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.

[Takahashi image]
A Talk with TAKAHASHI Yuji (composer)
[Takada image]
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 3 in a series of three articles.)

Takahashi (T):Another thing about tone-color is its connection with nature. When a person touches something, that thing makes a sound. When you let go of it, there is sometimes a long resounding sound, but the sound will always disappear. For instance, something like a sound lengthened artificially by rubbing a string was not thought of very highly in ancient times. In imperial court music, the first instrument the emperors and aristocrats played was the pipa. Then maybe the koto. This is true not only of Japan, but also of Korea. At any rate, it would have been out of the question for a person of noble birth to play the flute. That was something done by people as part of their family profession; it was natural for court nobles to play plucked instruments. But all of a sudden in the Middle Ages, there was a reversal and pipa priests became lowly people at the bottom level of society. Shamisen also occupied the same position. That's why the question of whether these people occupied a higher or lower position finally can be answered the same way. In other words, both things that are higher and lower than humans are just as closely linked with nature. The social status of instruments with these kinds of sounds and the social standing of the people who played these instruments was all tied together.

There's a song by YAMADA Kengyo called "Nasuno," and the piece I did was to try putting some computer-made sounds on top of it. That was the song Kazuko played earlier. I took out one part from the middle of it. There are a number of ways you could do this, but the easiest one is... These are two different sounds made by the same drum. The drum sounds change randomly within a range four degrees higher or lower than the sound that is emitted. In other words, there are no structured pitches. And the position of the spaces between sounds is also not fixed. That is to say, it is a program made up entirely of time and differences in timbre. This is also the same. (sound) This is an ashirai (treated) No flute program. There are two flute-like sounds and each of them acts independently. With No flutes, the inexactness of the scale is bound to be a problem, That's the way it is made. And with this sound, tone-color is important, and how high or low the pitch is is not particularly important. The sounds in this program actually only have two pitches. Each of the pitches has been minutely adjusted to waver within quite a wide range. And from the instant a sound is emitted, the point at which it begins to slide is also decided at random. Then as far as the way time is controlled--probability is used in most computer music, the easiest way is to take a number at random and adapt the sounds and lengths of sound one after another. But these random numbers always have a mean value, so if you keep on listening to this kind of music, you always settle into a certain mood. This program does have a kind of probability, but it is probability without a mean value. For example, if a sound begins slowly it becomes sluggish. And by chance, one space gets filled in and one after another all of the spaces are filled in. That's why, at unexpected times, the program goes in unpredictable directions. In other words, there is no mean. Intervals are decided in about the same way. I've got something here made out of shamisen sounds that I'll combine with a tuning. Maybe this is it. Well, shall we play something together? Anything is fine.

(shamisen with computer sound)

T: What did you play?

Takada (K): I picked out some of the sounds I heard, arranged them, and pursued them--I did a lot of different things...

T: The sounds you were hearing were samples of all of the sounds that are used in "Nasuno." There would be about twenty sounds the regular way. The only difference was that they were emitted randomly. The original is itself already quite free, but by using sansagari (a tuning three degrees lower than normal), it makes the sounds move around even more freely. Because it is so free, it makes it possible to adopt a variety of styles later. I think this is one of the special characteristics of this kind of tradition. Music that can made using a combination of te (technique) is a kind of Yamada-esque te .

K: Yes, it is.

T: You could also use the te of other schools. Depending on how you change them, even with the same te , the way you use them becomes completely different. You can find the same thing in a waka poem, honka-dori is a kind of quotation from an original poem. It might be a quotation or a parody. Also, by saying something a certain way, you can make use of the same things in very different ways. And because one way seems more suitable, and we change it as we see fit, we are able to remember it. That we are able to remember it suggests that this is a kind of memory device. For example, this computer saves information. Information is something that is saved. We might call something a message, but what it is really is the sending or receiving of information. But I have a feeling that the way human beings memorize things is a little different. The act of remembering something means making a thing, not saving it. So in remembering a te, it changes according to the person. When one school borrows a te from another school, it is always changed.

K: Yes, that's true.

T: So on the other hand, you could say that it is a making process. It is making, remembering, learning--all of those things. Without that you can't remember it, and that means you can't learn it. Finally, the idea of structuring our own theory of information about how human beings know or do a certain thing, making a machine out of it, and calling what we end up with "technology" is an extremely nonsensical thing I think. We know that, but we going on doing it. And we'll probably keep on doing it even more. In effect, this is an example of how pointless it is to use a certain thing in one particular way. Shall we try out another program?

