Word The Cat

Word the Cat

present-nuclear futures

Posted by Chris on June 21, 2012 at 10:16 am  

Open string guitars driven by percussive vibration. Fuyuki Yamakawa’s recent installation at Tokyo Art Fair featured two guitars attached to pots of radioactive soil. Every time a geiger counter clicks, the sound is converted to movement via a transducer that shakes the guitar. For the Tokyo installation the soil was taken from the imperial palace gardens. Open string percussive sound with a strong attack. Through a double analogue metaphor of sound, first via the geiger counter, second via the guitar, the invisible/inaudible presence of the radiation is given body. This seems like a pretty useful way of understanding an invisible threat. In this article for the LRB, Nick Richardson writes:

‘Since the accident,’ Yamakawa told me, ‘Japanese people are living with numbers and abbreviations: Sv, Bq, Gy, CPM. They think that numbers are a scientific and concrete way to know about radioactivity. But numbers are abstract, we cannot perceive numbers.’ We can perceive guitars.

Compare this way of sonically dealing with radiation with Jacob Kirkegaard’s four rooms [archived post here]. Fukushima is a lot fresher than Chernobyl, the Tōhoku region isn’t a cleared, fallow space in the same way. When Kirkegaard does the old Alvin Lucier trick of playing room tone back into a space repeatedly (thus building up a layered drone through recording and re-recording the playback) he is engaging with ruined architecture, a space without people, historicising a dead and poisoned space.

Jacob Kirkegaard – Auditorium

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Despite the ruin porn of Chernobyl/Pripyat’s human structures, wildlife in the area is thriving. Radiation is far less of a threat to animals than the presence of humans. Just like in the Korean DMZ where one of the world’s largest colonies of amur tigers live, safe from hunters, dodging landmines. Peter Cusack has made some environmental recordings of Chernobyl wildlife which you can hear here.

Yamakawa’s work seems more human than post-human, a way of understanding radiation for people who are still dealing with the emotional and physical fallout. His previous work is also on a very human scale. One performance uses his heartbeat and a stethoscope as a vibrational trigger for the guitar. Tuvan throat singing also plays a part:

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Noda has taken the decision to restart two nuclear reactors in the face of the biggest protest movement in a generation. A major protest to surround the national diet (parliament) building is planned for 29th July.

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