December 11, 2014

Sleepless nights amid neon lights: the first 24, listless and lonely hours in the Japanese capital explored in new ethereal video/soundscape collaboration.


Landing at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport is something Huw ‘Bunf’ Bunford, guitarist with Super Furry Animals, has done time and time again. Yet, during 15 years of touring in the band, no amount of preparation prevented him lying awake, pacing the streets and staring, transfixed into neon-lit shop windows for his first 24 hours in Japan. The wide-eyed ‘Tokyo initiation’, familiar to so many travellers, has now been beautifully captured in Tokyo Hotel Silence, a masterful study of the city in soundscape recording and video art.

The Pale Blue Dots ‘Tokyo Hotel Silence’ from MarkJamesWorks on Vimeo.

Long-time Super Furries collaborator, artist and designer, Mark James’ interpretation of the guitarist’s experiences on film (much like his own, having visited Japan repeatedly), has resulted in a bleary-eyed tour of a jetlagged mind. He travelled to Shibuya, Tokyo’s beating heart, in November to gather footage over four days, after listening to the musician’s hypnotic, archive recording of a Tokyo hotel room.

The guitarist captured the ‘silence’ of the city having arrived on a Super Furry Animals tour in December 2001. After his senses were assaulted in the foyer by an 8ft Father Christmas and fifty accompanying elves, he retired to record the hum of air conditioning, random electrical interference

and the sound of music emerging from open lift doors form just a few of the incidental noises – all of the little, deafening things that keep weary travellers wide awake.

Bunf says: “After 14 hours on the flight and a hundred Tannoy announcements ringing in your ears, you finally step into Tokyo. Eventually getting to my hotel room, waiting for me is a lovely bowl of fruit and an envelope with the words “Welcome Huw”. After a few minutes you open the lightweight curtains, marvel at the city outside, and from then on in it’s a 24 hour ‘walkathon’. You walk around the room, you walk to the vending machine, you bump into your friend and walk to the bar and then the next bar, maybe to a department store at 3am, but your head is still made of fuzz. Perhaps, you wish you’d just gone straight to bed. I will never get out of Tokyo’s grip, and neither do I want to.”

Following Mark James’ arrival in the city, he immediately fell into same listless sense of wakeful disorientation, which gave rise to numerous opportunities to capture the city in its eerie slumber. Pacing between abandoned, brightly illuminated streets, deserted hotel corridors and experiencing incomprehensible late-night TV, the resultant video piece evokes every solitary footstep in the city’s artificial light, and the distinct loneliness a traveller can feel in such a busy, 24 hour location.

James says: “Tokyo is one of a kind, a complete playground for the senses, but things get very surreal when you haven’t slept. The feeling of isolation is almost overwhelming when you’re pacing the streets at 3am, appearing to be the only person in the entire city and ‘Tokyo Hotel Silence’ is a literal soundtrack to that loneliness. The video makes a visual record of the experience, but with careful treatments and the audio alongside it, it evokes the almost unexplainable sense of quiet unease that washes through you until you’ve adjusted to life in Tokyo.”

As a filmmaker, James has now created videos for the individual projects of each of the five members of Super Furry Animals since they announced their hiatus in 2010, including Gruff Rhys’ Candylion, Cian Ciarán’s 1/7/69, Gulp’s (bass player Guto Pryce) Play and The Earth’s (drummer Daf Ieuan) Baby Bones. Tokyo Hotel Silence was released on ‘Lots of Dots’, Bunf’s September 2014 album release with composer Richard Chester, coming together as The Pale Blue Dots.

Bunf is a secret collector of sounds, amassing a significant collection of audio cassettes full of recordings made during his global travels. Many of these will be gradually introduced into The Pale Blue Dots’ recordings. His exploration and appropriation of atmospheric sounds saw him commissioned by The Whitworth Gallery, Manchester in 2012, being set free to gather sounds from University of Manchester grounds, including Jodrell Bank, to be used later in a collaborative performance with artist, Naomi Kashiwagi.

Mark James regularly exhibits his work in his *Subject to Change gallery in Cardiff and has worked with artists as diverse as Karl Hyde, Giles Peterson and Jamie Cullum on art direction duties. He was recently embroiled in international controversy for his work to create the Dirty Bird Chicken logo.

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