sa Sound Arts vol.3

XEBEC SoundCulture Membership Magazine

Talk Session

Events, talks, interviews held at Xebec

In this section, we will be presenting things that we haven't been able to introduce before, including things that will be appearing for the first time in print.
A Talk with TAKAHASHI Yuji (composer)
Moderator: TAKADA Kazuko (shamisen)
"The Tone-Color of Music" (Part 2) This article was transcribed from a talk given in 1992 with TAKADA Kazuko, TAKAHASHI Yuji's shamisen teacher, as moderator. (Part 2 in a series of three articles.)

Takahashi(T) : Anyway, when you think about Japanese music, you have
to remember  that there is also Southeast Asian music, Korean music,
and Chinese music. And in looking at these various traditions, you
begin to see a common structure.  We're lucky enough to have a
shamisen and a person to play it here.  So we can try all kinds of
different things, or at least that's supposed to be our point of
departure. (laughs) Take the musical scale.  As KOIZUMI Fumio in
Tetrachord Theory and SHIBATA Minao in Nuclear Tones and Schematic
Frameworks, say the Japanese scale is a collection of various types of
scales based on fourths.  But, for example, when you make a sound with
the shamisen, for the second string, this is the second tsubo (the
point on a stringed instrument where a string is depressed to create a


T: Then, you can also play the string open.


T: When you play the second string open, the sound is five degrees
higher.   Then when you play it with the second tsubo, that sound is
five degrees higher than the first string.  Well, if the sound is made
using fifths, why is it that the core is supposed to be fourths?  When
you think about it, the scale is just a surface structure, and you
begin to see that this music isn't starting with scales.  The shamisen
has three tunings, honchoshi (main), niagari (two raised), and
sansagari (three lowered).  And this is the sansagari tuning, right?

Takada(K) : Yes.

T: And this tuning is based on fourths.


T: This was developed quite a bit later, wasn't it?

K: That's right.

T: Which is older, honchoshi or niagari?

K: Uhh, I think honchoshi is.

T: According to KITAZAWA Masakuni's theory, there are two choshi(mode)
in Japanese court music, hyojo and taishikicho, and both use the same
scale.  What's different about them is that different sounds are
stressed.  The sound of hyojo is close to honchoshi, and taishikicho
is close to niagari.  After that it becomes like a kind of dualism,
like that "Which is front, which is back?" idea in structuralism.
This isn't part of Kitazawa's theory, but as sansagari diverged from
honchoshi, the sojo choshi was created in court music. In court music,
there are six choshi altogether, and there is also meguri, which is
said to be a melodic pattern.  It is like a progression of the
characteristic notes of a choshi.  And in the case of sojo, there
wasn't any particular meguri, but on the other hand, this meant that
any of the meguri could be used freely.  This is closer to sansagari I
think.  I don't know why exactly, but... For example, Tang music
started coming in from China between the sixth and eighth centuries,
and in about the ninth century, there was a revolution in the
institution of music.  When this happened, the organization of court
music was completely changed, and the scales also changed.  More than
changing the scales, the scales disappeared, and were replaced by
choshi.  It is difficult to say exactly what the choshi is, but it
does have a certain kind of meguri.  At any rate, it wasn't as clear a
concept as a scale.  So if you think of this as tone-color, it becomes
a little bit easier to understand.  In Asia, particularly in Southeast
Asia, every place has two kinds of musical scales.  For example in
Indonesia, there is slendro and pelog.  Slendro is split into five
equal octaves, at least ideally.  And since it is divided into equal
intervals, it is a balanced scale.  Then there is pelog, and in it,
any sort of combination is possible.  There are big intervals and
small intervals, and these are combined.  As far as how they are used,
slendro expresses things like heaven, order, and nature, and pelog is
used to express human beings.  In various places in Asia, there is
always this kind of opposition, but China is the only place that
doesn't have it.  China is the only place where everything is in the
same pentatonic scale.  I'm certain that this was because there was a
written history in China.  For example, Confucianism talked about
reigaku (etiquette and music).  There is something written about how
when a country becomes disordered, the music becomes disordered, and
the choshi become indecent.  So there are, after all, things that
never appear on the surface of history.  Then when times became
dangerous, people historically became fond of music from the Western
Regions.  Western music meant music that came from the other side of
the Silk Road, and got mixed in to become what is actually called
Chinese music.  The instruments are the same way.  The Western Regions
were connected as far as Persia.  And there was a period in which
those peoples became the center of Chinese culture.  For example, the
Tang poet, LI Po, wasn't really Chinese, but is thought to have been
from one of these areas.  So you could say the same thing about the
combination of scales and pitches, and to come back to tone-color,
there is an opposition between a combination of equal sounds
representing an order that came from a certain kind of government,
religion, or heaven, and something combining a variety of diverse
sounds.  Then there is also a combination of tone-colors.  For
example, there is meguri in court music, and in No and shamisen, there
are shirabe and gin.  Gin is the name of a sound tsubo, and it also
refers to a kind of scale.  Well, if you divide it like that into
concepts, it starts to become a bunch of vague words.  So you can
think of things like choshi or shirabe or gin not as scales, but as a
combination of various tone-colors.  For example, there's the first
part of "Nasuno."

