"YOU EVER PUT a whammy bar on it?" I ask, attempting a joke about Japanese sound artist Aki Onda's instrument of choice, the walkman. With the portable cassette player, Onda composes and performs his "sound diary," a series of field recordings he's compiled over the last several decades.

I'm trying to tease out the whys. Why a walkman? Why field recordings? Why eschew traditional instruments in the first place? My hope is that if I understand Onda's work and creative philosophies, I'll better understand his TBA:12 curatorial outing, Voices and Echoes, a night of experimental Japanese music and spoken word.

"The reason I picked up a cassette walkman is just by chance," says Onda. In the '80s he was living in London and working in the music industry as a photographer when he broke his camera and couldn't find a replacement. "Instead, I just bought the cassette walkman."

He's kept it with him now for 20 years, taking sonic snapshots in places like Morocco, Japan, and the United States. The resulting songs arrive like diary pages held to sunlight—water atop water atop water, room inside room, environment over environment, folding his experience of the world onto itself like abstract, tacitly narrative origami.

At TBA:12, Onda has curated an evening with three of his Japanese peers. Akio Suzuki plays rooms, generating sounds with homemade and rare or uncommon instruments. The natural echoes of a given performance environment are manipulated through a keen ear and the application of predominantly percussive elements. (In other words, it's a lot of tapping and bouncing and vibrating that interacts with the performer's surroundings.)

Where Suzuki recasts function by using rooms as instruments, Gozo Yoshimasu toys with the music-ality of vocalization, performing spoken-word pieces in a language that resembles Japanese but communicates meaning only through inflection and emotive intonation (with occasional outings into other languages). In a ritualistic setting inspired by time spent with itako mediums, Yoshimasu will perform alongside experimental turntablist and guitar player Otomo Yoshihide, who works to bridge noise and jazz music.

While the three individuals performing are relatively unknown to US audiences, they're major players in Japan's experimental literature and music scenes, and Voices and Echoes looks to be a must-see for anyone who's into the more abrasive, meditative, and exploratory aspects of sound.


Voices and Echoes

curated by Aki Onda

Lincoln Hall at PSU, Sun Sept 16, 5 pm, $15-20, pica.org