The Sound of Art

An introduction to the performances of artist and musician Asuna.

In Reviews by Justin Egli 2013-09-30

Asuna in performance at Rocket.

For the twenty or so people lucky enough to be sitting cross-legged in the tiny pine loft of Rocket, Harajuku, something unique is happening. Standing in the midst of about 100 children’s toys, Asuna opens a packet of popping candy, pours it into his mouth and holds a microphone up to it. The room is instantly filled with the sound of nostalgia – a magical concoction of pops, crackles and childhood memories being blasted through a mini amplifier on the floor.

Asuna is a combination of artist and musician. He himself doesn’t really know what to classify his work as. “I don’t know. All I know is I am making art and music every day. So maybe I am a combination of everything.” Not that his work needs to be classified. Sound art, performance art, call it what you like: Asuna’s live performances are an experience; textured soundscapes that blur the lines between art and music.

Children’s toys feature heavily in Asuna’s live performances. On this occasion the entire floor is covered with a colourful array of whistles, paddle balls, spin tops, kazoos and wind-up toys. Some of these are mic’d up to loop sequencers, and the floor is a jungle of electrical cables and equipment. The toys instantly add a sense of innocence to the atmosphere. “Because I experiment with music every day, my work will continue to be shaped gradually. I don’t know where my inspiration comes from, but quite often the theme is my own memories from childhood.”1

Starting off with some quiet harmonics on the guitar, Asuna loops the notes to create a foundation for the piece. He then deftly moves around the room adding to the soundscape using what’s laid out before him. At one point he gets some chattering wind-up teeth and makes them hop across the strings of his guitar. He also uses a fan to influence the pitch of sound going through the microphone. The performance is interesting on a technical level as well as having a playful side.

Asuna doesn’t look up to the audience once. He’s too absorbed in what’s going on before him, with a look of intense concentration on his face. Hunched over his equipment, it’s almost as if he is a chess player trying to anticipate the moves ahead: which instrument to bring in next, how it will influence the rest of the performance. Every move is well thought out and considered. Even though it’s improvised, it’s all intentional. “My performance is always different each time,” he explains. “So sometimes all improvisation, sometimes all composition, sometimes half and half.”

As the piece progresses the childhood toys lose their preciousness, and the sound of the objects all combined becomes rather ominous. The soundscape reaches its peak before slowly dying down to the sound of waves, birdsong and Asuna playing an emotive chord progression on the guitar. It’s a beautiful ending to what was an amazing performance.

Asuna plays an intimate show at Ryodenji Temple on October 6 with I am Robot and Proud. For a full listing of other upcoming shows, see the Aotoao website.

1 Email interview with the writer, September 2013.

Justin Egli

Justin Egli. After touring the UK in a punk band in his late teens, Justin first moved to Japan in 2003. Since then he has traveled the world, and has recently returned to Tokyo for a second stint. When he's not drawing you can find him lost down an alleyway with his camera or cycling around Shimokitazawa on his BMX. Justin writes about Tokyo subculture on his award-winning blog, ikimasho.net » See other writings

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