みとうの川 Mito River

The careful channeling of rain water from the mountains is a prominent feature of Yamaguchi prefecture. Large drainage systems and the shaping of natural waterways help to maintain the tenuous relationship between agriculture and nature. The mountain behind the river is a combination of wood plantations, bamboo groves and uncultivated forest. Given the chance, nature would overtake human built infrastructure in less than a generation.


First day of recording at Mito River. Rode my bike to the mountain side on the south east end of the river.  I initially tried the mountain side of the river as I wanted to avoid noises of the town. However, this route proved rather unaccommodating for an art making site. The narrow one lane road, unkempt and slightly foreboding is mainly used by farmers as a thoroughfare. They drive past at high speed in their mini trucks, meaning I have to squash against the fence. The only open space I could place my pleated arc piece was on an unappealing patch of weed overgrown gravel near a drain on the south eastern end of the town's main shopping strip. While drawing and recording, I encountered a Japanese rat snake in the grass and many spiders, one attempted to build a web on my work.

The mountain creates a steep sound embankment and is alive with bright tones of summer crickets (so different from the Australian cicada drone). I also discovered a disused seating and play area, down a set of steps leading to the water. It was also severely overgrown with grass. After exploring with some trepidation, I decided that I preferred to brave the farmer's trucks up on the road than snakes.

Despite the difficulty, I managed to start three drawings and make a few recordings. The variety of flowing water sounds: proximity, velocity, volume (both as a measurement and sound wave size), here in Yamaguchi is remarkable. I also attained some recordings of water on the town side. This side is carefully maintained and developed as a visitor centre with public facilities. Therefore, the riverbank is very neat and hospitable, with a family of tame wild ducks and large carp who readily approach people for food.

Precipitation here is very high, created by the vast number of mountains surrounding the city. Even if it doesn't rain, streams are constantly flowing down the mountainside and drains are frequently flowing fast. The weather being very tropical at the moment, makes the environment familiar, yet oddly new to me. I have never experienced summer weather in the countryside. This is a new side of Japan for me.

The following images document the work completed in this first session.


Duped by the clouds. I set up my drawing, only to feel some rain droplets. With an impending typhoon predicted to arrive in the afternoon, I packed up my precious paper and retreated from the firing line. At 23:22, I had yet to see more droplets. AIAV staff have moved all the furniture inside in anticipation of the storm and high winds.

The typhoon is predicted to peak at 12pm tomorrow. Not sure if I will be able to get any onsite drawing done, may need to remain within the studio.


Second day of actual drawing and sound recording. Although intending to stay on the town side of the river, I turned my bicycle to the mountainside on a whim. The typhoon seemed to have blown away the weighty clouds and humidity, bringing a hint of autumn crispness to the morning. I first documented a small stream delivering mountain water down to the river. The farmer's road had been built above it, but a channel runs underneath the road. It's a muddy place, where the mountain meets the river. A tiny freshwater crab was making its way down the rocks while I was recording. 

I found a bend in the road on the north end of the river near an orchard. As the river receives full sun most of the day, I found some blissful shade to work under and provided the orchard farmer with some entertainment. As this was a small road and pathway, I was only able to work on the folded globe and walking drawings. I placed my microphones in the grass and recorded the insect choruses with occasional birds, and constant town noises in the background.

For the pleated arc piece, I found a beautiful patch of grass near a small overgrown hill. I found myself responding to the shadows of the grass around and inside the arc. There were many bird calls, but unlike Australia, birds here can be difficult to see, even if you hear them. Some recreational fishermen made their way down to the river from this side, revealing another path to me. They were just in shorts and sandals, impervious to insects and snakes. So many insects tried to make my drawing a home in the short time I had it laid down. They too, like shelter.

Drawing documentation:

OCT 10

Third day of drawing. Arrived at 7:35 on the town side and found that a large section of the riverbank was submerged. There was a large amount of rain a couple of nights earlier, but the water receded by 8am and the riverbank was slowly baked dry by the sun. I set up my drawing further downstream and had to weigh my pleated arc piece down with my bags. Nevertheless, the wind was strong enough to blow them away after 10 minutes of drawing and one landed in a patch of water, sustaining a tear along a fold and some dirt smudges. I'm actually quite pleased with the results of this interaction with the elements.

