Breezes and Tin Foil: An Interview with Maru Alayon
by Norberto Roldan
Norberto Roldan (NR): When and how did you meet Ami Yamasaki? What do you think of her as an artist?
Maru Alayon (MA): I met Ami Yamasaki on 27 June 2018 when she had a talk here at the Ang Panublion Museum. I was lucky to have been invited along with other artists to attend her talk. A few days after, I invited her to join a Guhit Pinas Capiz meet-up and to give another talk to its members. From the start, I found her to be very approachable so I was eager to become friends with her and to know more about her. Aside from being cute, pretty, and sweet, she is very talented, specifically with her craft, using her voice to make sounds.
NR: What did you learn from her talk at the museum? Was this the first time you encountered an artist who produces sound as a work of art?
MA: Yes. It was mind-blowing to hear her perform during her talk at the museum. When she performed in front of us, I was shocked and surprised to hear the weird sounds she produced. Because of her unique presentation, I learned to appreciate sound art. I realized that there is power in using your own voice, and that you can use sound waves and vibrations. With sound, even if your eyes are closed, you can visualize your surroundings or measure distance by just listening. I think that was cool. Her medium is also a good tool for creative activities like music where you experiment with pitch, notes, and cadence. Her process was very interesting. It actually took me a few days before the whole experience sunk in.
NR: Can you share about the workshop Ami conducted with your students at the Filamer Christian University (FCU)? I understand that the workshop was intended for some students to participate in Ami’s performance for the 2018 Visayas Islands Visual Arts Exhibition and Conference (VIVA ExCon). How did the workshop go with the students?
MA: When Ami returned to Japan after her first visit to Roxas in June, we continued to communicate via Facebook and Messenger.
During one of our chats, she brought up her idea of collaborating with my students, particularly the students who were members of the FCU Blueprint, the students’ art organization. I told her that I would be happy to assist her and organize the students.
She came back to Roxas in preparation for VIVA ExCon and, on 5 October 2018, she conducted a workshop at the FCU Chapel with the students. I gathered around 20 junior and senior high school students who were members of the art organization, so these students were already familiar with art in general.
During the workshop, Ami gave the participants vocal lessons, and exercises in vocalization. There was also a workshop on listening. The participants were asked to draw a figure based on what they listened to.
One memorable activity was when the participants were asked to form a circle. Ami handed tin foil to one participant and instructed for it to be passed around without creating any sound. It was quite challenging because one’s breathing, body movement, or even the slight breeze coming out from the air conditioning unit could agitate the foil and produce a sound. So the purpose of the exercise was to illustrate the connection between sound and movement.
Unfortunately, the schedule of Ami’s performance during the VIVA ExCon was not suitable for the students who were mostly minors.1 So the actual collaboration with her did not happen. But the students learned a lot from Ami and her workshop.
What I personally learned from Ami was how to be more aware of even the most mundane sounds from our surroundings. Ami taught me how to appreciate my sense of hearing more. I have also realized that art is not just visual, although you can of course visualize sound.
NR: How was it working with a Japanese artist for the first time? What did you learn from her practice and how will that experience help you in your own practice?
MA: I have always been interested in anime. So meeting a Japanese artist is always exciting for me. I’ve met other Japanese people before, but I found an instant connection with her. I admire her passion for her practice. She uses her art to connect with people and that’s why she always travels outside of her country. She is also very generous with her ideas. She inspires other artists.
After the VIVA ExCon in Roxas, we barely communicated except whenever there are natural disasters like typhoons or earthquakes happening in Japan or in the Philippines, and we try to check on each other.
NR: Do you see yourself working with her again in the future if an opportunity comes around?
MA: I wish that will be possible in the future. I teach courses in Bachelor of Culture and Arts at the FCU. What I have learned from Ami during our brief encounters has been very useful in my teaching career. In my own art practice, I want to experiment with new forms. Ami has shown me that there are no limits to experimentation, and that there are always new things to learn. Working with her was like a journey of discoveries.
1 Ami Yamasaki, in collaboration with LIGHTWEAVERS, performed on the night of 10 November 2018 as part of the HERESY Special Showcase at El Circulo in Pueblo de Panay.
This interview was conducted via Messenger on 30 October 2021. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Maru Alayon is a multimedia artist based in Roxas City and is active in the local arts community. He also teaches art at the Filamer Christian University (FCU). He met Japanese sound artist Ami Yamasaki in Roxas during a workshop that Ami conducted as part of the run-up for the VIVA ExCon Capiz 2018.