Exploring the art of sound through innovation, sound artist Yuri Suzuki is known for his creations that challenge our perception of the sonic world by interconnecting visual and audio elements as part of his artistry. The UK-based Japanese artist is a triple threat who has presented in exhibitions worldwide as a sound artist, designer, and electronic musician.
After graduating from a degree in industrial design, Suzuki went on to work with Japanese electronic art and design duo Maywa Denki, which is where he started to toy with combining music and technology. By 2005, he had moved to London to study product design at the Royal College of Art. He has worked with global musicians will.i.am and Jeff Mills and his incredible work has already been shown at iconic museums such as the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, Tate Britain, Mudam Luxembourg, and Tokyo’s Museum of Modern Art. Suzuki has also received an award from Design Miami as the “Designer of the Future.”
Today, he continues to conquer the world of sound art by pushing the boundaries through his recent installations, while also being appointed as a partner at one of the world’s largest independently-owned design studios, Pentagram.
We recently spoke to Suzuki about his approach to both sound design and music, achievements, and even his daughter’s favourite song of the moment.
Has the pandemic affected your creative thought process at all?
My creativity increased a lot during the pandemic. The partial reason was that people started to recognise the importance of sound due to being in lockdown at one place for a long time. They became conscious about what sound is being created and also what they are consuming. It was an interesting change that happened during the pandemic.
Could you share a brief history of your journey into becoming a sound artist?
Since I was a child, I have had a fascination towards sound. Part of the reason is that my dad is a huge record collector and at the same time, I was born in Tokyo. It’s a very avant-garde environment; there’s not so much nature. I consumed so many things like video cassette tapes, records, and so on. I still remember my grandmother showing me so many videos and films. One video she showed me was called The Glen Miller Story which features swing jazz pioneers, leading me to my fascination with jazz and the trombone. Also, my dad showed me recorded MTV videos and that got me hooked on electronic music. One of the videos in that MTV collection was “Rockit” by Herbie Hancock. That was a really amazing electronic kind of music and the video was very well made. I was quite addicted to that video.
Do you have a formula or thought process to make sure art, design, technology, and sound co-exist in your work?
I think there’s not much of a specific formula at all because it comes naturally to me since I already have a fascination with art, design, technology, and sound. My background has already led to all of those elements being combined together. I was especially inspired by my teachers [brothers Masamichi and Nobumichi Tosa of creative duo] Maywa Denki. Even though Maywa Denki are artists, they also create music, design objects, and hold performances. That inspired me a lot which lead me to creating a multidisciplinary practice.
What would you say is your most challenging project by far and why?
Most of the projects are quite challenging. One project I can note here is called “The Welcome Chorus” that I created for Turner Contemporary. It was a balance between my artistic view and a public project, so there was a conflict inside of me, as the curator from the museum asked me to not incorporate any negative words, but I felt like this artwork is for everyone, and it’s a part of human nature. I felt a little uncomfortable censoring or controlling content under the guise of a community project, which was extremely hard to swallow.
How does it feel to have and see your work displayed at renowned places like Tate London, Mudam Luxembourg, and the Museums of Modern Art in New York and Tokyo?
Again, I feel really lucky to have worked with great curators. For example, over at Mudam, they have incredible people working in arts and design. It’s really about collaboration. It’s not about the venue for me, but who I work with there and I am extremely proud of the series of people like Paola Antonelli, and people from Mudam Luxembourg. It’s an amazing experience. Also, at Tate London, one of their curators, Chinami Sakai, is incredible to work with on projects. Nothing about the place. It’s all about the people.
The Welcome Chorus, Credit: Samuel Diggins
How do you think sound design has changed over the years and what are you doing differently to adapt?
I think great things are happening for sound design. Partially the reason is people are more conscious about sound due to the pandemic, and also there are a lot of sound applications that we can engage with through IoT (Internet of Things) devices, electric vehicles, and so on. I think there’s an increasing interest in sound design and sound itself. However, I feel like sound design itself is not really mature like other art and design fields yet. It is my mission in terms of sound design to have a clear benchmark or suggestions on what sound should be. That is something I want to investigate more.
Are there any exciting new sound artists that really impressed you in recent years?
There’s a lot for sure but my hero in sound art is Christian Marclay—he’s always creating and blowing my mind whenever he uses sound as a material. He’s a pioneer in the sound design industry but he is still top when it comes to sound art.
What made you join design studio Pentagram as a partner in 2018?
My first question is why Pentagram is interested in me. I’ve only worked as a sound artist, never positioned as a branding designer or anything like that. But after talking with my mentor Daniel Weil, that led me to think Pentagram is a unique platform to collaborate as a partner. I was quite amazed to hear of designers like Michael Bierut and Paula Scher, so it was like coming back to school to find myself in the same position, but also with a unique friendly relationship that I could build upon at Pentagram.
Pyramidi, Credit: Akio Fukushima
You also dabble as an electronic musician and you recently released the Thanet House EP in 2021. How much of your time do you dedicate to making music or even DJing these days?
I create music whenever I have spare time on my commute because I live in a seaside town about two hours away from London. Whenever I commute to my studio, or sometimes after work and during lunchtime, I will quickly jump on my drum machine and synthesizer to create music. It’s really continuous because I never force myself to make new music. I’m also really keen on DJing; however, I don’t do many DJ gigs, rather I do DJ sessions for radio stations.
Speaking of music, what are some of your go-to albums?
One of my favourite records is The Nightfly by Donald Fagen, who is a member of Steely Dan. The music is beautiful, but the recording and fabrication are just incredibly well done. Probably one of the most beautifully recorded albums ever produced.
What are your plans for 2022, both personally and as an artist?
I have quite a lot of installations and art projects coming up this year. At the same time, I recently had a baby so I have the responsibility as a father, so it’s very interesting to see how my daughter grow up. It’s really an exciting year, but at the same time, I’m conscious, anxious, and angry towards the current war [in Ukraine].
Tell us about this playlist you have curated for us.
Apart from Donald Fagen and a series of my favourite music, some of them are quite new and some are old. One song I have been listening to a lot is Japanese artist Hikaru Utada, who collaborated with Floating Points to create this song, “Somewhere Near Marseilles”. There’s also “O Superman” by Laurie Anderson, which is my daughter’s favourite song. I hope you enjoy it.
Tune in to this specially curated playlist by Yuri Suzuki.
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Cover Credit: Alberto Balazs
Writer | Kevin Yeoh
When he isn’t making sure Sound of Life stories are published in a timely manner, Kevin enjoys wandering aimlessly in Kuala Lumpur city, going down the YouTube rabbit hole and discovering new music.