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  • Writer's pictureThom Holmes

Monophonic Imagination: A Conversation with Sound Artist Aki Onda

Photo: Aki Onda 2020

What is the sound of a city community garden during the pandemic? Japanese sound artist Aki Onda made some remarkable soundscapes of these urban green spaces to find out.

Aki Onda has lived in and around the East Village in New York for the past twenty years. After living through much of the pandemic, he and his wife decided to move back to Japan until things get settled down again. Living in a country town in Japan, the atmosphere is much different than the hustle and bustle of the East Village. But he setup a studio for himself in a facility once used for weddings, which is where he completed his work featuring soundscapes of the City Gardens. I spoke with Aki who is in Japan. This episode featured his piece called “Silence Prevails: East Village Community Gardens During the Pandemic 2020.” It consists of a sequence of 7 soundscapes made in 7 different City Gardens.

In our conversation, Aki discussed his affinity for the monophonic cassette recorder, how limiting the sound spectrum increases the imagination of the listener, and what the various kinds of sounds that he captured in the gardens.

We also explored the music of one of Aki’s inspirations, composer José Maceda from the Philippines, a pioneer of pan-Asian electronic and contemporary classical music, whose work we will hear.

Here is a link to Aki Onda’s Bandcamp page where you can listen to and purchase his music.

Here is Aki’s informative personal website, which includes the map and notes for Silence Prevails.


1. Aki Onda, Silence Prevails: East Village Community Gardens During the Pandemic

2020 (2021 Private). Recorded in the City Gardens of the East Village in New York City during the pandemic. All sounds recorded by Aki Onda by using Sony portable cassette recorder.

Sequence starting times:

a) Campos Community Garden (0:00~)

b) La Plaza Cultural de Armando Perez Community Garden (7:64~)

c) El Sol Brillante (14:19~)

d) El Jardin del Paraiso (17:58~)

e) 9th Street Community Garden Park (23:07~)

f) Le Petit Versailles (30:28~ includes music performed by NYOBS)

g) Lower East Side Ecology Center Community Garden (33:36~)

2. José Maceda, “Ugnayan” (excerpt) (2009 Tzadik). Music for 20 radio stations. Original recording from 197 Kolitong (zither), Bungbung (horn), Ongiyung (flute), Bangibang, Balingbing (percussion), Agung, Echo Gong, Chinese Cymbals, José Maceda; Executive-Producer, John Zorn; Zither, Horn, Flute, Percussion, Gong, Cymbal, Antonio Regalario, Arsenio Nicolas, Jr., Fabian Obispo, Felicidad Prudente, Josefina Arrieta, Nita Abrogar, Ruben Federizon. From the liner notes: “This release is a stereo mix of the original twenty tracks recorded under the supervision of the composer in 1973 in the Philippines. The recording sessions took place in the studio of Radio Veritas, the Catholic church radio station, which eventually was used in 1986 by the "People Power" movement to organize resistance to the Marcos dictatorship, and became known as "Radio Bandido" because it kept moving its transmitters so that the military could not not locate them.”

Background music by Aki Onda: Aki Onda, “It’s Gone” from Beautiful Contradiction (1998 All Access). Composed by, samples, programming, field recordings (cassette recorder), Aki Onda; Keyboards, Syunya Mori.

Background music during segment on José Maceda: José Maceda, “Strata” (excerpt) from Drone and Melody (2007 Tzadik). Composition from 1987, released on John Zorn label. Conductors, Ramôn P. Santos and Steed Cowart; Performed by The Mills Performing Group and the Up Contemporary Music Players.

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