Now See Hear! The Visual Music of Chiaki Watanabe

I first came across media artist, Chiaki Watanabe (also known as CHIAKI) in her work with the Natasa Trifan Performance Group and her live visual performance with thereminist, Dorit Chrysler, at the World Financial Center. Watanabe creates live video, motion graphics, and installation. I was enchanted by the way her simple, abstract visuals pulsate and breathe, how warm and organic they felt to my eyes.  She explores how visual media affects us psychologically, and investigates its relationships with the fields of performance, architecture, and neuroscience. Much of her work can be seen on her website:

Watch her piece, 1/3 (sound by Tristan Perich & Sylvia Mincewicz) HERE.

Photo courtesy of Chiaki Watanabe

Photo courtesy of Chiaki Watanabe

Chiaki Watanabe recently re-located to Copenhagen, Denmark, so I wrote to her to find out more about her work and what projects she has planned next.

MMiX: How did you develop into a visual artist, instead of going the route of becoming, let’s say, a film-maker or fine artist?

CHIAKI: Just followed my instinct and intuition – then I end up doing what I do. My background is fine art, scenic design, computer graphics, fashion design, art therapy, photography – and almost all sort of art. I went to several art schools in Tokyo and New York but had no intention to study for live visuals or some sort. So it’s just a fluke.

My life style is an extension of my first art school – one and only rare high school for art and music in Tokyo. It was quite unique school and I had so much fun there. Later, I got bored with my second art school so I landed in New York to work with a conceptual artist and find more fun.

It’s good to have many interests – like music, dance, theater, film, science, street culture, club culture, architecture, literature, philosophy etc. I am always curious about all sort of things that interest me. My suggestion to fellow artists to be: Follow your instinct. Just let your curiosity flow. The more you inspire, the more you get inspired!

MMiX: How do your collaborations generally begin and evolve? Do the composers, performers or dance companies you’ve worked with come to you first with material that is already in process, or are you involved in earlier or later stages?

CHIAKI: It’s case by case but in general, I enjoy working at different stages. Besides working independently as an artist, choosing the right collaboration is important for me. It is essentially my choice. For a visual music project, I normally choose collaborator/s(musicians, sound artists) first. Otherwise I make sure if they are right fit for me or not. Because music is an integral part of my process and I have certain musical taste. I always fascinated by electro acoustic music as I grew up listening to my mother’s violin and my father’s dentist drills.

MMiX: What visual forms do you like to work with? Are you a fan of any painters, film-makers or graphic artists?

CHIAKI: I like working with digital media with interactivity – interaction between sound, image, and movement. Stylewise, I tend to work in a minimalist framework – exploring simplicity as an art form. I often get inspired by artists and group of artists in different fields. For instance, Meredith Monk, United Visual Artists, Urban Sound Institute, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Alva Noto, Ryoji Ikeda, and Maja Ratkje.

MMiX: What is your favorite equipment and software that you like to use?

CHIAKI: I love easy to use, intuitive equipments and software. Lately I began using eMotion, an object oriented interactive application. In the past, I used modul8, VDMX, ArKaos and Videodelic. As always, I am open to new applications that enables me to explore my visuals.

MMiX: Are there any special advantages or challenges in creating video for performance?

CHIAKI: Pros: You can get direct responses from audiences and share the moment in real time. Unexpected happenings and mistakes can be an amazing result.
Cons: Any mistakes can be or can not be forgiven because it IS live!
For all kind of issues, I just “wing it and move on”.
I also work with installation and non live videos. My most recent inspiring and challenging project was a visual music work associated with brain waves with neuroscientists at New York University. I am very much interested in how visual music effects emotions and mood. It is a long term/ongoing project that requires more experiments.

A collaboration with other people, or different types of people is fun but it’s always not easy. Having lived and worked in NY for long time, I got used to deal with all sort of people. It was a real field study for my practice. My ideal collaborator is a well balanced person artistically, creatively, professionally and fun!

MMiX: Living now in Europe, do you see any differences in working with performance technology between the arts community there and the one here in the US/New York?

CHIAKI: I am still new to Europe though I have visited and performed there. So I will find out more about it later. At the moment, I am based in Copenhagen and exploring Scandinavia. This summer (in Aug), I plan to do outdoor live video performances with an art ship in Denmark’s two harbors, Helsingor and Køge.  More live shows, screenings are being planned this fall and next year in and around Europe.

Chiaki Watanabe has presented internationally in venues such as the New York Video Festival(US), European Media Art Festival(DE), Viper New Media Festival(CH), New York Museum of Modern Ar(US), Institute of Contemporary Arts (UK), Den Frie Udstilling(DK), Bergen Kunsthall(NO), Austin Museum of Digital Art(US), Visual Music Marathon(US) and Microcinema International.  She has performed at Lincoln Center, World Financial Center, Eyebeam, The Kitchen, Dance Theater Workshop, Location One and Merce Cunningham Studio in New York, and received awards from Experimental Television Center, Electronic Media and New York State Council on the Arts and Media. Her works are distributed by Getty film, iOta center, Printed matter and New York Film Makers’ Cooperative.

For more info on Chiaki Watanabe, please visit:

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