Welcome to Kaeru-an

The Felix Hess Collection

Translation & Commentary by Professor John Stevens

Photography by Felix Hess

Kaeru-An is the Japanese name of my Zen art collection. Falling in love with Japanese Zen art; how could this happen to me? Here is my personal story: first scientist, then artist, now Zenga lover.

When I was very young I wanted to understand everything, the whole cosmos! Later in university, I chose physics as my major field of study. A great example for me was Albert Einstein, and my aim was to study and explore the most fundamental physics. However, it did not turn out that way.

During my student years I became interested in boomerang flight and I wanted to know how such a strange phenomenon is possible. I decided to investigate this on my own and began my research in my free hours. A creative professor offered me the opportunity to continue my boomerang research as a PhD project. This involved a lot of math, a lot of experiments, and reading everything I could find about boomerangs, most of it written by ethnologists. Since the Aboriginal people of Australia are well known for their use of boomerangs, I decided to find a job in Australia. After completing my doctoral thesis on the aerodynamics and motion of boomerangs in 1975 I moved from Holland to Australia and for some years I worked in Adelaide as a mathematician.

There, in the hills where I lived was a small creek along the garden’s edge. At night, hundreds of small frogs were calling, generating amazing natural concerts, with rhythms and waves of sound that enthralled me. Such concerts were never predictable, they were spontaneous and very spatial. Here I first met the frogs of Australia; here my listening began. At night, I was spellbound; I could not stop listening. Later, as I traveled in the outback and camped in very quiet spots, the beauty of the nights was overwhelming, the richness of the sounds unending, and frogs became my teachers before I even was aware of it. Frogs are listeners too. I had quickly noticed this, since frogs would stop calling when I approached them; they sensed my footsteps. I bought sound recording equipment and began making stereo recordings of frog choruses. I had to find active frogs in very quiet places, moving through landscapes with ears wide open and exploring the space all around me. I had to locate good spots for my microphones. I had to judge the spatial distribution of frog calls, the balance and depth of the chorus, and the presence of unwanted sounds such as rumblings of faraway trucks or the wind’s turbulence in the mikes. I had to sit still and be attentive to all sounds around me: the frogs, the insects, the wind, the rain, the distant trucks and airplanes, really everything active, night after night after night. I learned to just sit still in silence and listen. The concerts were never the same, they were influenced by ambient sounds, by how warm and how humid it was, by the time of the year and the time of the night, by the wind, by the clouds and the moonlight, and by things unknown to me; they were always utterly fresh. I was enchanted by the frogs of Australia; those were wonderful nights! . . . . . .

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