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Tokyo Sound Diary, May 2007

By Marc Weidenbaum

While visiting Tokyo for 10 days in late May of this year, I kept a “sound diary.” I didn’t record sounds, except, so to speak, with my pen and with a digital camera.

1. The Tokyo Dome roller coaster sounds exactly like there’s a military jet flying overhead. I wonder if it has speakers playing a recording of a jet, or if it just happens to sound like that.

2. A photo of the entrance to the Loop-Line gallery and performance venue, near Sendagaya Station:

Loop-Line gallery entrance

3. In the Suidobashi district of Tokyo, the sound of the crosswalk signal, a two-beat motif that is all attack and no denouement, sounds exactly the same when you’re on the street, surrounded by traffic, and when you’re 20 floors up in a hotel room, the world otherwise muffled by bedding, sheets, plate glass and so much distance.

4. Are giggles universal? Children giggle the same, no matter where you are, or at least no matter where I’ve been. So do most old ladies.

5. My heartbeat turns into something of a beatbox when I lay on the bed and put my head down, one ear on the mattress, the bedspring serving as a resonator.

6. One thing you don’t hear in Tokyo is cellphones. The silence belies their ubiquity. A sign in the subway says to put cellphones in “manner mode” and to refrain from speaking. This is one of the few signs in English, which probably means something.

7. I heard a cell phone ring in public in Tokyo — highly unusual. Last night, at a concert in Shibuya, a woman’s cell phone went off. I’m not sure I can describe the look of horror on her face, even though the concert had ended. It was unfamiliar, after a week here, to hear a cell phone; at first I wasn’t even sure what that chime was symptomatic of.

8. I know the sounds of my laptop computer fairly well. There are many things that one can adapt to one’s liking in a computer, but there are two that, for the most part, one must adapt to: the layout of the keyboard, and the sounds that the computer emits. You can ignore the latter, but to know not just the whir of the hard drive but also the specific whirs that correlate with specific activities (the launch of automated virus protection, the emptying of cache, not to mention the ring of an IM) can assist you in your work, in scheduling the moment to make a keystroke or the most, or least, opportune time to open a program.

9. Those previous two posts (Tokyo cellphone silence, computer noises) have combined to make me wonder: When will a laptop come with a light vibrate option, to signal the arrival of an email or an IM, or to alert imminent battery drain?

10. These are all the things I hear right now, sitting in my hotel room, preparing to go out for the evening:

  • birds outside, though I don’t see any
  • the white noise of traffic
  • the ringing in my ears, more left than right
  • my swallowing
  • the click of my hard drive
  • the walk signal 20 floors below
  • the light whoosh of air conditioning
11. View as exiting a record store in Shimokitazawa:

View while exiting record store in Shimokitazawa

Entrance to another record store in Shimokitazawa:

Entrance to another record store in Shimokitazawa

12. These are the first 5 records that come to mind when I think of Tokyo:
  • DJ Krush’s Kakusei
  • AFRA’s Digital Breath
  • Ryuichi Sakamoto’s soundtrack to Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
  • The soundtrack to Woman in the Dunes, by Toru Takemitsu
  • Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band
13. Signs at the entrances to the clubs Soft and Nest, both near Shibuya:

Entrance to the club Soft

Entrance to the club Nest

14. It’s 11:30am in Tokyo. Sounds I hear:

  • the toilet flushing
  • someone running around in an adjacent room
  • something clanking in the hallway, probably related to the cleaning of rooms
  • that beeping walk signal
  • the fan in my laptop
  • an airplane
  • traffic
  • memories of the concert performances I saw last night

15. Yesterday evening, at a wide, construction-strewn boulevard that leads to Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, the collective sound of several thousand people combined to form something comparable to a thunderstorm. It didn’t sound like people talking. It was something bigger, as if simple chatter could reach a threshold and take on a life of its own.

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  • about

  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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