Friday, 16 January 2015

Logical Rain: or, the rain in Japan falls...

Sometimes the unintended visits to a place turn out to be the highlights. Although I am here in Dresden on another mission entirely, there is inevitable free time. So having never been to the Japanese Palace on the other side of the Elbe, it was pleasant to while away an hour in the rain.

Yes in the rain. It started with a video  of the Japanese monsoon; lingering shots on industrial landscapes, cityscapes, suburbia, all silent except for the rain. Remembering Whitacre's Cloudburst made me think of rain's musicality. The bursts of forte staccato on a tin roof, the murmuring pianissimo on leaves; an entire orchestra of musical possibility.

The silent people negotiating the driving rain, either by hiding in taxis, waiting under umbrellas, or running across the puddled zebra crossing to get to shelter, seemed immured to the monsoon conditions. I can sympathise. London also has its moments when torrential rain is simply part of its architecture, and Londoners wear it like a coat.

What came next was rather unexpected. A long gallery in muted shades, with both the sounds and sights of the rain. Cleverly positioned speakers gave the impression that the monsoon was ebbing and flowing, building up to a crescendo of thunder. Standing under one of them felt like being in a shower and the murmer of voices in the room receded, leaving that lonely melancholy which the sound of water inspires.

Visually the rain was presented using a selection of original katagami. Over 15000 of these go to make up the largest collection of katagami in the world. Their survival is almost an accident; acquired 120 years ago, they were forgotten about and rediscovered in the museum's storage only recently. They were designs for prestigious kimonos and the more elaborate and complicated the design, the higher up the social hierarchy you had to be to wear them. Some were known as forbidden patterns, the most elaborate was reserved for the shogun and nobility.

The dots and dashes in the paper served to create patterns of the most fluid kind. From thousands of perfectly round tiny puncture holes suggesting misty continuous rain, vigorous diagonals slicing through like torrents, or gentle meandering rivers with water lilies, each intricate piece of paper was the sound of water.

One particular design suggested the interior of the rain. Bubbles wafting past, exploding on contact, leaving nothing but an echo and dots of vapour. To look up to the sky, this image wraps your vision and drowns you in the eye of the storm and thunder rolls around. You can only dream of the gentle moisture around the cherry blossoms and water lilies.

When sound art reflects the place in which it is being presented, it almost disappears because of its 'rightness'. Here the rain fades in and out of consciousness because each image possesses an 'intensity of wet'; to look at a stream, you hear a gentle flow; to look at underwater plants, you hear a dull roaring. The power of the sound lies in its suggestion and this is why it works so well.

The other images to help illustrate the Japanese culture of this period. Farm workers wearing their outdoor clothes, elegant ladies in pattens fight the rain with their delicate paper umbrellas, and a cartoon shows portly gents losing the battle with escaping brollies flying through the air. Most evocative are the boxes in which the paper designs were stored and forgotten for so long.

If you get a chance, go see these never exhibited before mulberry tree bark paper stencils, and listen to the randomised computer modulation of the falling rain. It seems sound art is to be all around us this year... 

Logical Rain at the Japanese Palace, Dresden, until 22 Feb 2015. 

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