K: The first part?

T: Yeah.


T: With this, things like tetrachords or insenpo (one of the
traditional Japanese scales) don't have much meaning. What you're
hearing here are the tone-colors changing one-by-one.  And this is one
of the ways that sansagari begins, and as far as scales go, there are
really a lot of changes, and each of these sounds has its own
tone-color.  And how these are combined is the te (technique).  I'm
using te in the sense of pattern, and after all, according to the te,
there is a certain kind of unity that allows you to remember the
music. Well, that was a long preface, but now I'm going to go back to
the computer.  The computer is basically just a combination of
numbers, so it can only do very simple things.  So you start thinking
about how you can use it in a little more human way.  There's the
problem of tone-color I've been talking about.  For example, here....

(computer sound)

T: (while making sounds) This program is a combination of some other
programs, and this is the music it makes.  A combination of these
sounds is....  (sounds) For example, these two.  (sound) This sound is
the sound that you hear the second the plectrum touches a string on
the shamisen. The sound before sound starts.  (sound) This is the same
thing too.  Can you play one sound?

(shamisen sound)

T: If you actually try to cut the sound according to time, you can
divide it into the sound that you hear the second the plectrum touches
the string, and the sound that you hear the second it begins to
vibrate.  (sound) This has become a different unit.  (sound) This is
the vibrating sound, and (sound) this is the one that isn't vibrating.
Then what else is there?  (sound) This is the sound the second you
touch a piece of paper.  (sound) This is the rustle of a piece of a
cloth.  And there's this one.  (sound) Uh, what was that?  I think it
was a bell cricket.  Do bell crickets go "chin-chi-ro-rin?" Oh, maybe
that's a pine cricket.  I can't remember which it was.  Anyway, the
second an insect started to chirp. (sound) This is the beginning of
another kind of cloth rustling.  (sound) This is the same insect the
second it started to make another chirp.  (sound) What was this one
now?  I can't remember any more.  And there's.... (sound) This is a
loop of an owl beginning to hoot.  (sound) This is a coyote I think.
I wanted a kyubi-no-kitsune (a nine-tailed fox with supernatural
powers).  But I just happened to have a recording of a coyote, so I
used that. So, this program is all of these different things moving in
their own time.  (sound) They are moving to various positions in the
middle of space.  These are three of the same sounds piled together.
(sound) They are all short sounds.  It's fairly important that they be
short sounds. If they were long,  their pitch would become important.
But with short sounds, the instant the sound is emitted, or in other
words, time, becomes important.  In East and Southeast Asia, when you
hit something, the sound disappears soon.  Or, if you pluck something
like this, there's a reverberation that remains and then disappears.
So more than continuing, it is very important that a sound disappear.
Then the tone-color of the sound can be expressed.  Tone-color is
something that leaves a memo about time, or chops time up.  So the
reason things with various qualities can be combined and become music
is that the sounds are short.  That's why when you think about Indian
music, this is true too, and those long sounds that continue to swell
are searching for pitches, and then very quickly the expression
becomes abstract. (to be continued next issue.)

(Xebec is responsible for the content of this article.)

Transcription of "The Tone-Color of Music" (Part 2, a talk session with TAKAHASHI Yuji taken from the second day of the " Hakumei no Ongakushitsu (Twilight Music Room") workshop held on May 8 and 9, 1992 at Xebec Hall.

Back to Xebec SoundArts3 Overview
Xebec SoundArts3 Credits