Thursday, July 16, 2020


Aki Onda’s “Nam June’s Spirit Was Speaking to Me” | Ghost in the Machine

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July 16, 2020
Aki Onda’s New Record Uses Radio to Channel the Ghost of Nam June Paik
by Max Pearl
The word “séance” tends to conjure an image of Belle Époque spiritualists: wealthy eccentrics holding hands around a drawing-room table in some drafty old mansion, while a medium possessing the gift—or curse—of paranormal perception converses with the dead through a system of table-knocks. Séances are a key element of sound artist Aki Onda’s recent work, but he doesn’t need a haunted house or a medium to make contact with the world beyond: all he needs is a radio antenna. For his new album, Nam June’s Spirit Was Speaking to Me (Recital, 2020), Onda recorded radio transmissions to produce abstract works of audio collage that, he says, contain the voice of the late South Korean artist Nam June Paik. The resulting four-track LP is compelling as a kind of parapsychological thought experiment, but also stands on its own as a work of richly textured minimalist music.
Onda, who was born in Japan and lives in New York, has been experimenting with found sound since the late 1990s. He is perhaps best known for the ongoing project “Cassette Memories” (2004–), a series of performances in which he manipulates the playback of cassette tapes drawn from an archive of field recordings that he calls his “sound diary.” As Onda describes in the album booklet for Nam June’s Spirit Was Speaking to Me , he first made contact with Paik in 2010, after wandering around the Nam June Paik Art Center in Seoul, taking in the institution’s vast collection of Paik’s art and ephemera. That night in his hotel room, scanning the radio dial with a handheld receiver, Onda heard a muffled voice emerge through the storm of signals.

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