Toshiya Tsunoda
“Ridge of Undulation”

Häpna H.24, CD
8 tracks, 39 minutes
Listen to: At Stern, Tokyo Bay_11 Dec 97
Reviews of “Ridge of Undulation”
Release date: December 13, 2005

“The vibration of a thin metal plate and the huge waves of a vast seashore... similar phases can be observed between them... like wrinkles on clothes remind us of mountain ridges.”

New release from Japanese Toshiya Tsunoda who was the first artist to be released on Häpna in 1999. This household name in the art of fieldrecordings has produced a discography of highly sublime recordings capturing the finest details of sound, and Ridge of Undulation is no exception. This new work is exploring sonic phenomena of very different magnitudes, from roaring waves at sea to experiments with high frequency sine waves and vibrating objects. Piezoceramic sensors were placed on the objects and the vibrations were transmitted in voltage, which can be recorded.

Toshiya Tsunoda is a Yokohama based artist who has studied at the Tokyo National University of Fine Art and Music. Tsunoda is concerned with the relation between sound space and cognition space and the hidden beauty in the tiniest sonic details. Since 1994, he has been operating the WrK label, which he co-founded with Minoru Sato. He has previously released works on the WrK, Selektion, Lucky Kitchen, Staalplaat and Häpna labels. His work has been shown at the ICC, Tokyo, and the Kawasaki city museum, among others.

Tracks: 1. Sine waves mixed with the sound of a vibrating surface_1, 2. Seashore, Venice beach_31 Jul 01, 3. An aluminum plate with low frequencies_1, 4. Metal pieces with high frequencies, 5. At stern, Tokyo Bay_11 Dec 97, 6. Arrival, Kisarazu bay_11 Dec 97, 7. An aluminum plate with low frequencies_2, 8. Sine waves mixed with the sound of a vibrating surface_2
“For his second offering on Hapna, Toshiya Tsunoda offers up eight environmentally controlled compositions based on two primary elements: field recordings and studio juxtapositions. The first method appears three times, mainly near bodies of water in the United States and Tsunoda's home in Japan. The second method makes up the rest of the album, using sine waves and frequencies mixed with vibrating objects to produce sounds that, while different in delivery, are strikingly similar in tone and texture. Many of these experimental combinations result in drones that subtly shift and offer faint melodies when listened to attentively.”
Rated 4/5, Rob Theakston, All Music Guide

“Toshiya Tsunoda has long been revered for his meticulously detailed recordings of acoustic phenomena both in field or natural settings and in constructed atmospheres. Tsunoda’s particular interest is in how acoustic forms mutate either in contact with closed resonance chambers or with various editing techniques. Often the outcome of these experiments is that structure present in the original sound source is echoed in larger resonant areas. Because of this echoing of structure at different scales, it is tempting to employ a fractal metaphor to describe Tsunoda’s output. However, this is not exactly apt because fractals are mathematical formulae that reproduce structure recursively, in the absence of external stimuli. They are self-contained, not interactive.

As if in a winking refutation of a pure fractal analysis of Tsunoda’s work, the cover art for “Ridge of Undulation” features Afsuo Ogawa’s beautiful renderings of fractal-like drawings. Rather than mathematically generated pictures of fractals, the freehand pictures approximate this geometry while still maintaining a freedom from the completely formulaic. Tsunoda is clearly very much at home in this nebulous region between structure that can be observed and that which can be made. As is his wont, he has divided the tracks on “Ridge of Undulation” between site-specific field recordings and elaborately constructed micro-acoustic environments featuring layered sine waves and vibrating plates. Beyond the layering on two tracks, very little editing has been done aside from some volume adjustment. All of which only makes the results more astonishing. For whether he is generating or capturing it, Tsunoda’s organic and inorganic uses of his sources makes him seem to be sketching in thin air using sound as his charcoal.

