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Tokyo Noise, HyperReality & Art in Lockdown: Sounds To Distort Reality

Updated: Apr 30, 2021

Toronto used to be a big, loud and uncomfortably fast city. When I was 13 I’d skip class and ride the train downtown, I’d look out the window for a 2 second single shaky glimpse of the CN Tower and the rest of the silver city’s grey skyline, behind the rusty brown train tracks outside the window, covered by condensation & fog, at Castlefrank Station. I’d walk around downtown for hours with my headphones plugged in, marveling & taking pictures of this city’s weird blend of culture being represented in the architecture.

Its a part cyberpunk blade runner city filled with ads, billboards, buses, images, media, television, technology & signs, on top of old architecture, making for this trippy vibe of futuristic Jetsons world & simultaneously 19th century Victorian England with actual castles. We have Georgian architecture, next to glass cladded skyscrapers, next to a cathedral church by a street dedicated to graffiti, & a shoe museum, all flooded in images & digital media. Downtown Toronto is beautifully strange but the architecture adequately depicts what this city feels like.

The landscape is an ever changing & evolving tapestry, it's an eclectic mosaic of culture & people from around the world, packed into a small region, in an otherwise huge nation. At 3 pm I’d have to go home and be drowning inside a wave of humanity, attempting to swim across to the Eastbound trains, knowing that if I got home too late, my mom would answer the phone & know I wasn't at school. I was trapped between schools of people from different nations, speaking different languages, with different life paths intersecting for a moment, because of rush hour. I hated that part at the time.

After a while, that type of digitized, urban, industrial environment builds a rhythmic & robotic society of people, you stop being mesmerized by its beauty, most of your encounters with people become transactional interactions & programmed responses & it's worsened since lockdown. Before the pandemic I was longing for something to escape the monotony of life, but now that I haven’t seen that in over a year, I miss it. Covid-19 became the glitch in our mechanized living, but it separated us from humanity.

Toronto has had one of the most strict lockdown measures anywhere in the world for the longest period of time. Evidently, having millions of people in a compact area like that is hazardous for health reasons, and our government is kind of fumbling the ball in the handling of this. According to the projections of the United Nations Population Division, by 2030, more people in the developing world will live in urban than rural areas; by 2050, two-thirds of its population is likely to be urban. As seen by the Covid-19 pandemic, the cities that were affected the most in the world were some of the most densely populated.

So I've been locked indoors for a year. That’s how I’ve been living through this pandemic. I have spent this entire quarantine, Groundhog day, day after day, locked inside for most days, consuming digital information through screens, in the building of digital worlds, and interacting with digital people. I usually practice my art to escape the rhythmic nature of the monotonous & rhythmic life of the active big city, but now, due to lockdown, and the rhythmic routine of my life, my creative process began feeling rhythmic & monotonous.

I feel confined, my government gave police an omnipresent authority over me and is preventing my mobility. Rights are being stripped away, and the reason being outlined is the common good, so I abide. But I’m not happy with it, and I believe it could be handled better, but I’m not on the frontlines, I’m not a nurse or a doctor, I'm just a whiny kid. So maybe they’re right, but that doesn’t change how I feel about it. That made me begin questioning my role as an artist in this type of society.

The way I usually cope with my emotions is channeling them into my work, but as a writer, as an artist, as a Canadian & as a human, I’ve felt a certain civic duty to people for the past year, so I’ve quieted my critiques, in order to preach self betterment, because what has complaining ever accomplished?

So I’ve been restricting myself in writing my feelings about the restrictions because I have nothing constructive to add and writing “I’M SO FUCKING FRUSTRATED, THIS IS FUCKING BULLSHIT, I’M 22 I SHOULD BE SOMEWHERE ENJOYING THE SUN NOT TRAPPED INSIDE” isn’t very helpful to the broader society.

As I was searching for something to break me out of this monotony, I stumbled across the documentary “Tokyo Noise”

This is the greatest documentary I have ever seen in my life, and nothing comes close. It helped me a lot when I needed it, I first watched it last year in the middle of a creative slump. The film showcases Tokyo as a metropolis filled with sound, movement and culture through interviews with some of Tokyo's inhabitants, 2 photographers, 2 robot constructors, 1 professor, 1 priest, 1 psychiatrist, 1 editor, 1 game constructor, & 1 noise musician.

The film talks about the monotonous living that exists in these new digitized & urban environments, the effects of gaming culture & social media and how the world around us has the ability to consume & control us by giving us a false sense of control. It goes through the rhythmic mechanization of the human, alongside the industrialization & digitization of a society, & the various impacts that has on the individual, and the solutions humans create to cope with their newfound existence.

The way this film is edited, scored & framed is nothing like I’ve ever seen before. The cuts, transitions, and sequencing were strange but well thought out and aesthetically beautiful. It shows the gorgeous & ambiently lit, rainy city of Tokyo, through all its corners and crevasses. The film takes you through a variety of complex emotions without making moral value judgements.

It was made in 2002 but it could have been made in 2031. It felt like the creators were time travelers. The movie was incredibly abstract, most of the meaning was to be pulled from meme-like transitions to strange situations, like people going down escalators synchronized, two women repetitively weight lifting on a train, cut by intervals of people eating ramen noodles and footage of Japanese families in their homes from the 60s, backed by noise music. It’s weird, grungy, hilarious, deeply philosophical and existential, ahead of its time & incredibly cool. The movie was made years before social media & AI became what they are, but everything they laid out seemed highly relevant today.

The movies score consists of these industrial sounds from a genre called “Noise” that’s explored in the film. I can’t begin to describe how accurately this genre of musi