Interview with Tomoko Ueyama: I want my body to hear more!

by deborah on 02/13/2010

My next interview from Device art 3.009 is here! Tomoko Ueyama‘s jacket Watashi-chan was the reason that we spent some time, during the staging of the exhibition, talking about her projects, sounds and bodies…

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Tomoko Ueyama: Watashi-chan, photo: Ars Electronica


Sound artist Tomoko Ueyama (1972, Japan) studied at IAMAS, receiving there her MA degree. Her artwork Watashi-chan has been presented internationally on many exhibitions. In the year 2000 she has received Honorary Mention Award in the category of Interactive Art at Ars Electronica.

Tomoko, can you tell me a bit about your project Watashi-chan?

TU: My work Watashi-chan is a wearable object, something like a waistcoat. It’s has lots of balloons attached over the whole garment. The microphone is sewn on the collar and it catches the sound. As soon as the microphone catches the sound, it triggers via software the pneumatic system which then inflates balloons outside the vest.

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Tomoko Ueyama at Device_art 3.009

The frequency signals are calculated and a digital signal is sent to one of six electromagnetic valves in order to open it. That means that balloons are inflated accordingly to the quantity of signals, frequency signals. Of course, the whole mechanism is designed to prevent balloons from popping out or balloon rocket by a system that slightly releases the air.

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Tomoko Ueyama: Watashi-chan

So, the microphone is reacting to the sound by mapping high frequencies. What I wanted to say with my work is that maybe I didn’t hear some sound but that doesn’t mean the sound doesn’t exist. Hence, my jacket will hear it, recognize it and it will show they existed with balloons. Watashi-chan jacket has a good ear, almost like a human being, sometimes even better. I’m saying this because the human audio range is divided into six frequency bands.

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Tomoko Ueyama at Device_art 3.009

What does it mean Watachi-chan in Japanese?

TU: Watashi is a first person pronunciation in Japanese languge. That means ‘I’ in a sense of oneself. And the word Chan is simply added to a personal noun in order to express open and friendly attitude to people. Because Watashi-chan can recognize sounds that we sometimes even don’t notice, I think my wearable object can remind them that something has happened in the spheres of sound. Hence, Watashi-chan signifies and re-presents another oneself.

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Tomoko Ueyama: Watashi-chan at Ars Electronica
Photo: Otto Saxinger

The project was made in 2000, and in a sense you did a pioneering project in sound art and wearable technology at IAMAS… What were the reactions of people and is there another version of the project?

TU: People usually like to wear it. Of course, when it’s exhibited in the gallery visitors can not go outside with the jacket.

Now, I am using huge air compressor because the project is on the exhibition, but when I am presenting and using Watachi-chan as a wearable object,  then the system is less complicated.  For these kind of  presentations I am not using this  complex air compressor, but diving cylinder that person who wears it can go freely outdoors. It’s simply smaller equipment. So, there are actually two versions of Watashi-chan.

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Watashi-chan on the streets of Nagoya

What inspired you to design Watachi-chan?

TU: My background is in sound art. I really like sound making. Therefore, making sounds or music makes no different to me, because I simply love it. I want to know more on sound and I want to listen it as longer I could in different ways. These are my motifs in sound art.

I want to share my experiences during these processes with other people. I think that most people doesn’t necessarily have to hear all sounds that surrounds us. But we, sound artists have to perceive the sound. So I want to hear more and more in order to show them the beauty.

Have there been other artists in particular that have had influence your work?

TU: Yes! My work is inspired by sound artists Yukio Fujimoto, Akio Suzuki among many…

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Watashi-chan on the streets of Nagoya

Are you interested in doing something tactile in the future? Because sound is widespread through the space… but it would be interesting to present sound in more tangible sense…

TU: Yeah! That’s what I am interested in. I want my body to hear more! I think human beings have possibilities to extend their perception of sound not only by being focused on sounds that could be heard with our ears. Our body is a very powerful fine tuned instrument for sound hearing. Body is sensoring everything around the sound, I think.

As for the future, I want to work more on these senses and how to feel better the sound. I’m interested in body sensing, to hear the sound better.

For example, I can let the voice out loudly, but that doesn’t mean you have sensed it. I want to do more sound catching by the whole body. That means that I want to hear and I want to feel the way our body can hear.

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Tomoko Ueyama at Device_art 3.009

Do you have any interests in composing?

TU: I’m not interested in composing or something. I like to make sound effects… I have worked too on radio stations, on radio drama’s, sounds for theatre plays and performances. I also like field recording, catching sounds in the nature or sounds from the cities.

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Watashi-chan at Device art 3.009, photo: kroativ (c)

What kind of sound do you enjoy the most?

TU: Oh, there are so many of them. I like noise a lot. Loud loud and louder sounds, this is what I like. But on the other hand, I like too minimal sounds. They are so beautiful.

How and when did your interest in sound get started?

TU: In1998 I went to IAMAS. But back then I didn’t know how to use computer. I was very interested in making things. Until then I used for work my tape recorder (laughs). My friends have taught me all about computer and computing. I couldn’t do any programming but my teachers and friends were so helpful to me. It’s so precious to have such people around. They have learnt me everything about that.

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Tomoko Ueyama: Watashi-chan, photo: Ars Electronica

Tomoko, what’s next? What are your plans for the next project?

TU: I’m planning to do something with the floating objects. Small balloons that will capture the sound in space between objects. They will sort of materialize the sound, catch the sound so that we can actually see it. I’m interested in capturing the sound between two close bodies… The sound that exists between them in small space. Because this space is consisted of many many sound waves. I want to feel this space between bodies…

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Tomoko Ueyama at Device_art 3.009

Interesting, because Watashi-chan is connected with ‘your own body’ and the next thing is going to include more bodies…

TU: Yeah, exactly. I hope everything will be finished in 2010 depending on other obligations. Hopefully it will be presented at some exhibition. I want to exhibit it.

Tomoko, TNX!

Related links:
Interview with Mika Fukumori: On Ototenji and IAMAS
Interview with Yosuke Kawamura: Mixing analogue and digital worlds
Interview with So Kanno: Creating sound devices