Through careful editing, Tsunoda can make field recordings sound artificial (e.g. the lock-groove loops within “Seashore, Venice Beach” that are achieved apparently only through volume editing). Thus, he conflates any “essential” difference between the “natural” and the constructed. At the same time, his prepared sonic environments are so closely monitored and manipulated that they approximate and extend effects heard within the field recordings. For example, “An Aluminum plate with low frequencies 1” follows directly after the Venice Beach track and sounds like the wind coming in off the ocean at that location, perhaps as heard from under the tide itself. Later in the disc, “Arrival, Kirarazu bay” could just as easily be the soundtrack to a starship docking as doors open and close against an engine’s whining background drone. There is so much selectivity at work on the source acoustics in this piece that when the second aluminum plate recording follows “Arrival” by distilling the engine’s tonal variance in a plate vibration, it ends up becoming a continuation of the previous piece’s focus on the engine. When a thin plate properly vibrated can emulate a portion of the spectrum of a larger environment, the recordings themselves seem to converge at a vanishing point between the consumption and creation of sound.

While this convergence could itself be fodder for hours of acoustic studies, Tsunoda also finds time to create mini-narratives. “Metal pieces with high frequencies” is the final Morse code escaping from an exploding supernova before everything goes white. “Sine waves mixed with the sound of a vibrating surface 1 and 2” show how much potential is contained in a pure tone as the resonances generated from the tones are then mixed back with the original tone and additional waves. Pulsating, ringing and disorienting in its recursive layering, yet continually compelling, this kind of work makes one believe that alien landscapes could be discovered on the head of a pin. If they are there, then there are good odds this remarkable artist had a hand in their creation. ”
Rated 9/10, Nick Hennies, Foxy Digitalis

“ On the topic of whether sound artist Jeph Jerman's Hands To was "music," he replied to one EMF Institute interviewer,

At first, I decided that Hands To wasn't music, simply because the pieces I was working on didn't seem to fit into any a priori idea of music. There was also at the time a lot of playing with ideas about what sound does to the listener physically. Friends argued the point with me, and these days I'd be more inclined to say that the Hands To works definitely are music. They are sounds, arranged according to my own likes and dislikes, and set into a context, albeit a sometimes rather obtuse one!

It's in the concept of arrangement that I'm able to wrap my head around Ridge of Undulation's three seashore field recordings. These tracks are all untouched with the exception of a "volume adjustment" indicated in the liner notes. He's chosen these specific recordings both as singular moments in time and as pieces of the album's philosophical vision. The easy joke would involve Target commissioning him to record a nature sounds CD, but Tsunoda places the ocean waves literally between sine waves, a great aural/spatial pun if I've ever heard one.

For the other five tracks, the Japanese sound artist placed piezoceramic sensors on metal and aluminum to record their vibration, which he fused with, well, undulating sine waves. The low pulsing drones of "An aluminum plate with low frequencies_2" and its following track hum like legs wrapped around a monolithic machine, but uncannily mimic "Seashore, Venice beach," which exemplifies the vision Tsunoda wants us to hear: our cognitive relationship with sound. Upon reading some of his notes for Ridge of Undulation, I was a bit wary of his concept, but once I heard and felt the natural/man-made correlation, it was a bit unnerving and almost revelatory. Granted, the album arranges and essentially forces the listener to such a realization, but it's a fascinating dynamic between the artist and the audience and whether one is willing to accept the story.

(Warning: do not listen to this album on headphones. On a philosophical level, if you're going to take in Tsunoda's concept, there needs to be a spatial territory for you to allow outside noise. Aural interaction in space seems to be the meme here. On a personal level, the high-pitched sine waves on two tracks may cause spatial bleeding of the ear canal.)”
Rated 4/5, Lars Gotrich, Tiny Mix Tapes

“[...] The first is the second release on their by Toshiya Tsunoda, who is also responsible for the first release on the label in 1999. Tsunoda works field recordings as-well as music dealing with sound in relation to space. On this new CD there are various examples of this, such as the eight times layered sine waves in the opening and closing pieces of the CD. In between there are three pieces of field recordings. Here they are presented untreated (as usual). Tsunoda knows where to put a microphone and how to make a field recording that is interesting to hear and not 'just' a field recording. Three further pieces on this CD deal with aluminum plates and vibrating objects, picked by piezoceramic sensors to make the vibrations audible. In all eight pieces Tsunoda explores sound phenomena, but it's explorations that are interesting to hear, not just for the sake of exploring. Three different approaches for Tsunoda on one disc, that is something odd. Usually he explores one idea per release (just field recordings, just vibrations), so in that respect this is something of a 'best of' or perhaps 'an introduction'. In any case it's probably the most varied work of Tsunoda so far. In case you need a place to start: here it is.”
Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly