Borrowing and re-purposing sound

On Oct. 18 at Western Front, Akio Suzuki and Aki Onda will be performing fu-rai. The sound artists, who draw influence from genres such as ambient music, drone music, and musique concrète, will be performing the highly improvisatory piece using field recordings, found objects such as hammers, nails and jars, as well as instruments of their own making.

Sound artists Aki Onda and Akio Suzuki.| Photo by Brian Whar.

Originally from Nara, Japan, New York-based Aki Onda pursued fine arts from a young age. Having formally studied painting and textiles until ceasing said formal education in pursuit of photography at the age of 16, his first self-assignment of taking photos of different musicians led to him becoming acquainted with and inspired by those he met. From there, Onda decided to start making music of his own, with his first musical venture being one third of the Japanese hip-hop and jazz rap trio Audio Sports.

Although you won’t find him making much in the vein of hip-hop now, the foundational aspects of collaboration, recording, and re-sampling other sonic material, music or otherwise, have persisted throughout his career, and were present even before Audio Sports was formed.

Launching a sound diary

“I bought a cassette Walkman at a flea market in London in 1988 and started using it as a tool to document sounds around me as an audio diary,” says Onda.

This continuing audio diary would form the basis of the projects Onda is most well-known for, that is his Cassette Memories tapes, three volumes, no longer than an hour each, comprise selected excerpts from his sound diary over the course of two decades.

It is in the spirit of collaboration and in exploring the unrehearsed that has led to his collaborative career with prolific sound artist Akio Suzuki. Ever since their first performance together, which lasted a grueling five hours in a warehouse in Osaka, Onda and Suzuki have opted for a dynamic, improvisatory approach.

“We actually do not discuss what to do before the show in terms of compositional approach,” says Onda. “We usually start from the visual – how to install our instruments and sound objects while checking the acoustic response of the space.”

Environment as an instrument itself

Suzuki, who was born in Pyongyang but moved to Nagoya at the age of four, first performed in 1963 when he launched a “bucket of junk” down the stairs of the Nagoya train station. He found that he heard an unexpected rhythm of clinks and clangs of the bucket’s contents falling down the stairs.

The results of this first performance, in addition to his cited “profound inspiration” from an interview with John Cage – whose infamous “4’33” consists of four minutes and thirty-three sections of deliberately not performing music, where the performance is dictated by the silence itself, along with ambient noise during the performance – have contributed to Suzuki’s careful consideration of the environment and venue of a performance, as exemplified with Onda and Suzuki’s debut collaborative project, 2014’s ma ta ta bi.

“As for the album ma ta ta bi, it was recorded in an abandoned building which used to be a pulp factory. We wanted to document our process of dealing with those site specific characters, as if we were having a conversation with them,” says Onda.

However, Suzuki and Onda are more than just conscious of the location they perform in: they deliberately make use of it, as a kind of instrument of its own. Whether it’s a more conventional concert space, or an abandoned pulp warehouse, Onda and Suzuki start the performance in the centre of the crowd, and proceed to spread out and explore the space during the performance, moving around or even outside the vicinity of the given venue.

“We like using the entire space and perform surrounded by the audience,” says Onda. “In other words, we do not do a conventional concert.”

The collaborative duo plans to continue exploring sound, space, and improvisation with performances throughout North America on their current fu-rai tour, with ke i te ki. Given their approach, no two performances are likely to be the same.


For more information on the concert, visit