本文へジャンプ  UEDA Nobutaka Formal Site

Art of Keijiro Sato : Kinetic Art as Zen Spirit


Keijiro Sato Memorial 1927-2009

Nobutaka Ueda

 Keijiro Sato passed away in May 2009. He studied musical composition with Fumio Hayasaka and briefly participated in the Experimental Workshop of the poet Shuzo Takiguchi. His Calligraphy for Piano was accepted in the 35th International Festival of Contemporary Music in 1961. He was in charge of sound design for the Mitsui Group Hall at Osaka Expo ’70, together with Toshi Ichiyanagi, and won the Art Festival Grand Prix for the music of Kugai Jodo (Pure Land Poisoned Sea). Olivier Messiaen said, “This man’s works have great dignity.”
 He continued to compose throughout his life. In parallel with his musical career, he made and showed kinetic artworks that were activated by magnets. His major works are now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Gifu, in Japan.The same museum presented an important exhibition of his work, “The Wonder of Being Keijiro Sato and Michio Mado.” The famous composer Toru Takemitsu was a close friend of Sato’s from high school on.
 To me, he was like an affectionate father who always provided moral support. His sublime art always provided a signpost that I could look up to. The last few years he told me over and over in a clear voice, “Music is wonderful. It is worth being involved in throughout our life.” I believe that he was very happy in his later years. I pray for the repose of his soul.

translated by Stan Anderson

Keijiro Sato


Nobutaka UEDA
"Keijiro Sato Memorial"

Kinetic Art Works (moving images)
"Everything is Expressive"
・Over the Waves 1974
・Otedama 1974
・Fontana 1974
・Heart? 1980

"When Seer Becoms the Seen"

From the exhibition catalog of "The Joy of Vibration",1974  

・Keijiro SATO
"Everything is Expressive – John Cage"

"Fragment on Material Thinking Suggested by the Work of Keijiro Sato"

"My Friend, Keijiro Sato"

Katushiro Yamaguchi
"For the Exhibition”

Kinetic Art Works (moving image)

Nobutaka UEDA
"When the Seer Becomes the Seen.: Keijiro Sato - Seed of the Universal One" pdf.

   Keijiro SATO
 "The Joy of Vibration"
from the Catalog of the Exhibition of Minami Gallery, 1974

Everything is Expressive – John Cage
Keijiro Sato

I make these objects as impelled by my feelings. I am not interested in the goodness or badness, oldness or newness of their form, whether they can be classified as works of art or not, or whether they can be placed in the category of toys or interior accessories. I am interested in the simple movement of the elements in the objects. I see something attractive in their form and in the way they are structured to obtain particular movements, and that is the simple reason that I want other people to see them.
When looking at a small sphere that rotates around a vertical axis suspended from the ceiling and moves up and down, I am moved by the mysteriousness of the phenomenon. Because of the pared-down simplicity of the form and its movement, one can see it as representing all phenomena.
Metaphysical Place – The Dignity of Existence

To avoid misunderstanding, I should explain that the mysteriousness I speak of is not the mysteriousness of the movement of the element as a physical phenomenon. It is like the mystery of a person walking or a bird flying. I am fascinated and moved by these phenomenon, but not because they are unusual or novel. In the same way, I am endlessly fascinated by stones at the side of the road, the rustling of leaves, the cylindrical face-towel holders in the dish cupboard, brandy glasses in a shop window, the plastic rings that subway riders hold on to, and other things that surround us in everyday life. These objects in our surroundings are infinitely appealing and glow quietly without saying anything.

Artist’s Statement


"Fragment on Material Thinking Suggested by the Work of Keijiro Sato"

Physical laws of magnetism and magnetic fields, not to mention such phenomena as starlight or flowing water, have correspondences with human consciousness and cognition. However, physical laws have been pursued for their own sake and eventually brought into human life as technological civilization, a civilization that tames people and is tamed by them.
How are correspondences between physical laws and mind created? After the bond of intuition is lost, an indexing system like a computer is probably not an effective way of getting close to mind. From the vantage point of magnetism, the idea of getting closer to mind in a sentimental way sounds like a rhetorical device invented by human beings. However, it is only when a magnetic field is created through some sort of circuit, that people quietly turn this way and begin a silent conversation.
Today, matter, energy, light, sound, and words – things that can be seen and things that cannot be seen – have lost their common thread, and the idea of correspondences between all things seems to come from an ancient language.
Even in the butterfly dream of Zhuangzi, everything comes back to physical material. Physical laws affect the way people speak. While engaging in the activities of everyday life – walking, stopping, sitting, or lying down – that person will soon turn this way without speaking. And then…


"My Friend, Keijiro Sato"

