Yui Onodera: “We are involved in a life that passes understanding and our highest business is our daily life.” – John Cage


The seven years between conversations with Cyclic Defrost for Japanese sound artist Yui Onodera has seen him incredibly active, characterised by exciting collaborations with artists like Wolfgang Voigt (KOMPAKT), Pjusk (12K) and Chra (Editions Mego), as well as opening up concerts from his base in Japan. Yet these he believes have been underscored by the overarching evolution and refinement of his approach – particularly in terms of collaborations.

“One of the biggest changes was that I have established an art collective called ‘nor’ which focuses on media/hybrid art,” he offers via email from his home in Tokyo. “Not just the sounds, but we are using the space as media, and doing installations throughout the world which are mixtures of various expression methods and technologies for more comprehensive expression.”

Initially Cyclic readers were introduced to the producer in 2013. His signature approach then was exploring the integration of sound through the lens of built environment and urban space. Onodera offered musical compositions inspired by architectural layers and enveloping field recordings to add depth and structure. This style has seen him develop a nuanced yet recognisable catalogue of ambient releases for his label: Critical Path.

While 2020 for many proved the year to stand still and reflect, that’s not been the case for Onodera. Instead he admits to having enjoyed a freer schedule, allowing him space to pursue passions such as cooking but also dedicate time to refine and work on solo projects from his home studio. Perpetually inspired to create, his solo projects for this year alone comprise an extensive and interesting array. They include developing a multimedia installation for showcasing the Sho (a traditional Chinese reed instrument – introduced to Japan during the Nara period AD 710 – 94). As well, participating (as he has done for the last five years) in the curation for the “POP AMBIENT” KOMPAKT release again with Wolfgang Voigt, along with a brand new project with composers Arovane and Takashi Kokubo. And yet, that’s not all. Onodera’s mesmerising minimalist structured sounds have found their way to being featured in film.

RAY, an album of 11 tracks all with the same title RAY (each track denoted by number RAY 1, RAY 2 etc) provides the accompanying soundtrack to the documentary about a subject very close to Onodera’s heart – American composer, John Cage.

Cage was someone Onodera confesses he became obsessed with, perhaps due to Cage’s inspiration from Buddhist teachers like David T Suziki, attributing the discovery of John Cage to setting him free from the conservatism of traditional musical education. In his formative years Onodera found meaning in the structure and lessons behind the concept “every sound is music”. A philosophy he feels is universally intrinsic to his own adoptive style of creation.

“I always refer to Japanese gardens when I explain – it’s artificially and precisely designed but visually, it looks very natural as if it’s a living thing that changes slightly from time to time adapting to the environment. I always hope that my music is like that too.”

When asked about his inspirations behind the soundtrack for the film: ‘John Cage 64’ and whether Cage’s own signature music was an influence, Onodera suggests it was less Cage’s music per se than his conceptual ideas such as chance based composition that informed his music.

” On tracks RAY5, 8, and 10, the arpeggio of the synthesizers moves around randomly. In terms of obtaining unexpected results as a composer, I also like to use the granular synthesis. This is because I wish to meet surprises by using uncertain elements, and this sometimes gives me further inspirations for my composing. And in this piece, I’m frequently using an interface called ROLI SEABOARD.”

The interface, the bridge between the human and technology, and its effect on the compositional process is a continued source of fascination and inspiration for Onodera.

“Music that is developed by new technologies and devices, and the human senses – they interact with each other and bring new ideas. This is what’s so interesting and I’m always keen on checking appealing interfaces.”

“I’m using computer related technologies and tools but I’m very interested in seeing how the input devices that can add analog touches would affect the sense and the design of the composer. And by going back and forth with the results, I’m able to accumulate experiences for the next step.”

“I think the thing that comes to mind is more important than being efficient, and I think it would be different when using the mouse and general keyboards.”

And precisely how Onodera came to be providing the music to accompany the biopic for one his greatest musical influencers is a story as synchronistic as his musical approach is synonymous with Cage.

Whilst studying architecture Onodera discovered a portrait of his favourite architect, the film ‘Rem Koolhaas: Kind of Architect’. He reached out to the film’s German director Markus Heidingsfelder to convey his appreciation. Heidingsfelder revealed he was working on the John Cage project and so began a beautiful friendship.

“We exchanged ideas about the music, and I sent him demos that I made freely. Onodera recalls. I also suggested that he do the shooting in Japan as John Cage had close relationships with Japanese musicians, and that he was heavily influenced by the zen philosophy.”

The soundtrack RAY utilises field recordings from Tokyo and curiously Onodera wasn’t trying to assign any particular meaning or attach them to a situation, rather he simply chose sounds that he liked, which is very much in keeping with the Cageian principle of chance based relationship.

“The environmental sounds, instrument sounds and noises, these are all handled equally, and it’s just one selection of sound. Maybe this aesthetic is something very John Cage, Onodera reflects.

“The most important thing for me is the attitude that environmental sounds should be treated just as equal to other instrument sounds, rather than the duration and the timing as in chance operation, and improvisational issues when building the structure. Also considering that environmental sound itself has uncontrollable elements in it’s sounds.”

John Cage 64 by Markus Heidingsfelder will be released soon. RAY the soundtrack accompanying the film is out now via Critical Path. You can find it here.


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