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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 music & this film in totality, and the worries they depicted and predicted for the enclosed & noisy big city of Tokyo, ring true & prophetic to my Covid ridden big City in 2021, & our roles in it as creatives.

Noise music is a genre of music that is characterized by the expressive use of noise within a musical context. This type of music tends to challenge the distinction that is made in conventional musical practices between musical and non-musical sound.

In the Tokyo that created Noise music, & the world I live in today, entertainment, information, and communication technologies provide experiences more intense and involving than the scenes of mundane everyday life, as well as the codes and models that structure everyday life. The realm of the hyperreal (e.g., media simulations of reality, Disneyland and amusement parks, malls and consumer fantasylands, TV sports, virtual reality games, social networking sites, and other excursions into ideal worlds) is more real than real, whereby the models, images, and codes of the hyperreal come to control thought and behavior. This film was an attempt at objectively depicting the Baudrillardian HyperRealitys affect on the human condition through the feelings of its residents.

Noise music is one of the attempts at becoming the glitch to pierce through the apathy of the hyperreality, which was ultimately the main goal of everyone involved in the film. It was to have a connection to the humanity through all the complexity, digitization & mechanization.

The movie goes through the various fears, anxieties, joys & feelings of the city through its architecture & artists. But the movie didn’t take a stance on the city, they observed it from a wide variety of perspectives. The movie depicts post WW2 Japan & Tokyo as this new creation of the 20th century, like a phoenix that rose from the ashes with skyscrapers and futuristic towers, stained in images, neon signs & robotics, and what the future of the human condition is in this new environment.

One side saw the new industrial & metallic structures that controlled the city as abandoning the peacefulness of the old world, for the noisy conformity & rhythmic uniformity of the big city. Others saw the loudness & complexity of the big city as a confirmation of life itself. They felt more alive around the bright lights, the sex museums and the naked karaoke, the movie got weird, but it also got real.

There was another side to the big city, it was these photographers. There’s 3 of them and they run this little mount Fuji photography group where: everyday, they go to different locations around Japan to take a picture of mount Fuji. It was a spiritual practice for the artists, everyday they would complete this simple task, and the man said it brought him “euphoria” and I believe him. The way he described taking the pictures, how he learned about different wind currents in order to calibrate the best angle for a single shot of mount Fuji at sunrise to depict the passage of time.

By learning about wind currents, the artist then entered a whole new adventure of applicable information & a new way to practice. His way of escaping the hyperreality was through using new information to connect with his ancestors from the mountains, instead of being consumed & controlled by digitization & information, he applied it into a productive task he loved, and evolved in the practice of his craft, as well as a human. Information isn’t always bad, it can actually help you lead a more fulfilling life, & evolve you as a person. The man was genuinely excited for his next picture of mount Fuji, because he's an artist, & that's enough reason.

According to everyone being interviewed, Tokyo was beginning to feel constrained, compact, repetitive and frustrating, & they all had their individual methods of breaking the repetitive nature of life in that environment, for the mount fuji artists it was entering new spacial dimensions, & applying new learned information.

For the Noise artists it was about entering unexplored creative dimensions, & freely expressing yourself. It was breaking sonic barriers & exploring previously unexplored territory. That’s why “Noise” music as a genre resonated with me. It embodied this dissonance and distortion this moment in time feels like. As a writer I tend to get stuck in trying to write logically, there’s not a lot of room for emotion in logic, but I’m an artist, my job is to convey how I feel in the moment, because it's true, that's what noise is. It's how my current moment in time feels.

The movie talks about the over consumption of information, the rise of digitization, AI & robotics, and how all of that impacts culture & the psyche of a people. Noise depicts those feelings perfectly, this frustration with mechanization, industrialization, authority & understanding of its relative necessity, but also the need to escape the monotony & repetitive nature of life.

Noise artists broke out of that restrictive mold by distorting sound, and the Mount Fuji photographer found new ways to do the same activity. It was an energetic shift from the mundane regularities, by shifting their mentality & perspective.

Noise music breaks all the sound barriers and lets you feel, it’s not a feeling you recognize, it’s not one that’s gonna be on a hallmark card, it’s not a feeling you can name, it’s definitely an acquired taste, but it’s different. It's using art to explore unseen & unknown territory, that's not easily digestible but it's innovative, raw & emotive. It breaks the barriers of what's allowed.

The illogical & irrational feelings in our being that the surrealists once explored, that’s what noise conveys, and the explorer instinct it helped me find again. I was stuck trying to say the right things and do the right things. I was going through a block creatively, it happened with every medium I practice. After constant practice of the craft for over a year, I felt like I could only make things I was allowed to make. I had a set amount of drums I liked, my ear knew what type of samples to pick out, I had a general understanding of my beat making process, & I felt trapped within it.

