The VOICE of

Article by
Marita Tatari,
PD Ruhr University


In Ken Ueno’s sound installations Jericho Mouth at the Beijing Inside-Out Museum in 2013, and Jepson Satellite at Telfair Museums in 2018, we literally become part of a shift in the perception of musical form. This shift does not concern the kind of sounds that are being articulated in a piece. Ken Ueno’s art belongs to an already long tradition of sound-art that does not operate in a given harmonic system. Yet its distinctiveness is not the configuration of previously unregistered sounds; it is not just that sounds not coming from a measured system attain the shape of a form. It is rather that the emerging form is shaped by the suspense, the cut of a breath, out of which emanates an outside: space. The shift taking place with this artform readdresses the space in which it occurs and with it us, its beholders, as a rhythm or act of our own emanation and articulation in the now.

In these works, unique sounds coming from the throat and from the depth of body cavities explicitly interweave with the space. They align with the ground tissue that imperceptibly weaves a world together, making its forming movement perceptible and bringing the space to life. In the performance Jepson Satellite, drums are installed in the entrance hall of the museum. At the beginning Ken softly touches the drums with his fingers and beats them with a loudspeaker. He then turns towards the drums and addresses them through the loudspeaker with his amplified breath and throat sounds, while slowly circling around them like a satellite. His sounds resonate like a call. There is something uncanny in them, like coming from outer space, from a macro- or from a micro-dimension. It could also be the sound of cells or of molecules: a sound before or beyond the familiar world of things, operating in the plasticity out of which things emerge. Slowly walking around with a loudspeaker, his sounds act like a call addressing spots in space. They are giving voice to space, making something like a pulse of this space appear, come to life: vibrate. This performance does not expose a musical form to the public: it rather brings the public, as part of the space, again and again to the point where its formation as space and time emanates.

The sound installation Jericho Mouth at the Inside-Out museum also gives voice to the space but in another way. The sounds coming from Ken Ueno’s throat, live or registered and technologically amplified, become the breath of the building itself. Poured out in waves from a hollow wall, emanating to an outside out of the depth of the building, sounds make the walls of this museum shake. But this installation, like Jepson Satellite, does not have just one point of emanation; it’s not the body of the performer; it’s not a scene taking place in one location. This art makes the emanation of space appear in an irreducible plurality, as if the performer were devoting himself, giving himself up for the space to emerge by itself. Or for him to emerge as space.

Generally speaking, the rhythm, the cut that holds the sounds together in a form, allows sounds to relate to themselves, to resonate for their own sake and so to emerge in space and time as a form, appearing as such to the public and touching them. Though in Ken Ueno’s art we are not touched by a harmony, by the appearance of a meaning, or by a sound we become able to identify. We are touched by the pulsation of space set free in the plasticity of the performance’s time.

Space emerges and appears for itself as the movement of its own formation, not as the given space we can measure: the vibration constituting a space-time, the formation and fluid transformation of space constituting the now becomes a form we are able to share in the moment of the performance. The rhythm holding the sounds together becomes the scene, the cut that exposes space emanating as alive, as a vibrating movement expanding indefinitely in the performed moment. Thus, this performance or sound installation exposes the space in which we stand and the time that we witness as an emanation. But as an emanation with no center; it exposes reality as a plural surplus over any given.

The singularity of non-previously articulated sounds does not become here the performed identity of a protagonist. Instead a reversal is taking place with this art not simply exposed to us, its beholders; it rather brings indefinitely to movement the space we are in, the spatial relations defining us in the reality of the now. “We” comes here to mean all – performer, spectators and given space – as immersed in this art. Giving ourselves up to the spatial-acoustic cut produced by the sounds and addressed to different points in space, we cease to be something already given. We become the irreducible plurality emerging in and as this form. “We” is the change of this pulsating spatial chorus, the bliss of a surplus in the now of the performance.


© 2020 KEN UENO



© 2020 KEN UENO