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.