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Yasunao Tone: Excerpt from “Solar Eclipse in October”

From the album Musica Iconologos (1993)

Japanese polyartist Yasunao Tone is an alumnus of many major experimental art movements of the 1960s and 70s, including the seminal free improvisation outfit Group Ongaku, the international neo-Dada collective Fluxus, and the Japanese computer art pioneers known as Team Random.

Tone’s most characteristic music involves experimentation with the generative musical potential of digital recording technologies and the process of transduction between different forms of information. In the mid-1980s he began exploring the unexpected sound potential of compact discs, taking advantage of the error correction mechanism triggered by misreadings of the ones and zeros in which sound is digitally encoded. By applying scotch tape with tiny pinholes to the bottom of the CD, Tone scrambled the player’s storage retrieval logic and coaxed a sputtering, crystalline music from the disc’s binary data.


A similar concept underlies Musica Iconologos, a 1993 work commissioned by Thomas Buckner of Lovely Music. Taking as his source material two poems from the Shih Ching, the oldest extant collection of Chinese poetry, Tone digitized the images of the poem’s characters and generated histograms from the resulting visual data. These histograms, in turn, were converted into sound via computer software controlled by Tone’s technical assistants at the Electronic Music Studio of McGill University in Montreal. Each of the 187 characters in the poems was turned into a tiny burst of sound merely 20 milliseconds long. These bursts were then elongated and woven together according the verbal logic of the poems to create the music that you hear.

Tone’s experiment resonates with a deep techno-naturalist fascination with the dream of using musical devices to unlock the latent sonic forces inhabiting the world around us. The result is a harsh but beautiful music, an alien language opaque in meaning yet governed by some uncanny syntax. Refracted through the transfiguring lens of computer technology, there glimmers the faint but unmistakable trace of movement, intelligence, life.

Played 119 time(s).

July 12, 2011, 7:04pm

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