Due to the windy conditions, I folded the pleated arc into its compact form and began to handle it like a book. This development was made possible as earlier marks allowed me to orientate various sections to points in the surrounding landscape.

The medium used most today was a watercolour palette and water brush. Although this allowed for a greater variety of washes and colours, the plastic fibre brush head was smooth and lacking in character. I still prefer the resistance of natural hair brushes and pencils. It was also very difficult to use the watercolour palette with the walking scroll, and I ended up kneeling on the floor to complete the work.

As it was a public holiday, there were a few families visiting the river. One party in particular moved me. A father had brought his seven year old daughter and four year old son down to the river to sail paper boats and eat their convenience store breakfast. The ‘kare pan’ curry bread, smelt so good to the little boy. His blue boat was winning the race and he ran down the riverbank yelling ‘ichigooo!’ ‘number one!’ Regardless of the bird calls, the colours of trees and rushing water I was drawing, it is memories of this little family’s joy which will create lasting impressions of this site for me. 

Drawing documentation:

OCT 12

Fourth drawing session on Mito river, second time on the town side. I walked southwards with my walking scroll along the upper level of the embankment behind some apartments, encountering a couple of morning walkers. The town side affords more signs of human occupation to draw, such as the sounds of generators behind restaurants and the hanging straw mats used to shade windows. There were a couple of cranes near the bend in the river where there is a small island. It was much more quiet today and there were very few visitors. The drawings are beginning to get crowded and I think a fifth session will be the last.

The cool breeze rustling dry brown leaves in the trees gives the site a distinctly autumn feeling. The long grass is being felled slowly by caretakers and piles of dry grass are providing homes for insects and frogs. These have been the dominant sounds of this place. Water and insects, more so than the birds. I also realised how loud the sound of jumping crickets are on the pavement.

Drawing documentation:

OCT 14

Final drawing session for the Pleated Arc and Walking Scroll pieces which reached a distinct finishing point and felt complete. However, the Folded Globe piece still feels unfinished. I reached the river around 8:14 and the sun was already high. There were groups of kindergarten children at the playground by 9am and I began the Folded Globe piece well after they arrived. I became quite distracted in observing them and lost my focus as all the other sights and sounds became secondary. I will need to return for another session for the Folded Globe. 

I attempted to use a fine point archival pen for the Walking Scroll, but the variety of marks I could make with it were rather limited and lacking in expression. Instead, the charcoal pencil has become a favourite tool of mine as it yields both fine and thick lines in many textures and tones. I have been primarily using it for responses to visual objects as it has a solid materiality to it, however, it has also been effective for strong, loud sounds like cars and crows.

Drawing documentation:

OCT 25

Walked to Mito today and arrived around 8am. I was too early for the supermarkets, so wandered down a path along the river. The long summer grass had been cut at ground level, revealing terraced steps on the embankment which had been previously hidden. This resulted in a dramatic change in the soundscape. There were no more richly layered insect trills, as their homes had disappeared. The piles of dried cut grass had also been removed, transforming the texture of the ground from soft piles hiding mysterious creatures, to hard grey brown earth. I was fortunate to see this transition from summer to autumn, green to brown. Even the praying mantis are now brown to match their environment. The humid fecundity of summer has given way to the retiring stillness of the cooler season. 

OCT 27

The Folded Globe felt unresolved and I decided to do another session at Mito with this work in the morning. Arrived at 9am and the sun had already baked dry the riverbank. It was my final visit to Mito so I decided to finally feed the ducks who had been disappointed in my final visit. Their quacks had made their way into my sound composition, so it was important to thank them. 

The rainfall had been far less than the previous month, so the river was quite calm and shallow. The water blended mountain and sky into a clear blue green and the cut grass lay in piles drying on the edge of the water. The change in colours from my first to last week here has been dramatic. The lush, buzzing fecundity of summer had given way to the hushed rustle of dry vegetation. 

I stood under a tree in a section of the river that had been overgrown with grass in the previous weeks and unaccessible. There were very few people along the river and the sounds I drew on the globe were of birds, insects and wind. The work now feels complete and I am ready to say goodbye. 

Folded Globe Drawing Documentation:

Mito, Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan

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