I used to know of a guy online called Roger. He used to be a regular on a music forum I frequented in my teens and he was the resident expert on experimental and out-of-this-world musics. I remember his avatar was a photo of Christian Vander, on stage with Magma, a disturbing grimace across his face as if channelling Saturn Devouring His Son. He was particularly interested in experimental musics from Japan. He introduced many of us to Japanese noise outfit The Gerogerigegege and he remains my key to spelling their name.
For better and for worse, I was most receptive to the band’s gross-out antics as a 15 year old and they served as a gateway to a world of Japanese noise and ambient that I might not have otherwise explored. The hilarity and relentless energy of Tokyo Anal Dynamite overjoyed whilst albums like Hell Driver and Endless Humiliation kept me up at night.
Alongside its music scenes, Japan has also fascinated me for its experimental photography and I can’t help but view both mediums on similar terms.
Daisuke Yokota is one such photographer that I have been following with some interest since I came across his work in 2013. Around this time, I read a description of his work that was surprisingly musical:
Creating a haunting imagery by the recourse of layers and manipulation (photocopy, photoshop and re-photographing), Daisuke Yokota plays with effects borrowed from music such as delay, reverb, and echo to challenge the photographic representation of duration and the sensation of time.
This way of working is well-trodden ground — although Yokota’s results are particularly pleasing — but what intrigued me most was the conscious alignment of his work with music rather than with fellow countrymen, Daido Moriyama most famously pioneering a similar sort of “style”. His practice is essentially dub photography and, just like the reggae-rooted musical genre, it is a dissection and warping of the quasi-temporal nature of photography; of experimentation, remixing and reshaping.
In Ocean of Sound, David Toop describes dub as follows:
When you double, or dub, you replicate, reinvent, make one of many versions. There is no such thing as an original mix, since music stored on multi-track tape, floppy disk or hard disk, is just a collection of bits. The composition has been decomposed, already, by technology. Dubbing, at its very best, takes each bit and imbues it with new life, turning rational order of musical sequences into an ocean of sensation.
Similar ideas and techniques to these have existed photographically since the medium’s inception. In this way, to call something “dub photography” is to simply rename something always already inherent to photography. The ubiquity of Photoshop has now made these ideas wholly inseparable from the medium and the overabundance of glitch projects that tamper with the coding that constitutes JPEGs feels like a continuation of this productively destructive tradition of impurity. It is perhaps because of this seamless absorption into the digital medium, these analogue dubbing processes are now increasingly used for play, without acknowledging the similar ubiquity of their precedents.
Previously I have written on the inherent anxiety of a medium like photography and the visual spectacle of dubbing is a case in point. Take, for example, this scene from Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up — perhaps the most famous example of photographic dubbing on screen — which at first feels anxious as Thomas, a fashion photographer, examines, dubs and blows up his photographs, believing to have unwittingly foiled an attempted murder during a photo shoot, attempting to somehow dub his own memory and perception along with that of the camera, hoping to find some new perspective beyond the spatiotemporal rigidity of the phenomenological eye and the virtuality of its negative.
He is certain that he has captured something in the background of a series of photographs taken in a London park, he just — somewhat ironically — cannot see it yet. Despite Thomas’s rushed, fervent, even panicked looking, the process of producing these dub images is aesthetically enchanting in a way similar to Yokota’s. Let us not forget that Thomas’s comment, on ringing up a friend, is that these pregnant and violent images are “fantastic”, cherishing the interpersonal and material violence of the process.
Watching the scene itself — the unfolding process of developing, dubbing, printing, blowing up — is beautiful. It demonstrates an intensity of looking that, despite the end goal, imbues the thrill of photography’s material processes with a paranormality that is often only associated with the final image but which will be recognisable to anyone who has seen a photograph appear out of thin air in a red-lit dark room.
Every time I watch this scene, I want to explore the possibilities hidden within my own archive of photographic negatives and find the beautiful violence within.
Using these photographic techniques for reasons other than their “original” and practical purposes is something deeply rooted in many experimental musics, so when I read that Yokota counts Aphex Twin as one of his primary influences, I was not surprised.
