oto-date Newcastle, point A2, image courtesy of Rebecca Travis

Sounds from the City, Sounds from the Sea: Journeys through the sonic-scapes of Akio Suzuki by Rebecca Travis

With the word ‘extraction’ generally bringing to mind heavy machinery and industrial noise, the work of Akio Suzuki peppered throughout the AV programme by way of performances in the first weekend and an exhibition and urban intervention throughout the course of the Festival, provides a more meditative approach to sound.

The warehouse-like environs of Globe Gallery hosts Suzuki’s first major UK solo show na ge ka ke meaning ‘to cast, to throw’, a title perfectly encapsulating of Suzuki’s cause and effect experimental sound works. However, the first piece you encounter in the exhibition doesn’t appear to have any auditory qualities at all. Entitled Hanna (flower) it simply consists of a single stem in a white vase elevated upon a white plinth. Replaced daily, for Suzuki the flower and its placement into the vase becomes representative of the many vibrations traced back to sounds in nature. Hanna is essentially a minimal visual representation of Suzuki’s complex philosophies surrounding sound.

There is a sense of playfulness in Suzuki’s works. Echo instrument mu ro bi ko is in essence the same as the old connected tin can telephone, and you are invited to sing into one can and the sound travels along a concealed iron spring, dissipating into ever-decreasing echoes. Despite the basic joy inherent in creating sound, there is a real consideration and understanding to Suzuki’s works, they are sculpturally sparse yet full of sonic potential, and harmonious with their surrounding environment. 

Akio Suzuki, na ge ka ke, installation view, photographer Colin Davison

Two new works use stones collected at nearby Marsden Rock beach. In Hi zu mi stacks of them delicately support steel plates. Aesthetically the work beautifully marries industrial material with found natural objects and appears quite contradictory to the ‘distortion’ translation of the title. In his explanation of the work Suzuki compares the pressure and release of huge natural forces and earthquakes with that of a sneeze – both are of equal interest in his sonic palette. Likewise tsu ran a ri references geological tremors. Marsden stones are carefully balanced on a pyramid of bent metal stands. To ‘play’ the instrument the corner of one of the stands is gently pushed, setting in motion a series of vibratory movements and subtle sounds generated by the teetering stones.

Suzuki’s citywide intervention oto-date Newcastle is a continuation of a project recreated in locations worldwide, documented in the archive at Globe. It invites you out of the gallery and into the world to discover natural echo points in the city marked by Suzuki with a spray-painted ‘ear’ symbol. Following the map available from Globe Gallery, it is a wonderful means to experience a familiar landscape anew. It certainly dragged me away from my earphones and into a situation where it felt possible to contemplate the sonic landscape that is usually so easily blocked out, ignored and taken for granted. It fully takes advantage of Newcastle’s many narrow passages and stairways, bridges and underpasses, and despite thinking that I knew the city well, more than once I found myself in areas I had never been to before. The key to the work? Open your mind, open your ears and let Suzuki be your guide.

Rebecca Travis @travis_rebecca