Art Department

Back to Contents of Issue: September 2000


by Andrew Pothecary

Who says that online or computer-based art has no physical presence? Artist Atau Tanaka gives lie to that idea through the various digital/physical works he's created over the past year. In his "Global String" installation, gallery visitors in two different parts of the world create music by strumming a large, tensed string (click here to see the image). Its vibrations are then interpreted and transmitted instantly via the Net to the other gallery, merging the physical and online worlds.

In his work as part of the music group Sensorband, Atau himself is body-wired to a computer while the two other musicians either manipulate self-made "spatial control instruments" or create sounds by disrupting the space of an encompassing movement-sensitive cage.

While Sensorband's recent release (Area/Puls) follows the experimental music scene's attraction to sine waves and purity, in his solo music efforts Atau's kept the body theme beating strong. His Biorhythms CD opens with sampled heart beat and continues via the sampled city-arteries of Tokyo itself into dance and techno-influenced music. Meanwhile, on a compilation release of experimental/noise music, EndID -- themed around 20th-century media -- Atau contributes a disturbing example of his digital/physical approach with "9M14s Over Vietnam": having scanned the famous Vietnam war image of the girl running naked and napalmed (one of the most visceral, physical photos ever), he turned the scan's digital data into music, adding to his interpretation by "hacking" the data to alter the composition and harmonic arrangement.

Also in the past year, Tanaka exhibited in galleries in Europe "Constellations," a piece involving work on five iMacs. Onscreen, planets float in imaginary space, and as visitors navigate and manipulate them they cause MP3 audio associated with each planet to stream into the gallery space. The sound contributions, from different composers, are drawn from servers all over the Web. Five gallery visitors playing with the iMacs can make music together with the sound from imaginary space ending up in real space, where it's blended with ambient gallery noise or even nearby cafŽ noise filtering through to the gallery.

As for the "Global String" project, it doesn't yet look like it will be supported in Japan. However, thanks to a grant from the Daniel Langlois (founder of Softimage) Foundation, it should open in Rotterdam's V2 and Linz's Ars Electronica galleries in November.

Which doesn't bother Atau: as a Japanese American currently living in Tokyo after some years in France, he's used to a certain amount of global repositioning.


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