Aphex Twin AKA Richard D. James is perhaps the most obvious modern figurehead for the creative abuse of modernist music technologies. His various and infamous antics — DJing with sandpaper comes to mind — are far more applicable and contemporaneous to Yokota’s wider practice and performances than, say, those of dub pioneer King Tubby.
To define dub by its use of the studio as an instrument is not where these practices are at their most interesting. For Yokota, Aphex Twin is a much better and more interesting fit when RDJ is understood, primarily, as a DJ.
As John Doran notes, writing a storming lead review of the 2015 AFX EP Orphaned Deejay Selek 2006-2008 for The Quietus:
When thinking about Aphex Twin and progress, we should ideally look at it from several perspectives. If we’re considering Richard D. James then we need to take an inclusive look at his entire cultural output in different time frames. [I]s it reasonable to assume that his bleeding edge instincts should necessarily be satisfied in the studio? I’d say a lot of this pioneering spirit is pushed into his DJ sets — in terms of visuals and sound engineering as well as the actual process of mixing. I see him primarily as a DJ — he’s consistently been in my top five for the last 20 years — and many others do as well.
There is a sense that, in watching an Aphex Twin DJ set, you are watching him manically distil his otherwise rigorous studio practice down into a one-hour flash of mobile intensity. I can’t remember where I remember hearing this — and with Aphex it surely doesn’t matter — but I am sure he once claimed to mix down tracks whilst DJing in order to play them out immediately, flattening the perceived gap between producer and DJ.
Daisuke Yokota’s approach to performance feels very similar. If to DJ for Aphex is to somehow present the mania of the studio live, Yokota is likewise well-known for his book and print-making performances in which he demonstrates the energy of creating his objects in front of a live audience.
One such performance, in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, noddied to the Aphex influence explicitly with the name “Effect Twin”, with Yokota and fellow photographer Hiroshi Takisawa performing a b2b set of photographic dubbery.
Much of what Yokota achieves with his practice, whilst it is rooted in what many would refer to as an analogue “discipline”, is the explicit result of doing things wrong and his boundless approach to experimentation means that damage and obscurity are the foundation on which he builds upon, intervening and honing that which is technically “ruined”. His is a kind of Raku photography that does not avoid the further productive and destructive potentials of digital media and technology. Elsewhere, he regularly exposes photographic film, prior to its machinic manipulation, with boiling water, fire and acid.
Both Aphex and Yokota have “acid” in common — and it is a word that has featured on this blog and elsewhere many times for its restlessly revolutionary connotations. In countless contexts, it infers a kind of xenobody horror. Acid desolves all materials — flesh and object. This is how Yokota’s images feel too. His is a world viewed through acid-damaged cameras and, by extension, eyes, clinically blinded by radioactive waste. Echoing a lineage of so much culture reacting directly and indirectly to a changed world in the aftermath of twentieth-century Holocausts; of Fat Man and Little Boy. They give the illusion of allowing us to see an alien and alternate world previously unseen, like nuclear explosions captured by rapatronic cameras.
With Yokota’s visuals, the advice remains the same as that offered by Simon Reynolds when exposed to AFX Acid. Reynolds says of “Isoprophlex”:
James was no slouch when it came to industrial-strength hardcore. The chemical-formula title and astringent sound of Isoprophlex suggests a nasty corrosive fluid, the kind whose container carries warnings like ‘avoid inhalation’ and ‘irrigate the eye area immediately, then seek medical help.’
With Aphex, the advice should perhaps be “irrigate your ears”, with Yokota the advice remains the same. If you get to close, be prepared to seek medical attention.
A version of this post originally appeared on an old blog in around 2015. The end of this post later grew into “Aphex Acid“.
Hey! This blog is starting to get the feel of old kpunk acceleration: I understand only a quarter of it and I’m able to read only half of it but the ride is vertiginous. 🙂
Thank you for giving a theorethical edge to this kind of photographic practices and linking them with Noise and Dub. There are not many intelligent people writing about them.
Your observations gave me a few ideas 😉 : “So, I wasn’t “just” hacking around trying to blend two mediums in one”. 😀
Stay safe and keep rocking!