Geomagnetic Suikinkutsu

IDEA: A geomagnetic Japanese sound garden.

WHAT: The materials of ‘Chijikinkutsu’ are distilled water, sewing needles, glass tumblers and coils of copper wire.  The needles floating on the water in the tumblers are magnetized in advance, so they are affected by geomagnetism and turn themselves in a north & south direction like a compass.  When electricity is supplied to the coil attached to the outside of the tumbler, it creates a temporary magnetic field which draws the needle to the coil. The small sound of the needle hitting the glass resonates all around the exhibition space. Coils on all the tumblers are connected to the controllers with copper wire, a sequencing program switches the electrical current to the coils on and off via the controllers.

“The round surface of water in each glass with a floating and moving magnetized needle, reminds me somewhat of a tiny earth with its own geomagnetism. The fainter the sounds of the glass, the more keenly peoples’ sensibility will be sharpened. And still, sometimes peoples’ biological rhythm may be synchronized with them. At that moment, they realize that the sounds are not coming from outside their bodies, but already existing inside their mind.”  – Nelo Akamatsu

WHY: ‘Chijikinkutsu’ is a coinage, which I especially created for the title of this work by combining two Japanese words: ‘Chijiki’ and ‘Suikinkutsu’. ‘Chijiki’ means geomagnetism, it consists of terrestrial magnetic properties that have always existed and affected everything on earth, although it cannot be perceived by the human senses.  In ancient times, it was known that magnets showed which way was north or south.  And much later in the age of discovery, the compass was invented and it became necessary for the navigation of ships on the ocean.  In recent years, various devises that utilise geomagnetism have even been incorporated into smartphones. Some scientific research reports that the behavior of migratory birds, bees, and some types of bacteria are more or less all related to geomagnetism. It is also the cause of the beautiful aurora. William Gilbert -who was an English physicist in the 16th century- described geomagnetism similar to a life-form in his book titled ‘De Magnete, magneticisque Corporibus et de magno Magnete Tellure’ which was published in the year 16 hundred.  How magnetism is created is not yet completely understood by modern physics.

The second Japanese word ‘Suikinkutsu’ is an ornament and sound installation for Japanese traditional gardens, which was invented in the 16th century.   In the garden in front of a tea room, you can see a stone washbasin called ‘Chozubachi’.   This basin is not just only for washing hands but also for passing through a boundary between ordinary life and the noble realm of a tea ceremony.  Usually ‘Suikinkutsu’ is installed together with the ‘Chozubachi’.  An earthenware jar with a small hall at the bottom is buried upside down under the gravel ground just close to ‘Chozubachi’. The little water that flows from the ‘Chozubachi’ will become waterdrops that then fall onto the water’s surface in the hollow jar.  At this very moment, tea ceremony guests will hear the small but unique sounds of waterdrops resonating from the underground jar.  The sound of ‘Suikinkutsu’ varies slightly with different setups, but always includes multiple harmonics which are crystal clear.

Since ancient times, Japanese people have been sensitive to perceive nature as it is, from the sound of the wind through pine trees or the singing of insects in each season. ‘Suikinkutsu’ was developed with this kind of delicate sense.

BY: Nelo Akamatsu







via SOLO Music Gallery

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