In 1989 a new building was opened for the Tochoji Zen Temple in Yotsuya, Tokyo. Initially established in 1594, the modern development was commissioned under the design of Takashi Serizawa to commemorate the Temple’s 400th anniversary. By now situated just minutes away from the Tokyo Metro amidst the bustle of modern Japanese urban life and commerce, the new complex skilfully combined modern design with a traditional aesthetic. Uniquely, Serizawa incorporated a basement auditorium within the layout and devised a plan for temple activities to be expanded to include cultural projects, particularly in the arena of contemporary art. Soon afterwards this basement venue was officially named ‘P3 art and environment’.
In March 1992 the tentative beginning of the Sylvian/Fripp project was introduced to the world with a short series of shows in Tokyo. These were staged in a trio formation with innovative Chapman Stick player Trey Gunn after a purposefully short writing and rehearsal period in London. Just as their collaboration began, connections were made that would ultimately coalesce for the epilogue to their co-credited work. ‘We came to visit P3 in ’92 when we were doing The First Day tour,’ explained Sylvian, ‘and as a result of that visit we were invited to create an installation work for this space.’
Sylvian & Fripp’s presentation would open just over two years later on 30 August 1994, the pair having in the meantime passed through Tokyo once again on The Road to Graceland tour in 1993. Their work at P3 was the fifth in a series of what the gallery styled ‘sound installations’. The previous instalment had been John Cage’s Writing through the Essay – On the Duty of Civil Disobedience which opened months after Cage’s death but with the benefit of direction given by the composer before his passing.
‘We started with a theme,’ Sylvian explained of the shared creative process alongside Fripp. ‘So we started – or I started – talking about a transformation of energies which Robert then brought to a much finer focus with the subject of redemption, which in a way is the most… well it’s a very profound transformation of energy.’
In the same interview, undertaken for Japanese TV for the event’s opening, Fripp summarised his thoughts on their chosen topic: ‘It has to do with a weight being lifted off humankind in such a way that we can accept our proper responsibilities in the world. My own sense is that redemption is an actual event which takes place outside time but unfolds within it.’
Sylvian has shared online a short statement written by Robert in 1993 which expands further:
‘The Creation was set up to work, and work well. Part of the equation was that it was free to work well, or not. So, part of the equation was that (at least in some times and places) it probably wouldn’t. So part of the equation was that the creation would need some fine tuning and tinkering, even a little a repair. The necessary freedom within the subordinate parts of the creation was/is abused – we set ourselves up as gods in our own small worlds. Anything which damages/inhibits the link to the whole (in theological terms) is sin – a dis-integration. The process of repair is (also in theological terms) redemption – the act of re-integration.
We have become immune, even antipathetic, to the words “sin” and “redemption”. They are meaningless, unless we discover/rediscover in them the experience of terror in being separated from the source of the power which fuels Creation, and the conviction that the work of redemption is entirely real. My personal sense is that the work of redemption is underway in the world on a colossal scale, so close to us and so huge that we miss it. In other words, there’s a major repair job on right now and the outcome is not guaranteed.’ Robert Fripp 1993
The vocabulary that Fripp employs to articulate these ideas is drawn from Christian doctrine, where Jesus’ death on the cross is a settlement with the Creator God for the transgressions of humankind – a debt paid by Christ as the incarnation of God on Earth; a redemption for sin by the Saviour. ‘In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished upon us’ (Ephesians chapter 1 v 7).
Fripp famously studied with J.G. Bennett who expressed the difficulty of speaking about redemption as follows: ‘We seek to interpret an action that is beyond the mind of man in terms that derive from our human experience of this visible world.’ Fripp’s description does not specify that the force which ‘fuels Creation’ is the deity. Reconnecting with this vital power, whatever its source, is at the core of his assertion as to how redemption is accomplished.
The Sylvian/Fripp partnership began a few short months after Sylvian met Ingrid Chavez. The couple were very quickly married (see ‘Heartbeat (Tainai Kaiki II‘) and immediately set out to investigate their shared fascination for Eastern spirituality, adopting Buddhist practices and seeking out the company and teaching of holy women from the Hindu tradition. The final Redemption installation presents the theme through imagery rooted in Eastern spiritual traditions and appropriate for the temple setting.
