Learning The Ropes
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The Real Abstract, Zen and Experimental Thread
I’ve been inspired to compose a lot of Japanese and Korean music lately because of inspiration I have gotten from Zen. one idea, is that you don’t try to make the mind quiet; you get rid of discrimination. It makes me think that music can mirror “bad” sounds as well as the good if we’re not being discriminatory but of course we don’t have to “like” them either.
The music would be empty as in non/dual. The Japanese philosopher Karatani, operating in the Western tradition says the way out of the dilemma of postmodernism is Paralaxity which is the holding of two opposing views as in the Paralax technique in art where, for example, opposite ends of a street are shown on the same canvas. This makes me think of the bitonality used when Shakuhachi accompanies Koto. They play two different scales at the same time; a technique favored by the Western composer Bartok as well.
One “artist” created a video installation at the site of a polluted river in Poland where all the people involved; the polluting company, the people who lived there, the politicians, the environmentalists were interviewed and their interviews played back simultaneously “on site” where many people often visited the location. It caused the company and the government to cooperate in channeling the pollution to only one side of the river. I feel art can that can create positive change like that embodies the highest goals of art.
A rethinking within modern mathematics is the concept of the absolute, unique unit such as the number “one” or the size of a tessellation (or interval in music). There is now a greater importance being placed on the possibility that the basic unit of something can also be treated as being relative. In Quantum Optics, if an optical circuit made of optical fibers has a fork in the path, a single photon, the smallest packet of light, changes shape and travels down both roads simultaneously. A single photon can be in two different places at the same time because it partakes of a greater dimension than what three dimensional space can contain. Contrary to what we normally experience, space is relative.
To show the global picture of our current understanding of our omniverse perhaps the smallest units of music (rhythmic and melodic intervals) can be made to embody more of their relativeness, even simultaneously with their absoluteness. A melody can be compressed into a smaller range than the octave, which will create microtones, or stretched into a larger range. Rhythms can also be stretched to cover more space, cutting its direct relationship to the melody. This is already done in Japanese Taiko drumming, a technique which was copied by the composer Messiaen.
Another occurrence in nature is the fact of resonant frequencies. Several moons of Jupiter orbit at a ratio of 4:2:1. That’s the same as dividing a sting in half and dividing it again, or playing music at twice the speed and twice the speed again. For an electron or a planet to change its current state, it has to enter a more chaotic state before it can jump to the next resonant frequency. The lesson is that “complexity” occurs at the boundary between order and chaos. This reminds me that the intuitive mind is the link between the intellect and the universal mind. It also makes me think of two players with the exact same melody and rhythm can go out of phase rhythmically by having one play slower and the same one also go out of tune until enough complexity between the parts has been reached when the relationship between the two parts can logically jump to the next resonant frequency.
Those involved with Zen who created Noh theater co-opted an existing form to suit their purposes. What are our purposes and what form of music can we co-opt? Perhaps using whatever instruments we have at hand; even normal, household objects since the focus can be on the mundane.
The green zen garden is an “abstraction” of a landscape painting. The zen rock garden can be a monochrome abstraction of the ocean of milk and mount meru or Buddha and Boddhisatvas. This is similar to the black ink brush paintings which are minimalist monochromes in order to get us to look past the surface to the essence of the subject. Art (and music) is an inherently religious concerns. To get the viewer (or listener) to look past the surface to the essence of something we have to paint the surface as superficially and unreal as possible. We must suggest but not fill in the details. The minimalist techniques from brush painting can be applied such as the one corner technique or the thrifty brush technique.
Nature is not symmetric the way city streets are, so it’s said the rhythm in Shakuhachi playing and other Japanese music should be the mind’s breath, like dripping water, or a child clapping. That’s the reason for constantly changing time signatures in traditional Japanese folk music and other Japanese music. Aleatoric processes such as painting with ink by blowing through a straw encourages the “controlled accidents” which occur in nature. A plant or animal has to see how the accidental qualities they’ve acquired from expressions of errors in their DNA can be used, in their efforts at adaptation to their environments.
One of my tunes Vajrapani has a drone of a Major 2nd. The interval of a M2 has the ratio of 7:8. (One of the resonant frequencies). The first (A) section is in 8/8. The second section (we will call the B section) is in 7/8 time. They both repeat then in the C section when I superimpose/stretch the 7/8 rhythm to fit over the 8/8 rhythm and playing them simultaneously, effectively expressing the interval of a M2 in the rhythm which is actually what your ear hears but at a much faster tempo when two different notes a M2 apart are “beating” against each other.