I and Sato and someone else – who was it? – were on our way home after visiting our teacher in Soshigaya. It was late at night and the last train had already entered the carbarn, so we walked along the track, heading toward Shimokitazawa. Because the overhead bridge at Gotokuji is a bit scary, we got off the track at Kyodo. On a dark road, we saw the sign of an inn called Murasaki, and Sato suggested that we stay there. We lay down in a six-mat room and spent the night. The three of us passed around a pocket heating pad that Sato had with him in order to stay warm. That was twenty years ago.
Sato read us some poems that he had written, enough to fill up a college notebook. At that time, we did not know each other very well. He said that he had relocated to Nagano prefecture during the war and wrote poetry there. After the war he attended medical school at Keio University, but he fainted when he saw blood while watching operations, so he decided that he was not cut out to be a doctor and quit. He never, however, got tired of words.
The purity that Sato sought in music was realized through a seemingly simplified style in poetry and music. Today, I can understand it as well as I understand the things that I do myself, but at that time, I thought of him as overly impetuous.
There is no doubt that Sato was influenced by John Cage, but he was more straightforward than Cage. Or perhaps I should say that he was more desparate. Whether Cage was aware of it or not, there was a mighty fortress standing behind him that gave him courage. When we developed our awareness, we had nothing. We could not avoid questioning human life itself. Sato had a slightly more impetuous approach than I did, and sometimes I felt that his impetuousness was a reproach to my laziness. Still, I do not think that our paths are far from the frozen road where we walked together on that winter night long ago. He was my friend and a signpost that I always want to keep in view.


"For the Exhibition"

For Keijiro Sato, the world of sound was an experimental field that had to be opened up endlessly.
The body of work that will be shown at Minami Gallery is a report on an experiment called The Joy of Vibration. In showing these works to other people, Sato was worried that they might be put into a certain category of art or seen as a variation on technological art. The space of an art gallery tends to foster such preconceptions.
It is wrong in the present case, as in Sato’s past experiments, to categorize his works as belonging to a certain trend or style of art, or to even to use the word art itself. When looking at Sato’s experiments, my personal impression is that even Marcel Duchamp was more bound by the concept of art than he is. This conclusion reflects the mysteriousness of the phenomenon of magnetism discovered by Sato and proves that human beings are Homo ludens.

Living Signs – Calligraphy
To Sato, the theme of his sounds and the works being shown here is the situation in which all things exist. A person who listens to the musical works in his Calligraphy series will notice that no sound is subordinate to another. Each sound has a real existence in a situation in which they are generated at all possible points in the space with no intervals between them. The sounds have a fierce, aggressive strength, and the effect of this strength is what Sato calls calligraphy. I have never heard any contemporary music that is less sentimental than Sato’s. I do not know how of any other music that is so filled with the movement of concrete sounds. It is made up of living signs, signs of the heart, making it like the best calligraphy. The theme of calligraphy was given a more intricate structure in a work of 1965 in which pieces of stainless steel ribbon were suspended at several places in the space, and they could be struck by people entering the space. In 1967, Sato made his house into a studio, in which he presented an impressive sound display with a number of multi-channel speakers. Most of the experiments of this period only remain in the memory of the artist and a few visitors to the gallery, but some of his dreams were given concrete form in Expo ’70 as part of the experimental Sound Display that I produced in the Mitsui Group Building.

Looking at the process of Sato’s experiments and listening to what he has to say, one finds that his approach, which appears scientific at first, is completely extemporaneous and improvisational.
Sato’s experiments are an example of bricollage, a method of making things described by Claude Levi-Strauss in Primitive Thought. This method of gathering and using whatever is at hand in the context of myth differs from the approach of science and technology. Sato’s works are never made of parts that are fabricated separately beforehand. The method he adopts in all his experiments can be described as bricollage, and it is similar to the creation of assemblages with discarded pieces of junk. He employs such things as grains of millet, hand towel cases, children’s school supplies, cut pieces of plywood, celluloid sheets prepared for Chinese writing, etc. He had no problems with these small items, but when he cut a hole in the ceiling in a corner of the kitchen and another hole in the floorboards of the second story, turning the whole house into a laboratory, his wife, like James Joyce’s wife, began to complain (they were evicted from the house). Watching Sato enthusiastically pursuing his experiments, I could not help thinking of Kurt Schwitters’s Merzbau. From what I have heard, this exhibition is being held at the request of Mrs. Sato to give closure to this endless series of experiments.

Irony and Humor
I sense a kind of irony in the life of Keijiro Sato. As suggested by Beda Alleman in his analysis of the Austrian-born novelist Robert Musil, some people have a fundamental sense of irony about their surroundings and the social reality of their time in a broad sense. They approach this reality with the irony that comes from a strict way of thinking. When confronting any system or situation, they first notice its imperfections and absurdities. This sort of irony is given its fundamental legitimacy because its view of social reality has a basically utopian nature like the artist’s inner world or the principles of mathematics.
When Sato interprets John Cage’s words, “Everything is expressive,” he does not simply relate this statement to a Buddhist worldview or Zen enlightenment. He looks at the perception that all life has a utopian nature with irony, as in The Man Without Qualities. This is the only method necessary for living in the contemporary world with a strong, resilient spirit.
Freedom exists in life, but the essential nature of freedom is meaningless. Human play takes place under these conditions. My friend Keijiro Sato was aware of this aspect of the world for a long period of time.

translated by Stan Anderson

Works of Keijiro Sato

"Otedama (Japanese Beanbag game)" 1974

"Vortex Performance" 1976

   "Silent Quartet" 1980

  "Heart?" 1980 

  Photo Kunio Miyagawa   
  copyright (C) The Museum of Fine Arts,Gifu

   Galaxy railway 1974  
   Galaxy railway (Testing machine)  
   Keijiro Sato Stutdio  
  Copyright (C) 2007 UEDA Nobutaka all rights reserved.
  All duplication and modification without permission are strictly prohibited.