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.
$B!!!!(B 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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