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2000 Leonardo New Horizons Award Finalist

Toshio Iwai

Piano - as image media (1995), MIDI Grand piano, SGI 02, PC, data projectors, trackball, screens


About the work

Iwai's first interactive works were experimental animations and precinematic "toys" such as flipbooks and zoetropes. Since 1986 he has used the computer to create "visual music systems." In his early piece Well of Lights (1992), which he developed while artist-in-residence at the San Francisco Exploratorium, Iwai used computer graphics and a video projector to create several hundred animated aquatic creatures that "swim," play, and change form in an ethereal vivid blue environment that suggests both air and water. Another early piece, Music Insects (1992), merged sound and computer images to create abstract "music insects" that "react" to color dots on the computer screen. (The dots trigger musical scales, light patterns, and sounds.) The user creates a color path for the insects and random musical performances that the artist has termed "visual music."

Iwai's Piano (1995), a later sound work, is related to these early interactive experiments. Here the user, seated at the piano, triggers a flow of images that depress the piano's keys; a consequence to this action releases yet another flight of images. The resulting interactive installation synthesizes two different aesthetics: sounds (simple melodies), images and a mechanical object (the piano) with digital media. A projected score and computer-generated imagery transform the piano into image media, hence the work's name.

Sound is the triumphant component in these works, for it activates and shapes the visual work. But the visual aspect of Iwai's installations is lovely. His interactive systems appeal to the creative impulses of adults and children alike with their celebration of animation, computer potential, and the joy of sound.

--Barbara Lee Williams,
Leonardo/ISAST Awards Committee chairperson


(artist questionnaire)

Date of birth:


Date and location of your first major exhibition:

Electro-Visual Evolution, INAX Gallery, Tokyo, Japan, 1986

Location where you currently work (city and country):

Ogaki, Japan

How do you see technology changing art for the good or ill in the next decade?:

Technologies have been giving artists a lot of inspirations and possibilities. I wasn't able to create any of my works without technologies. So I am quite optimistic.


to learn more about Toshio Iwai's work, visit these websites:



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