sa Sound Arts vol.2

Takahashi Yuji & Tanaka Kazuko

In 1994, TAKAHASHI Yuji gave a series of talks and concerts called "The Body of Musical Instruments" in which he presented methodologies for creating new music. This article was transcribed from a talk given in 1992 with TAKADA Kazuko, Takahashi's shamisen teacher, as moderator.
 "The Tone-Color of Music" (Part 1) A Talk with TAKAHASHI 
Yuji (composer)  Moderator: TAKADA Kazuko (shamisen)  
Takahashi (T): What we're here to talk about is the "tone-color" of 
music, but   the word, tone-color, doesn't seem quite right to me. It 
wouldn't be right for me  just to decide on a new title either. I suppose it's 
because when someone says  tone-color, most people think of the tone-
color of instruments in  an orchestra.  But what I'm trying to suggest with 
the word is a little different. Would you use it if  you were talking about a 
shamisen? Tone-color .  What meaning would it have  in that case?

Takada (K): Well, you might use it if you wanted to express 
something about the  nuance of sound.

T: Right. For example, when you're talking about an 
announcement, you might  use the word tone-color. It's also used about 
singing. When you say tone- color,  there's something a little different 
about it. Like singing the kana maybe. Maybe  this is something that 
would be better left unsaid, but if you're talking about  western music, I 
get the feeling that there is some sort of decorative sound  attached to it. 
So if someone mentions color and not tone , I think, "What are  they really 
trying to say?"  If it's western music, then it is music that uses pitch.  Every 
kind of Asian music west of India does too. Counting is used to represent  
how high the pitch of a sound is. It becomes tied up with counting. So for  
example, if we're talking about the relation between 1and 2, then that's 
an  octave. That kind of situation. Indian music is the same, so is Greek, 
so is Arab,  and so is Persian. By the time pitch entered western music, it 
was really rather  late. By then it had become typical for western music to 
have pitch too.  But  before I explain any more about what tone-color is, 
maybe I should say a little  bit more about what pitch is. Pitch is 
connected to counting. Which means, well,  there are lots of things you 
could say about it, but if you have  a count of 1, 2, 3,  4, 5, you can 
measure the distance between these units.  Then if you have  things with 
a different quality, saying 1 or 2 doesn't have any meaning, so there  is a 
tendency to make everything equal. What I'm trying  to say is that the  
properties each of these things has are all the same.  All sounds are  
represented by pitch. That's why they can be pure, and also why they can  
become abstract. And whatever you say, it can be written on paper--pitch, 
that  is. That's why things that are written down become old, and that's 
why they  become historical, and when that happens they become a part 
of a certain era.  Which is why we say that the next era has to be 
something completely different.  Because if you write it on paper, writing it 
means you can remember it. More  than remembering it, writing it takes 
the place of your memory. So I guess  you're really forgetting it. That's 
why when music becomes a certain way, for  example, music from 1,000 
years ago compared to music now, it is of course  different. You might say 
that after writing it down once, a certain era is over. For  example, 
Mozart's music isn't like music now. But on the other hand, music that  
hasn't been written down on paper is always 'now music.' That's 
because music  that isn't written down and is being played now is music 
of the present. If it  wasn't being done, then no one could do it. So it starts 
out that way from the  very beginning. When you think about what this 
music is based on, you try to  use a word like tone-color. If it can be said 
to be based on something, you might  say East and Southeast Asian 
music. Then while looking at all the different  traditions that exist, you 
begin to see music that is based on a completely  different principle. 
Saying that just because someone is in Asia they have to be  doing 
Asian music isn't exactly right. Or that because someone is in Japan they  
have to be doing Japanese music.  The Asian tradition in music still 
exists all  over the place, and that's a very rare thing. The African tradition 
can't be found  as much I don't think.  It's quite difficult to say whether or 
not what is now called  African music was the same before Europeans 
came in. In the same way, it  would be very difficult to conjecture about 
what kind of music was in Mexico  before the Spanish went there.  I 
suppose this means that there are traditions  that have  been ruined in 
other places, but in Asia, the same traditions still exist,  so it's easier to 
say what there is, and what can be made there. So what we call  tone-
color really means, more than being tone, something that has the stamp 
of   time on it. Pitch means count, which means it can be written down on 
paper,  and that it is gradually becoming an equal, uniform system. So as 
it becomes  more abstract, it also gradually becomes more spatial.  
      Well, when  you think about tone-color, it has various kinds of 
sounds. That shows us that  the quality of each of these sounds varies, 
but that they all exist at the same  time. So it's impossible to conclude that 
only one of them is tone-color. These  kinds of differences necessarily 
exist. So with a shamisen, how do you express  tone-color? For one 
thing, you could say, there are resonating sounds and non- resonating 
ones. Should we try playing it a little?

(Takada starts to play the shamisen)

T: Okay, first should we try playing only one string?


