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Sound Worlds: The Sonification of the Japanese Garden

CENCIA presents: Bent Frequency and Berlin-based sound artists Michael Fowler - Sound Worlds: The Sonification of the Japanese Garden.


Georgia State University, Kopleff Recital Hall, 10 Peachtree Center Ave.

“The purpose of art is to imitate nature in all her manner of operation”  – John Cage (from Silence, 1961)

John Cage is one of the most influential composers and musical thinkers of the 20th century.  In the 1950s, he was introduced to Buddhism and became interested in the aesthetic and artistic implications of Zen.  This led Cage to incorporate Zen thinking into his creative work, including musical compositions, visual art, and performance art.  During a tour of Japan, Cage visited the dry rock garden at the Buddhist temple Ryoan-Ji in Kyoto.  Renowned for its serenity, austerity, and simplicity of materials, the garden inspired Cage to write the unique microtonal musical work Ryoanji.

Berlin-based sound artist, performer, and researcher Dr. Michael D. Fowler has used Cage’s unconventional approach as a jumping off point for his own soundscape work.  In his book Sound Worlds of Japanese Gardens (Cultural and Media Studies, 2014), Fowler documented how he used his research of Japanese gardens to create large-scale sound installations and liver performances in venues throughout Japan, China, Australia, and Germany.

Bent Frequency and Fowler will collaborate on a new, Atlanta-specific concert based on one of the works discussed in Fowler’s book, Sesshutei as Spatial Model.  The concert will consist of a sonic foundation of field recordings collected in Japanese gardens in Yamaguchi overlaid with a live soundscape traditional Zen instruments (rin, singing bowls, and wood blocks) with Western instruments such as saxophone, viola, trombone, voice, piano, and percussion. Additional video components and live performers will create a unique immersive performance environment in which austerity and starkness of original space is respected but re-imagined for a concert hall.

In addition to Sesshutei as Spatial Model, two other musical works inspired by Japanese gardens will be performed: Japanese Garden, Hosokawa’s Vertical Time Study 2, and of course Cage’s Ryoanji.