyday life in the space are no longer concentrated in the center, but start to form an expansive acoustic space. From this acoustic space, the audience will be eager to hear something with their own ears. It is at this moment that the sound of place in the performance can be outstood and heard as the title indicates.         

What qualities does this sound of place hold, and where does the audience arrive in this moment? In the performance, through the medium of sound, places such as Yokota-san’s room, a lesson room for dance classes, the Shisendo temple, and the Kyoto City Aquarium appear one after another. Theatre scholar Helga Finter points out that sounds evoke the visual as well, and names it Audiovision. In this performance, the audience can imagine the Audiovision of each place. But at the same time, the audience is made aware of the discrepancy between the image they have imagined and that of the blind through listening to Yokota-san’s perception of the world. The audience will recognize the moment of overlapping between their own auditory image and Yokota-san’s perceptual world. We are physically sharing the same acoustic space, gathering in the sound of places created by Araki, but the unity of the place is constantly being shaken.         

The sound of place that Araki has created in this work can be undestood as a place where fiction and reality moves back and forth through the overlapping images in multiple dimensions. Namely, Araki constructs the acoustic space, shows illusions evoked by the space, and awakes from the illusion. Araki thus invites the public as spectators, to a specific place with an address in Kyoto, but he does not take them as a monolith of unified mass. By awakening from a collective dream – a stereotype – through his performance, Araki heightens our awareness of the different positions of each individual’s subjectivity in reality.         

  • Mariko Harigai 

Mariko Harigai is a Ph.D professor associated with the Faculty of Music at the Tokyo University of the Arts. Her research focuses on aesthetics of theatrical voices, their spatial effects and their political dimension.

Presentation: Kunstenfestivaldesarts-Théâtre Varia

Direction, sound design: Masamitsu Araki | Dialogue: Mitsuharu Yokota, Masamitsu Araki | Sound engineer: Kota Uematsu | Sound Plan: Toru Koda | Lighting designer: Ryoya Fudetani

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