The role of the artist is to reflect the truth of the times, not to tell people how to feel. Restricting myself & not reflecting the truth would be betraying the medium & creativity itself. It becomes propaganda after a certain level of monotony & rigidity, but we don't start doing this to be politicians.

The noise musician that was being interviewed, Mayuko Hino, made noise music to fight against the commodification & over beautification of the female in society & the push of females to please the male gaze and standards of etiquette. Everyone in the movie had a cause for doing their craft, it was their life's work. It’s a real dedication to quality, craftsmanship & work ethic that is inspirationally abundant in Japanese culture.

In various anime, music, literature, fabrics, pottery, various art styles, & just the totality of cool things that a society can bring, Japanese culture has flourished. There's a certain amount of reverence allotted to craftsmanship and work ethic that echoes through Japanese culture & presents itself in various forms and mediums. Japan is known for its City Pop 80s synth styles, but the Tokyo Noise scene broke through that into something completely different & weird, but still pristine in quality, at it’s finest form.

The point of the movie is that everything is going to evolve, computers, machines, architecture, art, & humans, the past, culturally, wasn’t all beautiful, it wasn’t all spiritual, it wasn’t as pure as history classes would make you believe, it was actually weird, dark & juvenile, but there are still important lessons that we can use and reserve in our evolution while we merge with other cultures, technology & become something else, we need to reach a place where we can incorporate culture and various spiritual & human aspects of the past, in our electric, industrial & digitized, futuristic world, a romantic view of the simulation.

One of the photographers being interviewed, Nobuyoshi Araki, a Japanese photographer and contemporary artist professionally known by the mononym Arākī, was the prime example of using your environment to your advantage. He is an odd & wild person, the scenes of him doing karaoke are some of the greatest cinematic masterpieces. He is known primarily for photography that blends eroticism and bondage in a fine art context. At a certain point in the movie he takes a disposable camera and runs on the streets while taking pictures in order to get a shaky glimpse, capturing a real moment in time. He treated his creativity as childlike as creativity should be treated.

There’s various symposiums on Picasso’s evolution as an artist from 4 years old till his death at 91 years old, as he got older he completely abandoned realism in the chase of a childlike feel in the process of creating art. All of the blueprints left by the greatest tell us to evolve, that is the concept Tokyo Noise reinforces. Evolve, adapt, create & rescue a certain purity & truth from the past to incorporate into your present, while constantly learning & trying new things.

When I first started writing I would be in various lobbies of high rise buildings as a chubby 13 year old, loitering, trying to convey how I feel in my blackberry notes app, the more I strengthen the writers muscle, the more I strengthen the logical & overly intellectual aspect of my personality and abandon a certain level of irrational emotional vulnerability in favour of coded creation, a sort of "plug & play" art.

That is what everyone in the film felt was happening to the Japanese people as a whole, and that's what I see in myself and people alive today. Many of us have programmed responses. There's a certain routine to everyday life in an urban environment that becomes monotonous & it's reflected in how we treat each other as transactions, that has been heightened through this pandemic. Writing in quarantine started feeling restrictive, repetitive & mundane, I felt like I was selling out the authenticity of the art by making perfect sounds, in a clearly imperfect time. Noise is a reminder to constantly try new things, & freely express yourself, in order to evolve & grow, in any circumstance or medium.

Keeping it real will always be better than keeping it pleasant, and that’s what this movie, like noise music, never shied away from. They showed every aspect of the city from high rise neon ad projected buildings, to the underground train stations & the raunchiest of alien sex stores, because that’s the totality of ones being. Modern cities are reflections of human desires & dreams, and those aren’t always biblical, & that doesn’t always make them bad.

When I was a kid I loved Hip Hop, Stand Up, & ECW, a professional wrestling promotion of insane human beings on the fringes of society, doing all kinds of things you definitely would not be allowed to do within any other context, & those are the types of things that inspired my creativity when I was younger, so that is what I attempt to create & Noise is the perfect representation of that feeling, & I hope I can achieve that through every medium I practice.

Tokyo Noise is an ode to the unknown & new experiences, inside & outside of the pandemic, every single day. That means we have to have a new experience & learn new and interesting information. In our art we have to add funk, distort, & attempt something innovative. My work has to feel like a glitch in my life, & it has to mean something, solve something or teach something, & feel fun to make, or else it’s not important.

We have to break out of expectations & molds. I don’t want to exchange banal rhythmic programmed pleasantries, I am constantly looking for something real, & perfection & routine have never felt real. Tokyo Noise depicts an authentic society, it voices an opinion that’s not depicted in our mainstream culture. It tells intensely relevant truths that apply to the direction of our world & it’s not overly high brow. It blends high & low culture, its equal parts raunchiness and high brow philosophical & existential inquiry. It says don't get complacent, keep exploring, keep innovating, but maintain humanity & authenticity. Its fucking weird, it's great & it's a reminder for artists to keep cracking the pavement with realness.


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