• Neil Leonard

Fog, Necromancy and Cartography

Updated: Nov 13, 2020

Excerpts from for pieces published by NewMusicBox (2018).


In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, curator Jen Mergel commissioned Nakaya to create five site-responsive fog sculptures to be installed along Boston’s Emerald Necklace, a five-and-a-half-mile chain of parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (FLO). Experiencing the sculptures is immersive and wet. Changes in the wind, humidity, temperature, and light transform the sculptures. Speaking of her work, Nakaya says, “The atmosphere is my mold and the wind is my chisel to sculpt in real time.” The exhibition, titled Fog x FLO: Fujiko Nakaya on the Emerald Necklace turns the 1,100-acre Emerald Necklace park system into a platform for artistic creation, celebrating both Olmsted’s foresight to connect the city with greenspace and Nakaya’s fifty-year practice. The exhibit included an open call for artists to propose on-site interventions, in response to Nakaya’s sculptures. Fog x FLO is a first for Boston and Nakaya’s most expansive exhibition in her 50-year career. It is expected to attract more than 800,000 visitors over twelve weeks.

I experienced Nakaya’s work before we ever met. In 2014, I wrote about the futuristic Pepsi Pavilion which was covered by a fog veil of Nakaya’s design and created by the group Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) for Expo ’70, Osaka. In 2017, I saw Nakaya’s mesmerizing performance collaboration with Shiro Takatani, composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, and dancer Min Tanaka at Ten Days Six Nights at the Tate Modern. Nakaya also saw my performance with Phill Niblock the following day at the same festival. On the eve of her arrival in Boston from Tokyo in February 2018, Nakaya came to my concert at the ICA Boston called “Sounding the Cloud,” with Scanner and Stephen Vitiello. By April, when Nakaya again visited me, we already had a clear understanding of each other’s practice. She invited me to create sound for her Fog x FLO fog sculpture at the Overlook Shelter Ruins, a pavilion designed by Olmsted that was destroyed by fire in the 1940s, leaving only the stone remains.



Accompanied by Greek professor and audio engineer Nassos Vynios, I traveled to the Necromanteion hoping to record an acoustical marvel. The original temple, established in 1400 B.C., was a structure used by a Chythonic cult which sought to communicate with their ancestors using what we vaguely understood to be a completely unique acoustical phenomena. In modern times, visitors report hearing disembodied voices on site. Without much more to go on, we obtained the permissions to record at Necromanteion and eventually drove four hours from Athens to Ephyra.

The site is perched on a hill with a panoramic view of wetlands where the three rivers canonically associated with Hades converge, the Acheron (“River of woe”), Pyriphlegethon (“Flaming with fire”), and Cocytus (“River of wailing”). In ancient times, the hill was an island that appeared to rise above the surrounding mist. Originally, the site was dedicated to Gaia (Earth)—a Chthonic, or subterranean, Goddess that required nocturnal ritual sacrifice. Visitors wishing to speak to the dead spent days on a preparatory diet of pork, rye bread, and oysters and consumed narcotic compounds prior to entering the subterranean chamber, later called the Temple of Hades and Persephone. Worshipers came from far and wide, and a complex comprising a cluster of hostels, shopping bazaars, and brothels eventual grew to accommodate them.



The last blog entry looked at ways a foreigner can find the pulse of a city and help focus local listening, re-evaluation, and discussion. After creating works that grew out of single keynote sounds, new questions arose for me. How could one create a sound map of an entire province? How literal and comprehensive would that map need to be? How could recordings of diverse acoustical spaces exist in a gallery? A commission from Documenta 14 to create Matanzas Sound Map provided the opportunity to explore these questions.



My recent sound installations include sonic maps documenting how global marketing impacts our listening. These pieces were made in collaboration with bartenders, biologists, street criers, and dockworkers. Sometimes my work focuses on a single sound encountered by chance. At other times, a site’s social and political significance inspires me to look for a collection of sounds that speak to the site’s history. The result has been a series of multichannel installations, comprising a plane of sound—including keynote voices, landscape recordings, and songs—that invite discussion of how social or economic change can be heard on site.


#FujikoNakaya #Matera #Necromancy #Soundandarchitecture #Matanzas #EAT #ExperimentsandArtandTechnology #Necromanteion #NewMusicUSA #NewMusicBox #JenMergel #FredrickLawOlmstead #Chthonic #SoundandArchitecture #Pregonero #MatanzasSoundMap

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