40 Daito Manabe (Media Artist) × Mari Ohno (Sound Artist)

Daito Manabe (Media Artist) × Mari Ohno (Sound Artist)

On February 16, an event dubbed "Midtown Design & Art Live" was held at the atrium of Tokyo Midtown. As part of this event, a talk show was held with media artist Daito Manabe and sound artist Mari Ohno as guests. Manabe is a media artist known for directing the website of Perfume - the Japanese pop band - while Ohno is a sound artist who makes sound effects and installations. At the beginning of the talk show, photos of the works made by the two artists were shown to the audience.

photo_tsukao / text_kentaro inoue

Similar motifs, different output

electric stimulus to face

electric stimulus to face
A short film made in 2008 and released on YouTube. An experimental work to manipulate facial expressions using electric signals, it led to Manabe getting worldwide attention. The movie has been played more than 1.75 million times.

Daito Manabe (hereafter Manabe) This is a photo of a work called "electric stimulus to face". It's an experiment that involves sending electric pulses to move the muscles of the face. A person holds in his hand a device called a myoelectric sensor which senses the faint electric currents emitted when the muscles contract. The strength of the currents sent to the face is manipulated so that when the right hand moves, the muscles around the left eye move, while movements of the left hand lead to muscles movements around the right eye.

Mari Ohno (hereafter Ohno) Ah, that's how it works.

Manabe When I was making this, I had plenty of time on my hands, so I was putting my energy into this kind of thing every night. (laughs) Before this, I had made a device for contemporary dancers which could be attached to their bodies and which transformed their movements into sound. It made me want to make something similar for myself, and since I'm not a dancer, I thought that I could use my facial muscles.

bio effector

bio effector
A work by Mari Ohno and Kosuke Nagata. The sound of blood flow of a person is used to oscillate a sheet hung in a room. The tension of the sheet is changed to give off different sounds, like a string on a musical instrument. The installation was exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo in 2013.

Ohno A work of mine "bio effector" also uses a sensor. When you put your hand over the sensor, the sound of blood flow is detected and reflected as vibrations on a sheet. The sheet's vibrations are controlled by a monitor and the sounds are changed by changing the tension of the sheet. I wanted to make something that expressed the parts of the body which normally cannot be perceived; I wanted to make people feel as if they had gone inside their own bodies.

Manabe Your works also incorporate human bodies and elements such as low-frequency waves, and have three-dimensional and architectural aspects. I think our works have similar motifs but it's interesting that our output is different.

Ohno I once helped to organize one of your events. It was a job at the very bottom-of-the-ladder (laughs) but I was able to learn a lot.

Spending time on self-initiated projects

Manabe I often get ideas for works when I am in the shower.

Ohno I don't do anything particular either to come up with ideas. I just keep doing whatever interests me. Incidentally, what motivates you to make your works?

Manabe Sometimes I'm asked to make something, and sometimes I just want to do a project, so it's either by request or self-initiated. Even when there are no requests, I'm usually doing various experiments, and accumulating experience. When I'm doing my own projects, I can afford to make mistakes and set my own goals. For instance, that face stimulus device wasn't an assignment, and there were no plans to release it but I just kept on making it. Then thanks to YouTube, I began to get offers from people.

Ohno I'm now spending many hours on things that might have no use for anything. But in addition to satisfying my curiosity, I do hope that I can eventually make something that will be useful for people...

Manabe When you become busy with work, it becomes harder to do that, so it's important to set aside time for yourself. I sometimes go abroad - to Europe for example, so that I can shut out the noise and concentrate on creating things. I think that in that sense, self-initiated projects are hard to carry out.

Ohno I start making experiments whenever something catches my interest. I'm always wondering about what kind of results I would get if I did so and so. I have enough time on my hands to do that. (laughs) Right now I have around 100 projects I would like to do if it were not for obstacles such as budget and place.