Not noh, but Not not noh


Contributed by Michael Gardiner

In my recent, more analytic posts, there was some semblance of logic and/or method, however ill-formed. But today I’m going to try and talk about my own music and noh. A dangerous topic, and by all accounts probably a bad idea. For here there is no real logic. Maybe resonance, but not logic. I always cringe when composers try to justify their work either by discussing their compositional method, or cultural references embedded therein, as if a contrived and tidy explanation could lead to some sort of epiphany of relevance. Either you will like it/get it, or you won’t—I’m afraid no explanation will help, no matter how erudite the attempt. Next, I would add that I am not, in any way, trying to ‘do noh’.  I assemble assemblages of sound to make some kind of a world (a whirld). Noh does what it does and I do what I do, and we both go merrily along our way.  I respect it precisely by not trying to mimic it.

With this bottom line in place, I can now safely say that the first time I heard noh I felt like I had ‘returned home’. Having stated that there is no direct connection, I can open to the infestation of resonances I hear and feel, and say that I wouldn’t write music the way I do were it not for noh.  I imagine many people reading this have experienced something similar, so I don’t need to be overly poetic about it—I will just note how strange of a sensation it was to be exposed, unexpectedly (at a western conservatory of music) to a sound that was so close to the music I wanted to write.  So let me now play you some of that music, some fourteen years after first exposure.  The only preface I will give at this point is that noh, in its most esoteric sense, ‘prepares a space’ (sonic, poetic, gestural, emotional, etc.). Through admittedly varied and various means, I too try to prepare spaces with my music.  Noh is an assemblage of theatre, dance, music, poetry, costume, etc. My music is an assemblage of samples and textures, something of a hyperreal landscape.


The following is a roughly 20 minute excerpt from my new CD, dominant monad, to be released this spring on Visceralmedia Records.  It is long, but like noh, [or Wagner, for that matter] needs that space to form itself. The excerpt begins with a fairly heavy distortion overlaid with organ, creating a density of rhythmic and harmonic ‘screens’ which are then liquidated, moving into more ambient spaces, at which point you hear some overt noh references [although, I hear the distortion as not being unrelated to noh … I can get into that later].

(Editor’s Note: the above sound file is best experienced in stereo. For full affect, headphones are advisable.)

If you like what you hear you can read how I connect these textures to what I understand as a continuum of Japanese sonic aesthetics (both medieval and modern) in a post to follow.  If not, we’ll part ways here.


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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1 Response to Not noh, but Not not noh

  1. Jean Garren says:

    Actually, I find your (Michael Gardiner) articles quite interesting. I’d never have thought to make a noh music : e.g.,Boulez-Carter analogy, but it does make some sense. Thanks!

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