The Tosso Variations is a videomusical suite in five movements based on recordings of several free improvisations by Shingo Inao. Shingo plays his Tosso, a six-stringed sensor instrument of his own design. Each improvisation is performed with Shingo dressed in a different outfit. This series of pullovers are from The Story of Oswald 1848 – a collection created by fashion designer Nicole Roscher for her label Von Bardonitz.
The Tosso Variations was originally exhibited as a five-channel video installation at the MU artspace in Eindhoven, Netherlands, curated by Angelique Spaninks. Supported by MU, Eindhoven.
I am acutely sensitized to the sounds around me and consequently to the sources of the vibrations which produce those sounds. Videomusic enables me to communicate the audiovisual reality which normally only exists in my imagination. Through this medium I explore and re-organize spacetime – objects, rooms, musicians, situations – to compose music.
My experiences making videomusic have always stemmed from a desire to reveal the physical impossibilities inherent in digitally sequenced electronic music. When I first encountered this sort of music I found it both fascinating and mysterious. The overwhelming impression was that the music conveyed a sense of time compression which spanned multiple dimensions; the number of tracks, the complexity of the voicings, the sheer speed of the tempo and rapidity of delivery. These were the sonic artifacts of a composition process that transcended the music of the body and embraced the music of the mind.
Despite these ethereal inspirations, I prefer to work with electro-acoustic sound material which I record myself. This analog tendency in my work is both a reaction against sampling other people’s music as well as a means of creating arbitrary compositional restrictions. In this regard I find myself inspired by the self-created limitations of the early Musique Concréte.
Shingo Inao and I became friends in the fall of 2005. We share many passions, including a mutual admiration for the Japansese musician Cornelius and a foundation in improvised music. Over the years I have seen him perform his electro-acoustic sensor instrument Tosso on countless occasions. Both his intense concentration when performing as well as the instrument itself captivate me. To capture the source material for The Tosso Variations I created a situation in which Shingo could perform five free improvisations for my camera.
It was very important to me that I create sufficient visual variation to accompany the natural musical differences between the five improvisations. This is how designer Nicole Roscher was brought into the process. I was inspired by the unique pullover she created for The Story of Oswald 1848 – a collection for her label Von Bardonitz. I introduced Nicole to Shingo to see how he would respond to the idea of performing wearing the pullovers. The combination was instantly satisfying to us all. I am especially satisfied with how the textile of the pullovers reacts to my editing process, visually amplifying every edit with ripples in the fabric.
After recording Shingo’s improvisations I was confronted with a need to devise a method for navigating the raw material. I created an interpretive graphic notation system for this purpose. These notations allowed me to look at the overall shape of each improvisation and identify the basic structures of the performances.
Pursuant to my analysis of these structures I began to deconstruct and rearrange the recordings into my own compositions. When I compose videomusic the music and images influence one another in a continuous cycle of positive feedback. What you see is the result of a series of decisions – audiovisual mappings – which are made on a measure by measure basis. When the process is going well I often find myself dancing around. If the work makes you want to dance I encourage you to follow your impulse!
Silence = Stillness
This installation draws attention to a certain aspect of audiovisual thinking which I feel deserves some modest elaboration. Audiovisual works generally consist of two sorts of mappings between sound and image;
- synchronous – what you see is what you hear
- synchronized – what you see is matched to what you hear
The audiovisual rhythms in my work derive their sense of swing and synaesthesia from the balance of these two approaches. Too much synchrony leaves no room for imagination whereas too much synchronization can become arbitrary.
One mapping in particular which is often made in audiovisual work is silence = black – a mapping which I find highly problematic. This mapping matches rests in the music with a black frame; the default of the empty editing timeline – essentially a simulation of a darkened film projector or black leader footage. As the medium involved is video and not celluloid, for me it would be better stated that silence = stillness.
The silences in an audio recording are not gaps in the recording but rather the ambiance of the location in which the recording is made – the room. This notion of room carries over into sound design when the ubiquitous “room tone” is sought after to patch and mend audio tracks. The repetition of the empty room in this installation dignifies the stillness of the space, creating a hypercubist chamber inside of which sound and image can play together. In this sense, The Tosso Variations can be understood to be audiovisual chamber music.
Berlin, January 2012
*originally published in limited edition seriograph print for the 2012 exhibition in MU, Eindhoven.