Sensing Streams

Ryuichi Sakamoto + Daito Manabe

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Electromagnetism everywhere rendered visible

Electromagnetic waves, we cannot hear them, but they are all around us all the time. They make everyday technologies like radio, telephones and the internet possible. In Sensing Streams, the composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, together with the media artist Daito Manabe, render electromagnetic waves visible and audible. Antennas located in different parts of the room will pick up these waves, receiving mobile phone, Wi-Fi, digital television and radio signals in real-time. A computer then turns these into a live digital audio-visual work of art that will be shown on a large screen and played through multiple speakers. With hypnotic, constantly changing digital sounds and visuals, Sakamoto and Manabe show us an invisible but essential infrastructure that is one of the many human footprints on this planet.

Background information

The composer Ryuichi Sakamoto is particularly interested in everyday sounds. He has recorded ambient street sounds and travelled to the North Pole to record the subtle sounds of melting ice. For Sensing Streams, together with the media artist Daito Manabe, he explored the sonic world of electromagnetic waves, which are inaudible to the human ear. They will turn these waves, which are everywhere all around the world as a kind of sonic pollution, into hypnotic digital sounds and visuals and make the audience aware of a presence that often goes unnoticed. 

Different locations
With Sensing Streams, the artists will render visible the electromagnetic waves between 80MHz and 5,2GHz that make mobile phone technology possible on a large screen. Besides the waves present all around the audience at any moment, they will also use recordings of waves in an underground (subway) passage in Japan. By using these alongside the live data, they demonstrate how these waves fluctuate depending on the time and location.

The presence and use of mobile phones affects the sounds and visuals and shows how the electromagnetic fields in the room are in a constant state of flux. Besides waves that are always present in the background, the installation will also render visible a type of ecosystem that is created through the presence and participation of the audience.


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Electromagnetic waves?
We know about oceanic waves, but waves also exist as electromagnetic currents. Light is made up of photons, and photons are electromagnetic waves. Light, radio waves and X-rays are all forms of the same electromagnetic waves. The only difference between these forms of radiation is the waves’ vibrational frequency. All types of electromagnetic radiation can be described as a spectrum that stretches from short waves with a high vibrational rate, like X-rays, to long waves with a low vibrational rate, like radio waves. Rainbows reveal a small piece of this spectrum, from red light with slightly longer waves to green and blue light with slightly shorter waves.


Ryuichi Sakamoto (1952, Tokyo) has lived many musical lives in his nearly 70 years. As a keyboardist and songwriter in Haruomi Hosono’s Yellow Magic Orchestra, he helped set the stage for technopop.  His solo experiments in fusing global genres and close studies of classical impressionism led to him scoring nearly 40 films in as many years, including Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence (1983), Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987) and The Sheltering Sky (1990), and the Academy Award-winning film The Revenant (2015) by Alejandro González Iñárritu. In the past 20 years alone, he’s written a multimedia opera, turned a glass building into an instrument, and travelled to the Arctic to record the sound of melting snow. That exploratory spirit runs through Sakamoto’s 2017 album, async, which paints an audio portrait of the passing of time informed by his recovery from throat cancer. ‘Music, work, and life all have a beginning and an ending,’ said Sakamoto in early 2019. ‘What I want to make now is music freed from the constraints of time.’ 

Since the mid-nineties, Sakamoto has devoted much of his time to environmental and activist causes, also reflected in his work, as in the opera LIFE (1999). He has launched charitable organisations and beginning in 2012, organised the yearly ongoing music event NO NUKES, which many well-known artists, including Kraftwerk, took part in to protest nuclear energy after the Fukushima disaster. 

His accolades include an Academy Award, two Golden Globes, a Grammy, the Order of the Cavaleiro Admissão from the Brazilian government and the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French government. 

Daito Manabe
 (Tokyo, 1976) is a media artist and founder of the multimedia research company Rhizomatiks. Manabe is internationally known for his wide-ranging work on the edge of art and technolgy. His work ranges from experimental work with cutting-edge technology to visualise data from CERN (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research) to producing visuals for the Japanese electro-pop group Perfume.



Ryuichi Sakamoto + Daito Manabe
Sapporo International Art Festival Executive Committee


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