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

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

Thinking about works for Roppongi

A flight of stairs in Sony Building between the first floor and basement which lights up and emits sounds when a person walks on it. Manabe was engaged in developing the system for the stairs during the renovation made in 2006. The lights and sounds have been programmed to change depending on how people walk on the steps. For example, when the very top or the very bottom of the stairs has been stepped on for the 30th consecutive time, an "arpeggio" pattern is set off.

Manabe The theme of today's talks is "The future of Roppongi and design and art." I think Roppongi is a good place for people who do fieldwork when making their works. But what matters more to me is people rather than place. That's because my works start with people such as performers and dancers...I suppose it must be the same for you too, Ohno-san, since you use data on human bodies to make your works.

Ohno Yes. Few of my works are town-oriented. I try to express myself mainly through sounds, and that's why I have more interest in the characteristics and temperature of a certain space or environment rather than in the town itself.

Manabe At my company Rhizomatiks, when we make installations for towns, we sometimes put in hidden commands that let us to sort of leave our mark. For example, we made the system for the "Melodystep" stairs in Sony building in Ginza; when you use the stairs, a note from the musical scale is sounded and a lamp is lighted with each step. We added a command to this system so that when the very top of the stairs is stepped on for the 30th time, a special pattern is set off.

Sometimes when I walk the streets, I notice things like the tiles on the ground. I think to myself, "They seem be randomly placed, but maybe there's a hidden pattern here," and I get into a mystery-solving mode.

Artwork that use data and height difference

Manabe Works I've recently made include visuals based on accumulated and analyzed data. I've also made software that can automatically create rap music. Incidentally, buildings such this building are filled with sensors. There are probably tons of surveillance cameras and microphones, and when you go out into the streets, ultrasonic sound waves are being emitted here and there to drive away mice.

Huge amounts of data are currently being used for proper purposes like security, but my area of expertise is doing something different with that kind of massive data to make new things. So I would be keen to do something in Roppongi in the genre of art, making use of such data.

Ohno I use technology as a tool to perceive nature and humans, so I'm interested in the characteristics of the sounds in the streets. In Roppongi, the Oedo Line runs really deep underground, while the observation tower is very high. I think it would be interesting to make a work utilizing the sounds produced from the differences in height.

Manabe That sounds like a project that would be possible only in Roppongi.

Ohno This is not about art, but in World War II, a device that was like a long horn was made to discern the sounds of enemy airplanes. It's an example of making use of heights and sound. I don't think there is an artwork that uses the kind of height difference that exists in Roppongi, so I would like to make such an artwork here if it's feasible.

Why children should not come to Roppongi

Ohno We have a question from the audience: "If you were to make works in Roppongi geared toward children, what kind of works would you make?"

Manabe In the daytime, the sunlight is too bright and it's not possible to use projectors and lighting, so I think I would make robotic works. I've made some works for children in the past: the important thing when making things for children is to design an interface that works even when handled in a haphazard way. But I'm not sure if works [for children] are suitable for Roppongi.

Ohno Roppongi is a place which people visit for a certain purpose - to do shopping or to look at art. It's a place where people are passive, and on the receiving end. So children shouldn't come to Roppongi. (laughs)

Manabe If there was a specific need - such as providing a playing place for children while their parents are shopping, I think I could design or make something to meet that need. It's easier for me to come up with ideas when given actual conditions to work under, like perhaps making something for that skating spot (Diners Club International Ice Rink in Tokyo Midtown).

Ohno I think it's better for children to play in places where there is nothing so that they can develop their playing skills. Perhaps a desert would be better than Roppongi.

Manabe Roppongi is quite a tricky place, isn't it?