A Canadian musician residing in Tokyo has created a lengthy but harrowing song using Japanese suicide statistical information to put a human face on the stark numbers.
Rory Viner, a classically-trained musician, composed a 22-minute song entitled "One Year Of Suicide Statistics in Japan for Piano." Viner took statistics provided online from the country's National Police Agency and entered them into a software program called Pure Data, the Japan Times reports.
"Usually, when we have historical information or statistics it's presented really coldly," Viner told the newspaper. "Instead of it just being a number, I wondered if we could listen to trauma — social trauma presented in an audible way — perhaps our experience of that trauma would be different."
The song — which has attracted more attention recently in light of the suicide of comedian Robin Williams last week— was released earlier this year on Soundcloud and has over 21,000 hits. Suicide remains a pervasive but taboo topic in Japan where it's considered newsworthy when the country's annual suicide rate dips below 30,000.
"Each section of twelve notes encompasses a year of self-killings within a prefecture, each monthly number adumbrated in sound, revealing the metastasis of time and space inherent to statistical study," the song's description reads. "The fragility of the composition enfolds the listener within a narrative of dichotomies: statistics and selfhood, sound and silence, creator and product, the discontinuity of self and the uninterrupted world."
"A few people thought that it was making light of a situation, but the overwhelming response was not like that," the musician told the newspaper. "I had some Japanese people email me and some of those were really meaty responses, which I didn't really expect. They really wanted to make sure that I walked away with a positive image of Japan, so they were saying that 'It's not just suicides, we have other things going for us (in Japan), you know."
Viner also says he noticed a difference between how "jinshin jiko" (Japanese translation meaning "human accident" but often deemed a suicide on tracks) is treated in Japan compared to Toronto. "I was surprised when I came to Japan because the train stations back home would never even acknowledge a 'human accident,'" Viner says. "Nobody in Toronto knew how many train suicides there were, the transit commission never released that data. There definitely is a stigma and a reluctance to talk about suicide. People see it as shameful and embarrassing, I just see it as tragic."
Viner, who has used statistical data to compose songs based on the number of murders and rapes in America, is planning to use Japan as his next inspiration. This time he will attempt to "sonify" radiation data for Fukushima. A 2011 earthquake and ensuing tsunami resulted in a nuclear meltdown of three reactors in Fukushima. The disaster, according to the World Nuclear Association, left over 1,000 dead and more than 100,000 evacuated from their homes.
The musician says a factory in Japan customized a radiation detector for him. "My next project is going to be a live piece: As the board detects the radiation, it will trigger a note on the computer," Viner says, adding he may stream the as-yet untitled song live.