Witnesses: Trikaya

Witnesses: Trikaya is the latest in a series of works where a group of electronic Buddhist chant-boxes create a spontaneous sound composition in response to television images. It was created in collaboration with N.B.Aldrich. and first exhibited at Ottawa School of Art in Ontario, Canada.

In Mahayana Buddhism, the Trikaya (three bodies) is an expression of the unity of a multifaceted Buddha. Witnesses: Trikaya is an examination of a peculiar unity expressed in the multifaceted political, economic and spiritual artifacts generated by the new Chinese state capitalism, in particular, how Chinese-made “Buddhist” products reflect an ironic posture regarding traditional Tibetan culture, now on the brink of disappearing due to the Chinese occupation.

In Witnesses: Trikaya, three monitors display clips depicting the 1951 Chinese occupation of Tibet and several uprisings that have occurred since. Buddhist chant-boxes are suspended near each monitor (Chant-boxes are simple music players often given away in temples to assist in meditation. Short phrases from traditional chants are played continuously when the player is turned on.) We circuit-bent them so their pitches are controlled by light sensors attached to long wires emanating from the Buddha decal on each box. The sensors are mounted in front of the monitors so the chant-boxes change their pitch in response to the video imagery.

The chanting loops begin in sync, but slowly deviate as each box responds individually to the brightness of the screen. The loops overlap and wander in and out of sync, like a lo-fi descendant of Steve Reich’s phase music. Each time a new scene begins on the monitors, the chant-boxes re-synchronize, beginning a new chant in unison for a moment before wandering off again. The composition continues this way throughout the exhibition.

Witnesses Trikaya Ottawa - panorama (600px)