(Brooklyn Academy of Music, 2021)
Naoyuki Arashi is a sound artist who goes by ASUNA in Tokyo’s experimental music world. Starting in punk bands as a teenager, Arashi became best known for sound installations (some of which incorporate musical toys) and ambient albums with track names like “How a Spiral Works” (2019) and “tiny worms wriggling under the light shines” (2016).
This fall he brought his piece 100 Keyboards (Moiré Resonance by Interference Frequency) to BAM Fisher for its US debut. In the darkened black box theater, a circle of synthesizer keyboards was arranged on the floor—smallest to largest—radiating out from the glow of a small table lamp at the center. Arashi paced within the mandala of machines, stooping to wedge what appeared to be popsicle sticks between the piano keys of the instruments, depressing one note at a time into a continuous sustain.
100 Keyboards is the careful construction of a single chord with many notes, chosen according to the unique resonance of each performance space. The battery-powered electronics—many of which are toys and beginner pianos—differ from one another in timbre and harmonics; even the same note can be rendered with slight fluctuations, making the sound that rises from their little speakers a chorus of gently colliding imperfections. Arashi aligns the phenomenon with the moiré effect, in which similar but not quite parallel lines or soundwaves form visual or auditory interference. In graphics this can create optical illusions; in fabric weaving, subtly misaligned warp and weft can give silk an appearance like oil rippling on the water. In 100 Keyboards, Arashi lets the moiré of imperfectly aligned notes form “a complex distribution of acoustic pressure” that plays tricks on the ears.