Miki Yui: Small Sounds, the Cosmos

(Excerpt from Accompaniment for A-O-I-E-U by Cardero Gala through Youtube)
Sitting on the chair, Miki Yui faced to the mixer on the table and concentrated adjusting the sounds with both hands. The sound was from the mixer and from the surroundings, from toy-instruments and found objects which were set up by Rie Nakajima. Yui was so focused on composing the small sounds as if she was weaving fabrics. The experimental music from the environment she was “weaving,” however, intriguingly with the dynamics as Noh, although she managed the sounds simply with digital and analogue equipment. This live performance was composed with different ideas and artistic core of Yui and of Nakajima. The performance A-O-I-E-U however worked as a dialogue between both artists and the surroundings and generated something new, at Experimental Intermedia in New York in 2012.

Sound Arise, pencil on paper, 24 x 24 cm, 2003. (Picture courtesy of Miki Yui)

Sound Arise, pencil on paper, 24 x 24 cm, 2003. (Picture courtesy of Miki Yui)

The minimalism has its traces in Miki Yui’s works, not only the sounds but also her installation, drawing and performance. The drawing Sound Arise (2003) showed some hints. Simply with pencil on paper, the delicate dots composed with lines and built up the shapes, as if a bird expanded the wings strive to fly onto the sky. This is as abstract as sound, yet as concrete as the energy resided in the drawing. Another piece is the cover photo of the album magina (2010). In the tranquil photography took by Miki Yui’s partner Klaus Dinger, Yui was holding an umbrella standing on a spacious snow field by the River Rheine. This was a soothing picture, and Yui used it for the CD magina. It is like different treatments to the certain memory at different timings. Accidentally a pang of dismay or whiff of joy, the memory for the certain moment has become eternity, yet the time is going on.

magina, sound/music CD cover, 2010. (Photo by Klaus Dinger, picture courtesy of Miki Yui)

magina, sound/music CD cover, 2010. (Photo by Klaus Dinger, picture courtesy of Miki Yui)

I sense Zen dynamics in my perception on Miki Yui’s artworks. Minimalist, but powerful. The unusual query intrigued the interview with Yui for this article, she responds, “First of all, I don´t see myself as sound artist. Sound is an important medium for me, as well as pencil or paper. I started to make sound for my video work around 1995-1996 when I was studying at Art Academy in Düsseldorf. As I was making video works, I realized that creating sound inspires me, my video work was sometimes made out of still images and sound was moving. To learn more about the technical aspect of working with sound, I changed school to Academy of Media Art in Cologne in 1997. There I learned not only about technic, but also to create space through multi-channel audio. Through working on projects at Media Art Academy, I discovered ‘small sounds.’ Not only the sounds, but also the idea of it became my artistic core.”

Her words exemplify an artist’s insight and sensitivity. Miki Yui’s first CD, literally named small sounds, was released in 1999. “I made acoustic suits, an installation piece in an anechoic space… slowly shifted my focus on installation and drawing, at the same time I always continued my music composition on CD and doing concerts.” She says.

mamagoto, peformance + installation: audio recorder, audio player, speaker, diverse materials. Performed/installed at Around Festival, Hong Kong, 2010. (Picture courtesy of Miki Yui)

mamagoto, peformance + installation: audio recorder, audio player, speaker, diverse materials. Performed/installed at Around Festival, Hong Kong, 2010. (Picture courtesy of Miki Yui)

For “small sounds,” Miki Yui’s statement started with“reality/imagination,” she wrote, “Listening to what is around me. The work starts from listening…small sounds are taken from my surrounding and woven as the fragments of vague memories…” This echoes to Yui’s minimalistic installs built up listeners’ attention to the small sounds on the limits of our perception. She investigates the sound as mediation between existence and memories.

Many of Miki Yui’ art events are very much rooted in life events. If her way of composing sounds was resemble to weaving and knitting, her performance mamagoto meaning “imitate cooking or a tea ceremony”. She put little objects into different bowls and pots for producing sound at Around Festival in Hong Kong in 2010. Mamagoto had been performed and exhibited at different locations with Yui’s varied installs for “cooking” sounds, and yet without changing her core concept. The minimalistic style shows clear in the light colors resonated with the round shaped mirror over the arrangements of mamagoto presented at Torino in Italy, and that at Samtidskunst Roskilde in Denmark.

mamagoto, peformance + installation: audio recorder, audio player, speaker, diverse materials. Performed/installed at Samtidskunst Roskilde, Denmark 2011. (Picture courtesy of Miki Yui)

mamagoto, peformance + installation: audio recorder, audio player, speaker, diverse materials. Performed/installed at Samtidskunst Roskilde, Denmark 2011. (Picture courtesy of Miki Yui)

mamagoto, peformance + installation: audio recorder, audio player, speaker, diverse materials. Performed/installed at SAM/OTO, London (with Rolf Julius) 2011. (Picture courtesy of Miki Yui)

mamagoto, peformance + installation: audio recorder, audio player, speaker, diverse materials. Performed/installed at SAM/OTO, London (with Rolf Julius) 2011. (Picture courtesy of Miki Yui)

At the performance Lost Sounds for SAM/OTO project in London, an event hold at Café Oto for Sound and Music project, mamagoto performance was presented as a part of her concert. Lost Sounds was a collaborative experiment of Miki Yui and Rolf Julius’ art, in the form of sound performance and installation to explore the sounds of the environment and one’s visual and audio perception. Yui had been contact with Julius regularly as the collaborator, unfortunately, a month before their London performance he passed away (on January in 2011). Being a professional artist, Yui always working solo, except collaborating with him. She recalls, “Rolf Julius, who I respect very much, is the only artist with whom I could share for our acoustic-cosmos.”

mamagoto, peformance + installation: audio recorder, audio player, speaker, diverse materials. Performed/installed at blank, Torino, Italy, 2010. (Picture courtesy of Miki Yui)

mamagoto, peformance + installation: audio recorder, audio player, speaker, diverse materials. Performed/installed at blank, Torino, Italy, 2010. (Picture courtesy of Miki Yui)

Simple but sublime, be that Yui’s visual or audio works. She shares with us about her process, “For installation, I listen to the space, observe, and adding as few as possible to create new space out of the elements that are there. The work plays with imagination of audience. For music piece, I have archive of self-recorded sounds, field recordings, instruments, noises…etc. I weave them into music.”

