I recently bought Yoshinori Sunahara’s Take Off and Landing. Amazon reviewers say that there are a couple other albums of his that are even better, but as far as I’m concerend, this is a remarkable piece of work: an ironic electronic lounge evocation of an age when jet travel was still fresh, luxurious and sexy, when the hump on the 747 was unaccountably erotic, when we imagined a future of curvy white plastic walls, avocado egg chairs, and freeze-dried martinis. When NASA was heroic, and Pan Am was hip.
(Remember Pan Am, the airline that had shuttle service to the Moon (in 2001: A Space Odyssey)? Remember how amazing Gropius’ decision to break the rectilinearity of the New York grid with his placement of the Pan Am building seemed so audacious?)
What’s made it really great is that I’ve been on planes most of the day, and so I’ve been listening to the album that has bits of ambient sound from airports– chipper information voices, flight announcements, instructional video voice-overs– in O’Hare and SFO. What’s really weird is that it’s sometimes hard to tell exactly which bits are the music, and which are actual live noises.
It may be my first experience in augmentation– the overlay of a soundtrack from an alternate present on top of my immediate reality.
Or maybe the better comparison is with looking at Gustave Caillebotte’s Rue de Paris, temps de pluie, which is one of the crowning glories of the Art Institute of Chicago. (One of the things I loved best about working at Britannica was being able go across the street during lunch, and just spend 20 minutes there looking at, say Impressionist crowd scenes. Not only was the AIC across the street, but it’s so big, you can choose something weird– Impressionist crowds, theatrical paintings, Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass– and have enough to keep you busy for a while.) One thing I never realized about it is that the thing is huge– it’s like 8 feet tall.
One day I was standing in the room where it’s on display, and a couple stood between me and it. The couple looked like they were part of the painting. The thing is as big as it is, and is hung the way it is, to mash up the distinction between the painting and the gallery crowd.
[To the tune of Yoshinori Sunahara, “Cross Wind Take Off,” from the album Take Off and Landing.]