K: Can you hear this resonating twang?

(the same sound repeated)

T: Well, if there is a resonating sound, there should also be a 
non-resonating   sound. Can you please play that for us too?


T: To get this kind of sound, you stop the string somewhere, 
right? There's a   kind of opposition that exists between these two 
sounds. Then, for example,  with a gong or something like that, there's a 
difference in the diffusion of sound  between a unified "bong" and the 
"crash" that it makes when you hit the rim of it.  How would you go about 
expressing this, since you are unable to write it down  on paper? Even if 
you wrote that the pitch of one sound is this , and the pitch of  another is 
that, the difference in tone-color wouldn't really come out. But what if  you 
made the sound with your mouth?  A mouth shamisen? Then "ting" and  
"ring" would be different.


K: This is "ting"....and this is "ring."

T: She plucked the string that time. But even if it was a "ring," you 
could also use  a scooping motion.


T: Well, anyway, the difference between "ting" and "ring" is not 
the difference in  pitch. There are lots of places that use this method of 
explaining something with  their mouths. In India, for example, when they 
play  tabla, there are words that  sound like drums to explain what to play. 
It's called solkattu, and in it there's a  difference between "deen" and 
"teen."  Also, in gagaku (Japanese imperial  court music), there is 
something called shoga, which is a kind of singing, so it  has a melody I 
think, but it isn't really singing, it's also connected to tone-color.   Even 
with the same finger, you can make a different sound. That isn't pitch  
either. More than anything, I want to say that tone-color is something 
different.  That's why you might use your mouth to explain it. Or your 
hand.  With your  hand, the kandokoro (the point on a stringed instrument 
where a string is  pressed in order to produce a sound) is the same kind 
of thing. In the case of  the shamisen, we say kandokoro, but tsubo (a 
more widely-used term  to  describe the same general idea) might be 
easier to understand. This is what we  call the fourth kandokoro, and this 
is a sansagari (one of the primary  tones on a  shamisen). And here's the 
sixth kandokoro etc.


T: To play this, you use your index finger. Then you can go up to 
the eighth one.


T: Then there's also something called the sawari (a tone on the 
shamisen  achieved by shifting a string out of its fixed position in the nut, 
and creating a  rattling sound), which makes this string resonate. Or if you 
want to describe it in  terms of intervals, it's a perfect fifth, so it resonates.  
I really want to say  something about looking and using your hand. You 
can move from one tsubo to  another. You measure that distance with 
your index finger.

K: That's right.

T: You don't do it by looking, but according to the place where 
your hand is, you  move from one tsubo to another. It's like acupuncture 
or moxibustion, where you  touch a certain place, and feel a certain tsubo 
(a homonym meaning,  'therapeutic pressure point'). It's the same as that. 
One tsubo is connected  to  our sense of touch, and the other is musical. 
You might also describe it in a  more abstract way, but it's all connected 
to the body. So it's possible to  communicate something by saying 
something with our mouths. And when we  press our hands down on a 
certain tsubo, something can be communicated  through  that feeling. 
Things that can be communicated in this way are called  kuden (literally, 
'oral transmission or instruction'), and even things that can't be   said with 
one's mouth can be kuden. This is something that even if it isn't written  
down will be felt by successive generations, and can continue to be  
communicated, so it is something that always exists in the present. So for  
example, even if you say that 100 years ago there was probably a 
completely  different way to play the shamisen, the people who play it 
have been continuing  to do the same thing.

K: I think you're right.

T: This is a very powerful thing. Much more so than something 
that has been  written down. No matter how much you try to change the 
times, this is something  that changes naturally with the times. That's way 
it can remain the same even  after hundreds of years have passed. It 
lives together with time in  an ideal state.  If you took the principle of pitch 
that has been used until now to construct music  and tried to think of 
another way to construct it, you would always have to use  the original 
principle as a reference. For the time being, traditions exist, and  even if 
you tried to start something with completely no connection to them, you  
wouldn't be able to pass it on to anyone  else. You'd have no other 
choice than  to start from a place that wouldn't allow you to communicate. 
The way to use  tradition is as a kind of entrance.  You have to 
understand that there is an  entrance, and from there you'll be able to go 
on to the next thing. Which means  that if you're thinking about changing 
something, you have to begin with all of  the new Japanese music up 
until now, and the contemporary Japanese music,  and the western-style 
contemporary music no matter how new it is. After you've  gone through 
all of that, it might feel as if there is nothing new to do. So if you're  
thinking about doing something new, rather than doing that and trying to  
develop it as you move toward the future, I think you could say that what 
you are  really doing is facing back toward the past, and reconstructing it. 
For example  with the shamisen, there are various  schools, but they 
aren't really the way to  protect that tradition. No matter how much the 
past seems to have been  formulated, while thinking about it, you  should 
go in the direction of the origins  of the past as a whole, and not toward 
any one particular school. (to be  continued next issue)

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