Japanese artist and musician Tomoko Sauvage presents Hydromancy, a concert in which a set of her own instruments played in the darkness of the Museo’s Vaults Gallery and the use of water as sound material create, quite literally, an immersive experience. Unsurprisingly, her latest record Musique Hydromantique, released by Shelter Press in 2017, was conceived to be listened at night or at dawn, making use of the changes of audible perception that occur at that time, when people’s mechanical celerity has a shifting intensity and the activity of other animals is altered through temperature variations.
Sauvage admits that the naming of her pieces is an additional process that does not necessarily bear a relation to her sound experimentation. Thus Musique Hydromantique is a simple wordplay that mixes different references; to come upon the title, she firstly focused on the name of the second track on the album, Fortune Biscuit, in reference to the cookies that became popular in Chinese restaurants in Los Angeles. From there she moved on to the Japanese tradition known as omikuji, or fortune papers – fortune-telling paper strips drawn randomly, similar to that which occurs at Shinto shrines. Finally, there is a patent allusion to hydromancy, a method of water divination whereby the ripples, bubbles and colours of the element become an oracle.
To give form to the concert the artist has created a waterbowl instrument, made from a series of porcelain or glass bowls amplified through a hydrophone i.e. underwater microphones that pick up the movements and dripping water produced in the performance. The waterbowl is part of a reinterpretation of Jalatharangam or Jal tarang, a percussion instrument traditionally used in southern India and comprising a series of bowls filled with water at different levels, the edges of which are struck with wooden sticks. Sauvage became aware of the technique at an Aanayampatti Ganesan performance, led by her interest in Indian improvisation and pieces by North American composers Terry Riley and Alice Coltrane.
This reference is coupled with her growing and avowed fascination with underwater feedback, a term which describes the process of water ripples captured by hydrophones and carried outside the water in real time through speakers. The sound that comes out produces vibrations in the air of the surrounding environment, reverberating with the specific acoustics of the space and making the water surface vibrate. This rippling energy feeds back the loop as it occupies the circulating air and as it again comes into contact with the water and the hydrophones. Thus the audience is submerged in these water and air vibrations, immersed in a form of “subaquatic feedback”.
Tomoko Sauvage is a Japanese musician and artist based in France who explores the sculptural capabilities of sound and improvisation in relation to the environment. She has developed her solo work with water in pieces such as Amniotic Life (2009) and Musique Hydromantique (2017).