Audio artist Kikù Hibino associates memory with sound

Kikù Hibino performing at MCA on July 9th.

To say Chicago-based audio artist Kikù Hibino is having a prolific year is an understatement. With residencies at Experimental Sound Studio (ESS) and Compound Yellow; performances and workshops at these two venues, as well as at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (MCA); and an installation at Lincoln Park Conservatory, I struggled to keep this profile to count the words. His practice takes many forms, including community organizing, and is an ongoing attempt to “find the meeting points of ambient and rhythm-based music“.

Hibino debuted a new pair of soundworks — a posthumous collaboration with close friend Gregory Bae — at MCA on July 9. (Bae died in 2021; I first encountered Hibino while researching his In Memoriam.) The performance coincided with the opening of Bae’s “Chicago Works” exhibit. Curator Nolan Jimbo’s moving remarks on Bae’s work and legacy included an anecdote about a mechanized room that malfunctioned until opening day, adding to the collective sense that Bae was spiritually present for the celebration this afternoon. noon there.

Hibino’s MCA set was conceived during his recent ESS Outer Ear residency in Bae’s hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah. In our interviews, the way he spoke about the experience made it clear that it was a mourning residence for Hibino; specifically while camping in Zion National Park, taking field recordings amid the harsh landscape as he mourned the passing of his friend. These recordings served as the source material for both performances: first, “Somatic Tracing” in collaboration with Mitsu Salmon (a Salt Lake City resident who hosted Hibino); and second, “Ex Radios” with Haruhi Kobayashi and Steven Hess.

Gregory Bae (born 1986, Salt Lake City, UT; died 2021, Chicago, IL), “Ex Radios” (detail), 2019. Collage in packing tape and radio antennas, 10 × 720 inches, with Courtesy of the Bae family

This last move was in response to Bae’s “Ex Radios”, a collage exhibited at the MCA. Between immersing himself in Zion’s topographic models and examining the use of systems and lines in “Ex Radios”, Hibino began to see “patterns everywhere”. He drew inspiration from Bae’s meticulous collage technique to create a series of micro-beats and mini-loops. Shortly before his death, Bae told Hibino that the “Ex” series—composed of collages made from mechanical instruction manuals meaningful to Bae—was his favorite. Bae said of the series, “Discernible language is removed.” Hibino honored this process of sound abstraction by cutting and pasting tiny pieces of music, much like Bae did with scraps of paper.

Installation view, “Chicago Works: Gregory Bae”, MCA Chicago. June 28-January 29, 2023 /Photo: Nathan Keay © MCA Chicago

Both movements are haunting but not painful ambient works that reverberate throughout the museum’s atrium and the galleries beyond. The repetitive (but not redundant) soundtracks included elements of soothing spoken words, softly sung passages, and grounded beats that sounded almost intentionally binaural. (Hibino confirmed they weren’t.) The performance fluctuated, sometimes building momentum like a speeding train, then gently backing off. Standing in places, you could hear the mechanical hum of Bae’s treadmill (“24-7, 365 [#5]”) mixing with Hibino’s audio; this element, plus the whispers of the large crowd gathered to remember and celebrate Bae, created a remarkable hybrid aural experience: a soothing fusion of sound art and mechanical noise punctuated by the din of low-voiced conversation.

Not far from the MCA, the Lincoln Park Conservatory hosts another brand new work by Hibino: “Fell to Fern”. The composition is inspired by memories of her grandparents’ traditional tea garden in her hometown in Japan as well as the healing power of plants. This vernal anthem, presented as part of ESS’ Florasonic series, is twenty minutes long and plays at the top of every hour. At 12:02, the subtle installation was initially so indistinguishable from the resonance of the running waterfalls that I feared there was a malfunction. As with MCA’s performance, the soundtrack ended up getting bigger: serenading the turtles and ferns and leaving me with the distinct impression that the plants were talking to me (and maybe listening to me). Despite occasional moments of contention, there was something fundamentally calming about the work, made worse by the soothing warmth and humidity of the Fern Room. As the early afternoon light changed in perfect sync with the sound, I dreamed of coming back in the night and falling asleep under the trees. Just like the performance at MCA, I didn’t want it to end. (Erin Toale)

Hibino’s “Florasonic” installation in the Fern Room, 2430 North Cannon, closes September 25 (reservations are free but required). Hibino is hosting a series of virtual performances as part of the ESS Quarantine Concerts.

About Elaine Morales

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