Schwoop. Bap. Tschk-tschk. Dom. Dung.
No, the start to this review isn’t full of typos; it’s my attempt at onomatopoeia to capture the sounds that greet viewers at Nobuo Kubota’s YYZ exhibit Sonic Scores. Kubota is a Canadian multimedia artist who often uses sound in his work. His practice is inspired by an interest in jazz and Zen Buddhism, and Sonic Scores presents elements attributed to both of these traditions.
Kubota’s rich audio recordings—the inspiration for his drawings—play on headphones located at the center of the gallery. His calligraphic renderings of the sounds swirl around visitors as they listen, creating a fully immersive experience. Image and sound compete for attention as viewers attempt to locate where the peaks of sound on the audio pair up with Kubota’s drawings.
It is no accident that Kubota’s drawings recall brush and ink painting techniques; he used a traditional Chinese brush to create the original “scores.” The sketchy lines in the first drawing of the exhibit recall a printout of a seismograph. Five registers of lines huddle together, draw apart, thicken, and thin, scraping across the page. Moving through the exhibit, it becomes apparent that Kubota has improvised these drawings, abstracting them from the original score. In one print he has rotated the original image 90 degrees, reduced it to only one line, and magnified it. This increase in scale makes the nuances of the line visible, as if he is pictorially transcribing the breaths and pauses contained in the voice recording.
Kubota’s engagement with sound and improvisation is the central focus of the show. The scores are stark, almost bleak, in their lack of color or context. But it is the stripping away of everything except the line that makes these works so sublime. The mini-mountain ranges produced by the swells of the line are soft and undulating from a distance, but up close, the scratchings of the brush are almost audible. Kubota’s visualization and reinterpretation of sounds create a dynamic multi-sensory exhibit that is compact and focused, but also expansive and wandering.
Sonic Scores will be on view at YYZ through March 8.