David Sylvian had been active in the design of the physical aspects of his only comparable previous project – Ember Glance in 1990 with Russell Mills – and it was he who would lead the work on the visual and musical aspects of this new endeavour. ‘I think that this space has a very powerful energy of its own,’ he said, ‘and I wanted to create a work that was in keeping with that. I wanted to keep the emotional impact that I felt but contribute to it in some way. I like the idea of working towards silence. I think that’s something that’s prevalent in the work that I’m doing, in my life and in the work that I produce as a result of that experience.’ He was aware of the challenge of adequately representing an existential theme: ‘It’s a matter of creating an experience in which the potential lies to open up to that possibility to some degree. It’s a massive thing to undertake when working on such small scale.’
Until recently the only video clips that I had seen from the event were location cut-aways interspersed amongst an interview with the protagonists on Japanese TV, and the only pictures were a small gallery on the P3 website. The lighting designer for the presentation, Haruki Kaito, kindly searched his personal archive for photographs of the installation but could find only ‘a few personal snapshots’. Robert Fripp, he recalled, was a reluctant subject: ‘When Robert was photographed, he said, “[My] energy will be reduced”.’
However, late in 2021 Sylvian shared on his facebook page some beautiful photographs and a short video shot by Yuka Fujii so as to provide ‘an impression of what it might’ve felt like to experience the event.’ Combining these sources with a written description of the components of the display which Sylvian shared with an interviewer in the late ’90s, we can transport ourselves back into that space nearly thirty years ago.
Sylvian’s notes relating to the installation are in italics below:
Redemption – Approaching Silence
Large copper floor tiles are placed upon the central area of the exhibition space creating a golden rectangle upon which stand, at the far centre of the room, three charred, wooden chairs, lined up side by side, a foot or so between them.
Beneath each chair sit three identical white enamel bowls half filled with water. At the centre of each bowl floats a red lotus flower.
Upon the seat of each chair is placed a model of a human skull cast in resin. Each skull has a small, neat hole carved into the centre of the cranium.
A clamp is fixed to the back of each chair enabling a board to be suspended a few inches above the chair’s height. On either side of each board is fixed a pigment transfer print by the British artist Adam Lowe.
The re-occurring images in these prints, abstract in nature, are the Himalayan Mountains. They are dimly lit from above casting a shadowy light onto the skulls below. Surrounding the chairs in neat, straight lines are 51 butter lamps placed upon the copper floor tiles. The butter lamps give off a red/gold light, reflected in the tiles.
Angled TV monitors are placed at intervals on the floor along the left and right sides of the space (5 per side) broadcasting the image of a human foetus in saturated red/gold colours.
At the rear of the space is a free standing, white enamel bathtub filled with mercury/mirror. Suspended directly above the bathtub (approx. 2 or 3 feet) is an oil lamp giving off a blue/white light, reflected in the surface of the mercury/mirror.
Along the rear wall placed at intervals upon the floor are 4 TV monitors broadcasting the image of a full moon. This area is bathed in a gentle blue light in marked contrast to the rest of the space glowing in a red/gold.
The visual images will have their own resonance and meaning for each individual viewer. The butter lamps are appropriate for a Buddhist temple, an aid to focussing the mind in meditation as well as a symbol of light banishing darkness. Such lamps are particularly associated with the monasteries and temples found throughout the Himalayas – the subject of Adam Lowe’s artworks within the presentation. Their number, 51, is surely a significant one, being the number of so-called ‘mental formations’ in some Buddhist traditions, a list of mental factors that have the power to colour our mind: some positively, others negatively.
The skulls on the chairs have always struck me as a representation of the transcendence of the human spirit beyond the constraints of the physical body, the bore hole in the cranium a sign of the release from the corporal to the mystical. The lotus flowers, whose blooms emerge pure from murky waters each morning, an embodiment from the natural world of such spiritual renewal.
