"Philosophizing Aesthetics Through Sound" — Ray Kunimoto(Artist)
— Can you tell us about your current activities?
I create art works using sound with a focus on “tranquility.” By philosophizing tranquility, I am in a pursuit to discover various methods to express sounds. I believe that tranquility, unlike silence, is more sensuous. For example, much like how one’s perception of sound changes in the crowded streets of Shibuya while alone or with a friend, I am trying to discover how to express tranquility in various situations including scenes with ambient sound.
— What triggered your interest in sound?
I had been learning how to play the piano from a young age, but I was not particularly interested in mastering the instrument. I had started to learn about music in earnest when I picked up the guitar while in middle school. My family was very strict, and I was brought up being taught to have an ideal image of my future. I had also developed a sense of inferiority since my brother was extremely talented.
When I compared myself to my brother, the only things I felt confidence in were sports and art. However, I gave up on sports during middle school. I remember I felt depressed to an extent I was at the brink of losing my objective in life. It was then that I had listened to various kinds of music to lift my spirits and discovered hope in music. This may have been the trigger that led me to pursue my current career. From there, I had played in bands as a guitarist, created music as a member of the artist collective teamLab, and was active as a composer after I had graduated from university. I think music is a culture that evolved by designing how to place sounds in the right place. However, during my activities, I had reached a point that I was more interested in how to subtract sounds. As paradoxical as it may seem, I became obsessed with discovering a nature of music that didn’t require sounds at all, and naturally shifted to becoming an artist.
Since art is visually dominant, my realization that there were undiscovered possibilities in sounds, which are not expressed as colors or shapes, was the root of my activities.
— So, your various conflicts and inquisitiveness led you to the world of art.
My experiences in the United States were one of the catalysts that led to my current mode of expression. About 5 years ago, I had moved to New York, casually thinking that the United States was the place to be to make a living as an artist. At first, I had felt I was required to become familiar with the local customs. However, after a while, I realized that this wasn’t necessary. New York was truly a melting pot, a spot with people from various regions such as Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. The combined notion of these various cultures was what made New York the city it is.
In terms of communication, there were people that were proficient in speaking in English while mixing nuances of their native languages. While spending time in this unique and multi-cultural environment, I had many opportunities to reflect on my own country by asking myself what it was that I was pursuing.
For example, even in a global scale, the Japanese language has an extremely unique lingual culture, and I was able to realize that acknowledging the Japanese culture firsthand was a great advantage.
As an example, I occasionally use “water” as a motif for my work. The Japanese language, compared to various languages around the world, has a vast number of onomatopoeias such as “pichon,” “pichan,” “zaba,” and “doba” for water as well as “kachikochi” for ice. It can be said that the large amount of vocabulary that describes water means that the interpretation of water is extremely vast.
Even though the “pichon” and “pichan” sounds do not change greatly when observed as notations, it is interesting to observe that sonically, one would sense them differently, much like the difference in the sound of the C note emitted from a piano and saxophone. In this way, re-acknowledging the origin of Japanese culture brought me to approach my current activities by enhancing my creative vision through the Japanese language.
— So, you’ve re-acknowledged Japanese culture while abroad. What do you think makes the Japanese culture appealing?
I can’t really say that I am interested in all of Japan’s customs since the country’s culture, impression, and values vary greatly depending on the era. However, I can say that the aesthetics of Sen no Rikyu during the Sengoku and Azuchi-Momoyama periods have a place in my heart, particularly as milestones that influenced my style of work.
Bluntly speaking, it can be said that most of Japan’s existing cultures are modeled on various cultures from overseas. For example, it is theorized that the Shinto religion was created to counter Chinese culture when Buddhism was introduced to Japan. Based on these backgrounds, I believe that there aren’t that many cultural customs left that are unique to Japan.
However, I am especially interested in customs such as “mitate” and “wabi-sabi” that are some of the fascinating aspects of the Japanese culture that embody a formless aesthetic which reconstructs Japanese culture philosophically.
Additionally, contemporary art, along with its rules and format, is also something that was introduced from the west. However, I believe that there are many applications that can be achieved by referencing Japanese culture to reinterpret contemporary art.
Born in New York in 1991 and raised in Tokyo. After returning to the United States in 2017, he later returned to Japan in 2021. Graduated from Keio University with a major in art history at the Arts in Aesthetics and Science of Arts Department.
Utilizing his unique 3D sound systems and tech, he creates installations that merge the space with the actions of visitors.
With “tranquility” as his main theme, he combines Japan’s traditional aesthetics with modern technology, and produces new acoustic experiences by traversing various domains such as sound production, engineering, sculpting, and space design. He has exhibited his installations and performed live all over the world, including countries such as Japan, the United Arab Emirates, Taiwan, and the United States.
With the mission of "Respect and Go Beyond," the company is developing an art production business that raises the spirituality and aesthetics of the tea ceremony by "reinterpreting" the comprehensive Japanese art of "chanoyu" by crossing it with various domains such as technology and street culture.