This moment now used to be an unimaginable future. Absent City, a mixed media installation by Megumi Matsubara, with the music/soundscape by me, in Tokyo in 2008.
I’m currently reworking this sound piece for the upcoming release Radiant City, which has now progressed from a short EP into a full-length album as well as an immersive sound installation (I should’ve known). The original Absent City piece is 90 minutes long of which the video here features the opening four, and for the new album it’ll be reduced to a 30-minute composition with four movements and additional instrumentation.
Time is indeed an interesting character (see eg. the films of Christopher Nolan). I hadn’t listened to the full 90-minute soundscape for over a decade because I’d regarded it as a failure, an embarrassing attempt at creating something between music and environment, music and city, music and sound art. The piece consists of seven lunch conversations, 90 minutes each, recorded in various public spaces around Tokyo between the artist herself and different people she’d invite each day. My job was to imagine these recordings as different instruments in an orchestra and turn them into an abstract composition, simultaneously resembling music and an urban soundscape. And since I only had one full day to do this, I had to work really fast: deciding, treating, “composing”, arranging and mixing the tracks almost in real-time. My lovely Spanish flatmates would pop in occasionally to listen and offer comments – and bring food from the dinner table! A quick getaway to a Finnish sauna and a cold beer – and back to my studio (with a couple of more beers) to finish and send the piece by midnight, when the dawn was breaking in Tokyo for the exhibition’s opening day.
The artist was really pleased with the result and said it was exactly what she’d been looking for. But I felt a sense of unease: I hadn’t had time to really sit back and evaluate what I’d done, let alone make any corrections if necessary. There were parts where I’d wanted to bring in more musicality, to explore the possibilities of “the studio as a compositional tool” more (see eg. the lecture of Brian Eno from 1979) but couldn’t. The soundtrack was already playing in Tokyo, while the summer in Helsinki blossomed elsewhere. My disappointment at what felt like a missed opportunity for something unique and proper made me soon forget all about the piece and move on.
Until a few weeks ago, when I came across it on my old hard drive and decided to give it a full listen. And boy what a trip through space and time that was, through a city that had become nonexistent – or been missing for too long! Here I was in some future city, a possible city, an invisible city, a multiplicity, a radiant city, experiencing an increasingly familiar yet heartening pattern: as time passes your criticality toward your work simply dissipates, gets forgotten, transforms into innocence and ageless fresh joy with lived experience. With the original condition absent, you’re free to experience the work and the world anew, those midnight hours of Helsinki turning into a dawn chorus in Tokyo. Sometimes the original condition is of course better and you’re right to leave it as it is, but here I found myself arriving in a future the seeds of which I’d planted all those years ago, without knowing how they might grow. What once had felt absent, was now starting to feel radiant.
Photography: Sebastian Mayer