My own background immediately makes a link between the bath-tub and the Christian teaching of being washed clean, a redemption achieved through Christ’s suffering and represented in baptism. Of course, Buddhist tradition also embraces immersing oneself to wash away worldly uncleanliness, something that strongly influenced the popularisation of public baths in Japan’s towns and temples.
The foetus image brings to mind the subject matter of David and Ingrid’s collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto, ‘Heartbeat (Tainai Kaiki II) – Returning to the Womb’, the song which brought them together, with its celebration of the wonder of new human life. Between recording that song and the staging of Redemption, they had welcomed their own first-born into the world.
‘The notion of a healing place, a room or chamber where one connects or reconnects with one’s own divinity has been an important symbol for me in both life and work,’ Sylvian wrote in his introduction to the exhibition. ‘Although alluding in many ways to the womb and the blissful state experienced therein, it in fact represents the heart, home of the atma, the soul, where this essential connection is to be made. In much esoteric literature the human body is described as an altar or temple, the meeting point between matter and spirit. This, to some degree, was the starting point for the visual aspects of Redemption – Approaching Silence. In the main room the work deals with the surrendering of the individual will to that of the divine. It also stresses the importance of the feminine aspects of the divine directly related to our own creativity, compassion and finally, redemption. Over all the work advocates an approach to life lived in consciousness, compassion and in truth, all in service of the divine.’
The primary composition ‘Approaching Silence’ is divided into two parts and is broadcast in the main room. The third part ‘Redemption’ is broadcast in the second room and comprises an edited version of Robert’s reading of his text.
It was Holger Czukay who provided the aural prompt that stimulated the primary composition. ‘Actually I was working on some material for my wife Ingrid Chavez’s album,’ Sylvian recalled, ‘and I asked Holger to send me over a batch of random samples of material that I could use on her album and amongst those he sent was this one, which is the predominant sample that you hear, a kind of orchestral barrage. As soon as I heard that, I thought that it would be my starting point. I built the composition around that using a series of other samples from a variety of sources.’
Comparing the sound environment with that he created for Ember Glance, Sylvian’s judgment was that on this occasion, ‘It’s more controlled; as the piece develops over a period of forty minutes, the appearance of the orchestral barrage sample becomes more and more sporadic, so there’s a feeling of slowing down and the dynamic diminishes.’
Two medium sized monitors simultaneously broadcast Robert’s text in English. One large monitor broadcasts the same in Japanese. (Red on black). Two lights dimly illuminate the space.
By the time of the exhibition Robert Fripp had significantly extended his statement on the installation’s theme. Printed in the exhibition guide, this introduces the notion that as we are the beneficiaries of redemption, so we have the responsibility to participate in the redemption of others.
‘Redemption is the process
the Creation arranges
for our debt to be honoured sufficiently
that we may be free once more
to pay our own way.
the act of redemption
returns the gift of freedom to us.
This places upon us
a further obligation
and grants us a further right.
The further obligation is to contribute
to the debts of others
where we are able.
The further right is to contribute
To settling the debts of others,
Where we may.’
The role of art is essential…
‘The act of music is one of many possible actions
the inexpressible benevolence of the creative impulse
may enter our lives,
and direct and shape them
in a way and manner
so radical and overwhelming
that one single note
might change our world…’
…and it is also of vital social and political importance. The following words (sadly) seem as relevant today as when they were written in 1994:
‘We have perhaps noticed that
the world with which we are familiar
The abrogation of responsibility
in positions of power
who are dependent upon them,
would seem to be a leitmotiv
in our recent history:
professional and moral violation
is endemic in contemporary culture.’
‘A reasonable person would despair,
but hope is unreasonable
and redemption an actual event.
musicians and poets
deal in the unreasonable
on a daily basis.’
Fripp’s recitation of the full text was treated by Sylvian to be played in the second room, phrases repeating and overlapping from each of the stereo channels. Sometimes the recording is reversed, the linear flow of the content cut up and seemingly randomised, the effect being that certain words catch in the mind of the listener. In some preparatory schedules part of the soundtrack was referred to as ‘We Live, Voluntarily, in the Basement’, appropriate perhaps to the installation venue but actually an excerpt from Fripp’s writing portraying the main theme in an everyday parable:
in the basement.
