Sublime-sound-of-the-one-hand [Ryōan-ji]

Drever, John L.. 2014. Sublime-sound-of-the-one-hand [Ryōan-ji]. [Composition]

Item Type:

Creators: Drever, John L.
Abstract or Description:

Ryoan-ji is the ‘quintessential example of a karesansui dry landscape garden’ (UNESCO 1993: 41); it is a World Heritage site; an iconic site of meditation and contemplation; and an inspirational resource for a long-lasting series of exquisitely spacious compositions and visual art works by John Cage, among many other artists. Yet if vision is a ‘privileged sense in the Zen arts’ (Cox 2003: 103), what do we learn about the everyday experience of Ryōan-ji from a soundscape perspective? Despite its contemplative intentions, the site is highly-attended. What happens when we shift what John Urry’s calls our habituated ‘tourist gaze’ (Urry 2002) to an analogous aural approach? It could be that what we see and what we (expect to) hear don’t match, but that our perception of sound is overridden by the gaze. This work thus sets out to question the relationship between vision, sound and situated experience, and in so doing, addresses the Zen koan that forms the titles of the work: ‘what is the Sublime-sound-of-the-one-hand?’

The work was realised by making and hour-long stereo omnidirectional recording of Ryoan-ji. The recording was presented on a loop in an art gallery context, It Sounds Like Art, curated by Lanfranco Aceti, Kasa Gallery, Istanbul (2-26 April 2014). The stereo recording was juxtaposed with a large fixed image photo I took of Ryoan-ji, uninhabited by people save a mobile phone held by a hand protruding into the pristine scene. An excerpt of the recording with an accompanying commentary have also been published in an anthropology blog, FocaalBlog, 3 August, 2015.

On experiencing Ryōan-ji from a soundscape perspective, my experience was one of crowding and being crowded (i.e. ochlophonic) through the multiple vocal utterances, many of which could be heard counting the garden’s stones. Since 2004 cameras produced and sold in Japan must produce a shutter sound of 65 decibels or louder. Hence the recording is peppered with shutter sound. There is a tendency for many Western scholars to discuss and analyse Japanese cultural practices, such as tea-drinking and Zen gardens, as a specific and quantifiable set of discrete practices that are ossified and frozen in a bygone era (i.e. Weiss 2013). By and through listening, we instead attend to the present as it unfolds and fluctuates.

Contributors: Aceti, Lanfranco (Curator of an exhibition)
Departments, Centres and Research Units: Music
Date range: 2-26 April 2014
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Item ID: 24832
Date Deposited: 16 Nov 2018 14:56
Last Modified: 05 May 2021 19:50


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