Leo Okagawa ~ Zapping (Station to Station)

The pandemic presented many opportunities for recording pristine sound ~ deserted streets, fewer airplanes, less noise pollution overall.  But like David Byrne in “Nothing But Flowers,” Leo Okagawa yearns for commerce and technology.  During lockdown, the metro stations were nearly empty of passengers, but the trains kept going.  The machinery was still in place, run by skeleton crews.  There was Okagawa in the midst of it all, capturing a vast array of sounds for unpolluted by human interference ~ although they could not have existed without human hands.

One is drawn into the loneliness of an empty metro station, the trains passing by without passengers, the engineer at the controls, placidly pushing levers and plodding through the day.  But then one recalls the fascination of the sound lover, recorder in hand, wiggling through nooks and crannies to capture the recordings of the rails: the clacking across tracks, the screeches and horns, and in the distance, like ghosts, the faded employees who run it all.  Even here nature manages to intrude, an unusual inversion akin to the airplane sound-bombing a national park: here it is rain, or at least the sound of industry flow, decidedly non-metallic and in this context foreign.

When the children enter toward the end of Side A, their laughter is a surprise.  Of course there are people around.  Footsteps fall into a steady pace.  The train loves the children, and the children the trains.  And then there is music: a reminder of the performers who typically line the tracks, hoping to be heard, to break through, perhaps to earn pocket change.  But the musician is Okagawa, back in his home studio, adding texture and contrast.

Side B seems to move further in time, with expanded roles for people and birds.  A early sudden crash is a reminder of the fragility of the transit system, though it is immediately followed by the lull of healthy rails.  The announcers are back, the warning pings.  Still the passengers are sparse; the trains remain the main story.  At times, the station is quiet enough to showcase a background hum and the opening and closing of gates.  Okagawa tunes a radio dial to the buzz of Tokyo and folds the static into the composition.

These times are already ending.  Populaces are pouring back into the streets, the trains, the parks.  Might we miss this period of respite, this pause in the hurry from one place to another?  Zapping is a sonic snapshot of forced change that nevertheless possesses a peculiar appeal.  (Richard Allen)

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