In the last years of his life Ed van der Elsken worked on what should have been his audiovisual magnum opus: Tokyo Symphony. The installation was meant to be his homage to Japan – a land that had embraced him personally as well as as a photographer and author.
The installation was never finished due to his early death at age 60. It was thought that the collection of 1,600 images, which is currently stored at the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam, was all that remained of this ambitious project. In 2007, researcher Frank Ortmanns discovered five audiotapes belonging to the project. Fascinated by this missing piece of the puzzle, Ortmanns approached Paradox to discuss the possibility of posthumously realizing Tokyo Symphony. Taking into account Van der Elsken’s fascination with AV technology, it was concluded that a contemporary approach to this installation would be most appropriate. In other words: to make an installation as if Van der Elsken were still alive.
The immersive installation based on hundreds of unknown colour slides confronts the viewer with various traditional as well as contemporary and little known aspects of Tokyo: from demonstrations in Shibuya to weddings and memorial celebrations, from girls wrestling and karaoke in Harajuku to the Tsukiji fish market. Van der Elsken switches constantly from intimate portraits to lively street scenes. The spatial multi-screen design of the installation, which is accompanied by a soundtrack based on his original recordings, adds to the dynamic experience of the strange mixture of tradition and modernity that characterises the metropolis of Tokyo. Through the harmonic as well as disharmonic interplay of various audiovisual elements, the installation can be seen as a true modern symphony about urbanism and eastern culture – a symphony that reflects the notion of the all absorbing and omnipresent urban environment.