"Philosophizing Aesthetics Through Sound" — Ray Kunimoto(Artist)
— “Cha-no-yu,” which is featured in this article, is one of the many forms of Japanese culture. Could you tell us what your impressions are on cha-no-yu?
When compared to Chinese tea and beverages from the west such as wine and beer, the Japanese tea culture, which includes matcha and Japanese tea, is not a culture that was fostered from the beverage itself. I believe that Japanese tea is more like a hub for multiple elements that embraces the culture such as the tea-ware, method of drinking tea, the space the ceremony is held, and the flowers arranged in tea rooms.
Compared to coffee and English tea which are prepared in one server or pot and are shared amongst multiple people, the cha-no-yu matcha is prepared for one person as a single-sided form of hospitality. In this sense, I believe that the only thing that puts these cultures apart is the difference in interface.
Through this, it is evident that the Japanese tea culture is not just a focus on the beverage itself, but the appreciation of the various intentions and backgrounds that accompanies the culture the more you understand it. I feel it is like a gateway custom that would lead one to become more accustomed to the Japanese culture. Therefore, I believe it is natural that the essence of cha-no-yu is evident in my work.
— There seems to be a Zen-like essence to your theme of “tranquility” which is also a part of cha-no-yu. What kind of “tranquility” do you seek to convey through your work?
Since tranquility is a philosophically broad concept, the range of my output and expressions varies all the time. With that in mind, the motif that I currently apply to my work is “rain.”
There is an effect in psychoacoustics called masking. It is a phenomenon that makes ambient noise almost inaudible if you are exposed to noise with a wide frequency range.
For example, when you’re enjoying a conversation with friends at a cafe, the reason why conversations of people around you are difficult to hear is because they are masked by the background music playing at the cafe as well as ambient noise. Rain also has a similar masking effect. When it is raining, the bustle of the city is reduced. Additionally, when you are exposed to the loud noises of the ocean or waterfalls, the mind and body is enveloped in a sense of tranquility. I am in pursuit of ways to express these phenomena through my work.
Acoustically, noise is at the opposite end of the spectrum to tranquility. However, I am interested in discovering whether noise can be converted to tranquility.
For example, my work “SHIZUKU - SHIRO” that I exhibited last summer in a tea room situated within a Japanese-style garden in Makuhari City of Chiba Prefecture was an installation using extremely quiet sounds of water droplets. The small sounds of each droplet would make visitors focus deeply on its details, offering an auditory sensation that makes ambient sound feel inaudible. Through this installation, I’ve attempted to fabricate a tranquil world that expands simply by applying a “small sound” within a clamorous environment.
In relation to cha-no-yu, the Japanese art of ikebana embodies the philosophy “kyojitsu tobun.” It means that both the natural beauty of flowers and branches as well as intentional beauty created through human interaction, such as by cutting off the flowers and bending the branches, are equal in value.
As we spoke about earlier on water, in terms of how I can display the natural and artificial states between water and space, you can say that I am heavily inspired by kyojitsu tobun.
— Your works typically have a monotone and minimal approach. In terms of design, what are you inspired by?
If I were to use colors, I tend to think too much on why the piece must be in that specific color. Currently, I can’t find a convincing reason to apply colors to my work, so I am hesitant about using any.
On the other hand, I am deeply inspired by “In Praise of Shadows” by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, and I am extremely obsessed with the broadness, or perhaps I should say the elegance of the details of the color black. For example, this shirt I’m wearing right now is hempish, but these trousers are made of polyester. Though they are both black, the feel of the material as well as the look of the texture and color are totally different. It is for this reason I am interested in black, a color with an infinite number of expressions.
In terms of design, my work has a sense of technical rationality, and I generally prioritize using the most primitive form that conforms to the concept. For example, I often use spheres and circles for my work, but at the same time, I’m aware that there is no such thing as a perfect circle or sphere, and therefore, I’m not interested in creating a perfect sphere. This, conceptually, makes my work more of a geometric sample.
For example, I’ve created “SHIZUKU - SHIRO” in a spherical shape since it was ideal in terms of acoustic engineering. This is because the piece is composed of tones formed when the sounds of water droplets echo and since echoes occur due to sound waves being reflected from parallel faces, I chose to create it in a spherical shape as it is made up of infinite parallel faces out of all geometric solids.
— Do you have any recent interests?
I am always in pursuit of discovering the true nature of beauty.
For example, in terms of sexual arousal, it is said that people perceive who they feel attracted to beautiful because they unconsciously sense an urge to pass down their genes. I believe that the non-lingual sense of attraction between organisms of the same species is a common thing. However, human beings are unique for being attracted to things that are unnecessary in terms of survival. For instance, we find things like the chirping of birds beautiful or feel that cats are adorable. This emotion that we have is inexplicable, and I’m interested in discovering why human beings find these things fascinating.
Like my fondness for tranquility, it is an emotion unique to human beings, and I believe it is the very essence of being human.
Being born to this world as a human being, I’m interested in discovering the perks of being one. Therefore, I create my works as I maintain an interest in all the unique senses the human being possesses.
— Lastly, please tell us of any new approaches for your expressions or goals you are aiming to achieve.
Throughout my career, I’ve always had a focus on sound. Although I have no intention to change that, I’ve recently come to think that it wasn’t necessary for me to be fixated on sound only.
I may one day end up taking photos, illustrate, or even write about the essence of the sound I am attempting to express. There is no denying that I have an urge to broaden my range of expression as an artist. I would like to continue my research and make attempts to achieve this.
My mission as an artist is to enhance and preserve the culture of humanity as well as maintain our civilization for the future generation. Moreover, I am determined to delve deeply into the cha-no-yu culture, which is a minor Japanese culture considering the population of Japan and update its essence through unique artistic expressions. Most of the expressions that I have always been fond of are extremely minimal and introverted. These expressions provided me with time and opportunity to become lost in my imagination. In the same manner that these expressions had saved me throughout my hardships, I hope my work would become a source of comfort and support for somebody else.
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.