But for us to move upstairs
someone has to pay the rent.’
A limited-edition cassette of Robert’s treated reading under the straightforward title of ‘Redemption’ was made available to visitors at P3, the same 30-minute version of the track appearing on each side of the tape.
Fripp’s full text can be read in images of the exhibition pamphlet here, including a Japanese translation.
Sylvian was encouraged when interviewer Craig Peacock observed of visitors to the gallery space: ‘many of the people in there were actually sitting down and spending time to take it all in.’ Sylvian: ‘That’s interesting, I wasn’t expecting that. It’s nice to know. I expected people to whizz around and then out, and I don’t think that’s bad, people have a limited amount of time to spend. Hopefully they should still be able to take something away.’
The music from Redemption – Approaching Silence was eventually released in 1999 on a cd also containing the music from the earlier multi-media installation Ember Glance. Here, Robert Fripp’s words can be faintly heard buzzing around amongst the layers of sound. (Oddly, his voice is more prominent in the opening of the US edition, implying it’s a slightly different mix.)
Listening again to the music, now with the benefit of the imagery it accompanied, you can feel how this would have quietened the mind of the visitor, contributing to the creation of what P3 described as ‘a time and space of tranquil prayer’.
‘There’s an enormously powerful energy focused upon the Earth which is in the process of bringing about a real revolution, that should read evolution, transforming our conscious awareness of who and what, in essence, we really are,’ read the opening of Sylvian’s exhibition introduction. ‘Unlike the noise and chaos created by ignorance and magnified by the media, this energy works in silent, subtle but powerful ways. This force is related to the power of faith and the possibilities that present themselves when one surrenders completely to it. I think when art isn’t compromised by social values and/or the artist’s own ego it has the potential to transmit something of this power or at least to allude to it which is also important. A lot depends on the motivations, sensitivity and receptivity of the individual(s) in question. That is of both artist(s) and public alike. As a result of certain experiences in our lives the knowledge of this force becomes a true, living reality which affects, informs and ultimately transforms all we think, feel and do.
‘With this installation we attempt to create an environment that embodies something of the potential described above. The motivation for the work stands firm on the foundations of faith. In the surrendering to it and the service of it.’
Redemption – Approaching Silence
30 August – 12 October 1994
installation theme -David Sylvian/Robert Fripp
visual design – David Sylvian
lighting design – Haruki Kaito
Himalayan image – Adam Lowe (pigment transfer print – size 50cm x 30cm)
Skulls – David Greenwood
Text -Robert Fripp
Project co-ordination and assistant curator – Yuka Fujii
Curation – P3 art and environment
Robert Fripp – frippertronics, voice; David Sylvian – synthesisers, samples
Music by David Sylvian
Produced by David Sylvian. From Approaching Silence, Virgin, 1999.
Recorded at Atma Sound, Minneapolis, and at Discipline Global Mobile
Sample material supplied by Holger Czukay
Robert Fripp – text, voice, David Sylvian – editing
Produced by David Sylvian. From Redemption by David Sylvian and Robert Fripp, limited edition cassette, P3 art and environment, 1994
Robert Fripp’s text for the exhibition pamphlet was completed on Friday 15 July 1994 at Reddish Cottages, Broad Chalke, Wiltshire, England, as noted in his publication The Guitar Circle, Panegyric Publishing, 2022. A version of the text, further updated in 2013, appears in this book, which can be obtained from burning shed here.
Text © Robert Fripp
Download link: ‘Approaching Silence’ (Apple)
Physical media: Approaching Silence (Amazon)
The featured image is from the gallery of P3 art and environment.
Sincere thanks to David Sylvian and Yuka Fujii for sharing the images of the installation online.
All artist quotes in this article are from interviews in 1994 unless otherwise indicated. Full sources and acknowledgements can be found here.
‘Basically Robert supplied the title for the work ‘Redemption’ and wrote the accompanying text. I created the music and visuals with input from British artist Adam Lowe…As with other disciplines such as painting, photography, film etc. one area of work tends to feed and nourish another so ultimately there is an underlying connection or dialogue present between bodies of work.’ David Sylvian, 1998