K: Well, until this point I've been using the same picking te, and you have been making sounds over there. After pushing the button, do you just leave it alone? For example, when we heard the sound of the howling coyote a while ago, after you pushed the button did you manipulate it any more?

T: Nope. I push the start button and choose a good time to stop it--that's all.

K: Are all of the programs you've introduced so far the same way?

T: Yeah, that's right.

K: But this time the tsure (accompaniment) you play is going to be different?

T: Yeah, this time I'm going to play it by hand.

K: As far as that goes, even though you use the same te when you play the shamisen, the way you perform something naturally changes slightly each time. As you're watching me playing shamisen that way, do you measure your breath and use the keyboard to play a sound?

T: That's right. But in fact, there are some keys that I play that emit a sound and others that take a little while. The sound is delayed by about 30mm/sec after I hit the key. That's because there are three kinds of sounds combined together. And with some of the sounds, the pitch is off. So in other words, there is a tsure (accompanying) shamisen. The main one is in front, and then behind there are people who are playing everything all together. And they aren't very good. I am playing badly back here. So if for instance I want to play an open first string... This time I happened to be able to play it correctly. And as I play, it starts to change a little bit. So if I tried to play a melody...there would be sounds that I didn't really play.

K: Oh, I see.

T: Should I accompany you on something?

K: Yes. Well, accompany me from "kogareteideshi" to "tamamonomae" (referring to lyrics in the song, "Nasuno").

(Takada sings as she plays and the computer plays along.)

K: Was that a better example?

T: That was...maybe so. (laughs) Originally, this was performed together with a koto, right?

K: That's right.

T: I'm trying to do that arpeggio in the koto part, but the sounds won't come out one at a time. That's what happens. This is tsure, and tsuke (following) means to play the same melody in a different way. In the actual program, first there are three instruments that play at random. (sound) Then you try to control this and produce a certain pitch. When you do that, all of the sounds bunch up together there. So you have to adjust it at times. (sound) Because if you just leave it alone, the sound starts to go off all by itself. Well, shall we try one of these sounds? How about letting me follow something? How about that "Toba-no-mikado-ni-miyazukae" part?

(Takada sings as she plays and the computer plays along.)

T: It's not going to get any better than that. There is also a little part that was added to the song later. For example, joruri (dramatic narrative chanted to shamisen accompaniment) usually begins and ends in the middle. When a sentence is begun in the middle, the scene changes in the middle. So when the main actor comes out at the beginning and says something, he begins to sing in the middle of one of the sentences. And before completely finishing the song, he abruptly turns around and goes back. This is very important. Take another example: Balinese kecak. In it, good battles against evil and in the end, it turns into a massive war, but there is no conclusion to it. At the climax of the battle, everyone silently draws back, and everything finishes. Tradition also seems to be like that (laughs). Human beings can't make the beginning and the ending of things. It just isn't allowed. That's one way of dealing with time. For example, there was a person who was researching the way that Australian Aborigines write songs. Even though the songs are short, they are written in an extraordinarily precise way. Even though there are only two lines of lyrics and a melody and rhythm to go along with them, all of the cycles will be off. So the lyrics begin in the middle, and go completely back around to the beginning and finish in the middle. Then they add the melody. That is, there are several different cycles moving around at once. It's like various sizes of cogwheels meshing and spinning around together. In other words, time is not singular--time is plural. So since it doesn't fit in a singular time, it is at the present and far away at the same time. In saying that, that distance is neither past nor future. Time is a point with infinite depth. That kind of a thing. And at what seems like the bottom of this depth are our ancestors. Ancestors aren't past and they aren't future either--they are another time that exists simultaneously. And as it were, this other time that exists simultaneously begins in the middle and ends in the middle. As I was saying before, tone-color is the same way too. Why are there different qualities of sound that exist simultaneously? Because there are different times, and the things in which these various times are alive are existing simultaneously. In other words, they are going beyond the everyday line that is time. That's why even when you look at joruri and Yamadaesque koto compositions, you can find this kind of structure too. So you don't especially have to play "Nasuno" or kecak, but by looking at these things you can get some hints about how to make a different kind of music that combines times in a very different manner. Well, in my opinion, that's the best way to use tradition.
(conclusion) (Xebec is responsible for the content of this article.)

Transcription of "The Tone-Color of Music" (Part 3, 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.)

* Nasuno ryojo(based on "Nasuno" by YAMADA Kengyo) shamisen, voice and live computer
* Yuji TAKAHASHI Real Time - - 6: Tori no Asobi on Fontec (disc no. FOCD3191)

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