Undoubtedly, Düsseldorf is the city with its significant impact to Miki Yui. In 1994, she moved to Düsseldorf to pursue art after graduated from Tama Art University in Japan. When asking about who is the artist inspiring her the most? Yui replies, “Joseph Beuys, I was struck by his work, the encountering made me moved to Düsseldorf.” This is a city with various foreign residents, especially since the 1960s many Japanese corporations have their European headquarters in Düsseldorf. Also a city with arts and historical institutions, Düsseldorf performs as the pioneer in electronic music, which influenced Yui’s art and life tremendously.

arc_afar, lamp, mirror, broken cup, beads, small table, seeds, piezos, 6ch audio, speakers. Variable dimension, installed at SoundSeeing DA Kunsthaus, Gravenhorst, 2011. (Picture courtesy of Miki Yui)

arc_afar, lamp, mirror, broken cup, beads, small table, seeds, piezos, 6ch audio, speakers. Variable dimension, installed at SoundSeeing DA Kunsthaus, Gravenhorst, 2011. (Picture courtesy of Miki Yui)

Miki Yui went abroad to continue her artistic goal, encountered with Klaus Dinger and became his partner in Düsseldorf. At this time she joined Klaus Dinger’s project Japandorf, named after “Japan” combines with “Düsseldorf,” an interesting example of the hybrid of cultures. The transition of time and space, cultures and environments, undoubtedly transformed Yui’s art practice. She recollects, “The circumstance has changed since I moved to Düsseldorf (Germany) in 1994. Different language, culture, customs or way of thinking, all these helped me to confront and to ask different questions to myself, to my work. Being away from homeland, see one´s culture from outside, one becomes more conscious about the roots of one´s self. Therefore fine art and music gained importance to me, it is my medium and it is what motivates me and challenges me.”

In some of her sound installations, such as Arc_Afar (2011), the visual arrangement is equally peaceful as her sonic art. The graceful colors of the objects reflected from sunlight shredded through the window, subtly contrasting with other equipment. “Sounds, colors, lights, smells, or tactical senses… they are all connected when perceived. Since childhood, I always liked to draw, making something with my hand…” as Yui remembered, “During the study at Tama Art University in Tokyo, I learned a lot about different materials. Though I have never been a “good student,” I prefer to try and error and find out myself, it takes longer, but it is more exciting.”

Kumade de kusa wo kaku, pencil on paper, 2003. (Picture courtesy of Miki Yui)

Kumade de kusa wo kaku, pencil on paper, 2003. (Picture courtesy of Miki Yui)

Curator Carlo Fossati, once mentioned about Miki Yui’s artwork “deals with the memory of lived events.” Memory and life, apparently prevails in Yui’s art. One case in this point is her drawing Kumade de Kusa wo kaku (2003), meaning sweeping (autumn leaves) on lawns, an ordinary work in autumn garden. Yui made this drawing right after she had swept over the collecting autumn leaves on the lawn. Yui recalls that she was “tracing the memory of sweeping the grass which was ‘imprinted’ in my body.” She says, “Through living, one encounters and lives events, the memories become part of one´s self. We would not be able to define what we percept without these memories. Memories are for me like the sounds recorded on my recorder. Sometimes I prefer working with almost accidently recorded sounds.” Yui’s words suggest that her art and her life has been as a whole. Another video work Sweeping (2007), “You see light, dust and the shadow of a person weeping, that was me,” Yui adds, “and from that I also made four sequences of photo-prints.” Yui shot the video herself. She further describes her art practice in various media, “Especially when using sound, through the abstraction, such memories (recorded sounds) can be used as transmitter and receiver. I often modify the sound so much that listener cannot directly recognizes what it is, but gives a subtle hint of ‘something.’ Such intervention can trigger memories and imagination of the listener.”

Sweeping, video, 2007. (Picture courtesy of Miki Yui)

Sweeping, video, 2007. (Picture courtesy of Miki Yui)

Through the changing of time, cultures, or art materials, Miki Yui’s art has its own unchangeable style. Although she was deeply saddened by Klaus Dinger’s sudden deceased of heart failure in 2008, Yui is doing well in recent years and cooperates with other creators across art fields. Talking about her future plan, Miki shares, “Since a few years ago, I open my doors to encounter something new, start to collaborate by doing performances with other artists. Right now I am involved as sound/music creator in contemporary dance project. Also through my participation in the album ‘Japandorf’ from Groenland Records during the years 2001 to 2010 as well as my responsibility in Klaus Dinger´s archive, my work (and task) goes beyond the border of fine art, music, or archive. This will certainly reflect and gives interesting effect on my artistic work in near future. Of course I will keep on what I have been doing, music composition, performance, installation, and drawing. I like to work on continuity and see changes out of continuity. Minimalistic and still dynamic as a whole.”

Beyond the transition or even the turbulence of the surroundings, the art of Miki Yui is consistent and coherent with her life. Yui hears, observes and lives in it. The mystery, probably just resides on her simple but insightful words, “I like works which you see individuals, unique and has something universal.”

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