Photo: Photo by Jakob Polacsek / Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary

Yasunao Tone


A dense, hard, immersive, chaotic spatial performance in sound: a momentary gap in consciousness, free of order or decision.


Yasunao Tone is in our opinion one of the great media artists of the last 50 years and one of the great musicians working within a practice of conceptualism.   In the 60’s he was involved with the politicized, social interventions of the Hi-Red Center and Team Random (the first computer art group in Japan).  He was a founding member of Group Ongaku, the very first experimental music group in Japan (other members incl: Takehisa Kosugi, Mieko Shiomi), an active member of Fluxus and has lived and worked in New York since the early 70’s. 



Tone’s conceptual music projects, which concern themselves with technical ideas of error, malfunctions, misreading and transformation (how a CD can be misread by doctoring it with tape, how the imaginary sound of MP3 files being misread can technologically be heard, how ancient Chinese poetry can be visually read as sound…), put just about all other computer music of the last 30 years to shame.  (In our own constellation of computer music heroes, there’s Tone and Maryanne Amacher right there at the top).   His works are beautiful in their harshness: often devoid of regular rhythm, melody, harmony, they foreground unpredictable and unknowable sound.


Paramedia is a dense, immersive environment constructed using 8 speaker stacks and custom-built hardware that splits multiple pre-prepared sound sources by their frequency, each speaker stack receives any sound produced within it’s designated frequency range, creating a split, spatial, aurally disjointed and hallucinatory experience.



"Machines are designed not to make mistakes…in our behaviour we often make mistakes, so why not machines also? I added that reality to it. So, it's not destruction but an addition."


Tone’s performances are some of the most compelling examples of a congnitive experience in sound that we can think of.  Never a demonstration of (philosophical) concepts, rather (and much more seductively) they are always a process that causes the listener to think (in a specific way and along the lines of Tone’s own inquiry).  They are not a thinking about a concept, or an allegory that points to that concept: instead, they use the specific ontological vagueness of sound (something that is both material and immaterial) to cause us to think in a way analogous to the ideas that Tone’s interested in.  This is both super sophisticated and accessible; bypassing any kind of equivocation about whether we want to think in this way, and setting up a situation where we simply cannot help but think in this way.


Kinds of listening involved

Blackout - to hear in a momentary gap, clear of consciousness and decision-making.

De-control - to hear an abandonment of order.

  • Audio

    Credits / license
    • CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

  • Video