The Look of the Feel (Pt. I)

A few thoughts on instrumental tone-color and the noh spectrum

Contributed by Michael Gardiner

(Editor’s note: this entry is Part One in a series of entries wherein Dr. Gardiner discusses his work with the spectral analysis of noh music and instrumentation, and the various revelations he discovers as a result.)

Michael Gardiner

Let me begin with an apology (very Japanese, I know…)

Ethnomusicologist Klaus Wachsmann tells of a startling response to his making of a field recording in Uganda—he recorded a mother singing a lullaby to her child, but when he played the recording back, the mother became very upset saying, “You’ve taken my child’s voice away!” The process of recording damaged or interrupted the mother-child bond. As a music theorist I find that many people (most often musicians themselves) have a similar reaction to the analysis of a repertoire they hold close to their heart.  Typically, artists feel that I am trying to objectify an interior experience that inherently resists objectification. As a student of noh I often sense similar reactions to questions concerning sound or form and therefore, preemptively, tend to remove my ‘analytical hat’ before I enter the room, much like removing ones shoes (it’s the polite thing to do).  Also, unlike the atmosphere of an American university setting, in noh you would never ask a teacher such questions, nor would the conditions for such an opportunity ever really arise. At the end of the day, however, as an adult, occidental student coming to noh fairly late in the game, it is always made perfectly clear that I am and will forever be something of a bumbling outsider. Furthermore, since my interest in the art form arose from such questions concerning the nature of its sounds in the first place (in addition to the fact that philosophical concepts are not always ‘polite’), I proceed in this web-based ‘arena’ of ideas (or, potential gladiatorial amphitheater…) without too much of a sense of moral compunction.

I am well aware that a simple blog entry won’t resolve the thorny issue of the dislocation of our interior and exterior experiences as related to the analytic consideration of musical sound, but I do think it possible to come to some kind of concession through a fairly simple thought experiment; namely, we can easily develop a third-person perspective of a first-person experience. We do it all the time. It is a basic aspect of our interpersonal developmental skills, the ability to ‘read people’ or take the perspective of another, it’s a very ‘conversational’ approach, actually.

Spectrographic image detailing the acoustic tone-color of a noh drum call (kakegoe). Michael Gardiner.

This is largely how I have come to see musical analysis; it is “the look of the feel” of the subjective sound. It usually begins as a third-person perspective of my own first-person perspective of a piece of music, and develops from there. Such an approach need not be seen as a heartless scientific probing (I don’t believe in panoptic viewpoints anyway)—I’m not trying to steal your child’s voice, I promise. I’m just trying to ‘see what I can hear’, both literally and figuratively. It is an attempt to multiply and open, not limit, the number of perspectives available. “There is no absolute ear; the problem is to have an impossible one—making audible forces that are not audible in themselves. In philosophy, it is a question of an impossible thought, making thinkable through a very complex material of thought forces that are unthinkable” (Gilles Deleuze, Two Regimes of Madness, 160).  Sorry for the lengthy apology.  To be continued …

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About Theatre Nohgaku

Noh, one of the oldest continuing stage arts, combines highly stylized dance, chant, music, mask and costume with intense inner concentration and physical discipline, creating a uniquely powerful theatrical experience. Theatre Nohgaku’s mission is to share noh’s beauty and power with English speaking audiences and performers. We have found that this traditional form retains its dramatic effectiveness in languages other than Japanese. We believe noh techniques hold a powerful means of expression in the context of contemporary English language theatre.
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One Response to The Look of the Feel (Pt. I)

  1. Pingback: The Look of the Feel (Pt. II) | Theatre Nohgaku Blog

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