Chijikinkutsu is a coinage specially created for the title of this work by joining two Japanese words: Chijiki and Suikinkutsu.
Chijiki means geomagnetism: terrestrial magnetic properties that exist everywhere on Earth but cannot be sensed by the human body. Since long before the Age of Discovery, people have used compasses operating on geomagnetic principles for navigation during their travel. In recent years, various geomagnetic devices have even been incorporated into smartphones. Scientific research implies that a certain relation to geomagnetism can also be linked to the behavior of migratory birds, bees, and some types of bacteria, as well as the cause of beautiful Aurora Borealis. William Gilbert, an English physicist from the 16th century, in one of his books described geomagnetism as lifelike. However, the origin of geomagnetism is not yet completely understood by contemporary physics.
Suikinkutsu is an ornamental musical device for a Japanese traditional garden invented in the Edo period (from 1603 to 1867). The sound of water drops falling into an earthenware pot buried under a stone washbasin resonates through hollow bamboo sticks. Since ancient times, Japanese people sensitively perceive Nature as it is – from the sound of the wind blowing through pine trees to the singing of insects. Suikinkutsu has been developed with that kind of delicate sense.
When Akamatsu was working on this piece, he happened to visit his favorite temple on the secluded mountain in Kyoto. The temple has an excellent garden with a big white pine tree spreading its branches in incredibly unique shapes. In one small corner of this garden was a Suikinkutsu. And when he carefully listened to the profound sound coming from underground, he noticed that his work coincidentally had an auditive similarity with Suikinkutsu. Afterwards, that awareness led to polishing the concept of the artwork.
The concept of the work Chijikinkutsu does not derive from experimental science and technology typical for media arts, nor from architectural theory of western music used as a foundation for some of the sound artworks. It utilizes the action of geomagnetism, usually treated as a subject of science, and expands the subtle sounds of Suikinkutsu in the context of Japanese perspective on Nature.
The materials of which Chijikinkutsu consists of are water, sewing needles, glass tumblers and coils of copper wire. The needles floating on the water in the tumblers are magnetized in advance; therefore they are affected by geomagnetism and turn in the direction of North and South. When electricity is supplied to the coil attached to the exterior of the tumbler, a temporary magnetic field is created, drawing the needle to the coil. The delicate sound of the glass hit by the needle resonates all around the space. MIDI is used to control the system. A DTM sequencer app sends MIDI data signals to the controllers especially designed for this work, and they distribute serial data to each port, switching electric current supplied to the coils.
Nelo Akamatsu did not include many elements into the work, he rather aimed to create a minimal expression similar to a painting with a large unpainted margin. He did not add unnecessary elements such as colors, LED lights and sound amplifiers, but allowed for the acoustic sound to stand out so that the visitor can concentrate on listening and become aware of the geomagnetism causing the movement of the needles.
The artist compares the floating magnetized needle on a round surface of water to a tiny geomagnetic Earth. Delicate sounds of the installation sharpen the visitor's senses, making us realize that the sounds do not come from outside of our bodies, but already exist inside of one's mind.
Nelo Akamatsu (JP) was born in Tokyo, and lives and works in Kanagawa, Japan. He creates artworks across several media such as installations with electronic devices and video installations, sculptures, paintings and photography. Since his sound installation titled Chijikinkutsu won the Golden Nica prize (Grand Prix) in Digital Musics & Sound Art category of Prix Ars Electronica in 2015, his artworks have been presented across the globe, in exhibitions and art festivals in Austria, Germany, Spain, France, UK, Slovenia, Ukraine, Mexico, Canada, Taiwan, Korea, China and Japan. He also had solo exhibitions at Mizuma Art Gallery, which is one of the leading galleries in the Japanese contemporary art scene.