The press that accompanied the 2007 release of Yui Onodera’s astonishing Suisei, for field recordings and pipe organ noted three translations of its title: aquatic, a comet and the planet Mercury.
There is a fourth possible reference point. Onodera confirmed for me that there is no connection to his recording, but Japan’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science launched a space probe under the same name in 1986 – to observe the sun’s hydrogen corona before and after Halley’s Comet crossed its ecliptic plane that year.
Revisiting this five-part, 42-minute piece a decade and a half on, its ability to accommodate multiple perspectives – real or imagined – is extraordinary. Surely this is not the first blog post to note how beautifully open to interpretation Onodera’s work is.
It bears restating though. Whether you hear Suisei as an audio water study, a visit to our sun’s nearest planetary neighbour or something else entirely is less important than the fact that you hear it with the openness and attention to detail it deserves.
Besides the pump organ, Onodera used off-the-shelf dictation and contact microphones for his field recordings. So there are sections of the piece with a kind of flat intensity that obscures the recordings’ origins.
Besides its aesthetic value, this further disconnects the work from an explicit understanding of its focus. Listeners will find their mind wandering in these sections, probably in a wide variety of directions. This all feels very much by design.
“I listened to this work for the first time in a while while remastering,” said Onodera. “It was created with far fewer instruments than [we are used to hearing] now.” He told me this gave Suisei a richer sound than it might otherwise have had.
There is sometimes a nuanced distinction between ambient music and sound art. Indeed, many artists do their best work in that in-between space. Suisei is unquestionably a piece of audio art. It is certainly decorative, but its primary purpose is to capture, and reward, your focused attention.