The piece is bitonal in that the only “chord”, the interval of a M2 between C and D, has a scale/melody that contains no D playing over the chord/interval. Blues/rock is also bitonal because a C Major chord plays but the soloist plays C minor pentatonic (5 note scale): a wonderful invention of the Africans. I chose a Japanese scale C Eb F Gb G B which has several changing tones expanding its chromatic possibilities.
That scale’s intervallic design of m3, M2, m2, m2, M3 can also create a rhythm in 12/8 ( l.. l.l ll. ..l). I need to be in 8/8 to express the abstraction of the M2 drone to the rhythm so I put the matrix for a measure of 8/8 underneath the chart for the rhythm in 12/8 and I put the rhythms in the 8/8 matrix on the rhythmic events nearest to the positions for rhythmic events that are occurring in the 12/8 pattern to get (l..l …l ll… ..l).
I play the rhythm on the Korean Changu drum, only I don’t have a Korean changu drum so I used found sounds; a five gal plastic water bottle, a small white paint can and a small black one played with a real marimba mallet and a bamboo whip you’re supposed to use, but its one I handmade. In Japanese Zen theater Noh, the form was appropriated from something that already existed so I feel O.K. in using what’s at hand.
Also, in the Japanese Zen tea ceremony, they value pottery cups and other tools for the ceremony which are made in Korea because of their rustic simplicity. Although the master craftsman can make ceramics using more modern methods he purposely fires the cups to have “imperfections” in shape, texture, glazes because the look, feel and sound of the cups appeal to the mind. It reminds us of a more simple, uncomplicated life of a dweller in the countryside. I took the Japanese preference for Korean pottery and applied it to instrumentation.
The drone is played on a reed mouth organ I McGuyvered from a Kontakt 4 sampler’s instrument sample. It’s called the “Sho” in China and it’s cousin is also used in Japanese Gagaku music: the longest continuously existing ensemble tradition. When going to the B section, the drone modulates up a M2, changing the key to reflect the M2 in the drone which has given me the reason to change key.
The samples I used sounded more like the echo of thunder so I enhanced that with a lightening strike played at the beginning of the rumble by slapping all the strings of the Santoor/Hammered Dulcimer simultaneously after tuning it to the chosen scale. I was struck by lightening when camping and feel lightening chose me to be my totem element.
I studied Korean changu drumming in Korea and learned the rhythm syllables for each stroke that the teacher says to inform you which strokes to play. In Buddhism, nonsense words are used in Dharanis which are spoken before a ritual because they are believed to protect the rite from evil spirits. Not proper to Zen but exists in it anyway.
In Ritual of Confession I have the reed mouth organ play a M7 drone the way the Indian tamboura would accompany sitar. A drone on the fifth note of the scale is not used if there’s no fifth in the raga. They either use a fourth or a M7th.
My chosen scale is a hextatonic (6 note) scale with changing tones having a C, no D, some kind of E, some kind of F, a G, an A, and some kind of B. I could have used a fifth drone for my scale since it has a normal fifth but I’m focusing on the M7 for this piece. The ratio of a M7 is 8:15.
This time I took the drum’s rhythm from a traditional pattern from Kim Deok Su’s book on changu drumming for Korean Samulnori music. He’s the most famous and best changu drummer. I got to meet him when I was there. I took the rhythm from Gutgeori Jangdan. Gut means ritual and Jangdan means rhythm.
I’ve placed the rhythm into the 8/8 matrix which also has 16 sixteenth notes per measure. To create the measure of 15 beats, I just subtracted one 16th note from the existing rhythm.
Entrance Chant uses gamelan techniques of anticipating and echoing the core melody. Books on ethnomusicology say the Indonesians developed this technique because they have to be concerned about the water both upstream and downstream from their personal rice fields.
I take looking upriver to be a metaphor for looking back in time and looking downriver for looking into the future. The inner melody represents the present moment when each of its pitches arrives.
In my realization, there are no pitches so it’s like a monochrome black and white ink brush painting of rice field irrigation but painted in the syllables of primal speech units in this case.
I got the idea for that from an article on infant vocalizations. They often double syllables to get words such as mama, papa, dada, peepee, poopoo. This track can also be thought of as another Dharani, a meaningless prayer with supernatural power to repel evil from a rite.
Dharani of Banishment does what Buddhist ceremonies do where monks walk around the building ringing a handbell, afterwards striking the large bronze bell, then striking the gong before moving on to saying the Dharani prayer.
The drone in my piece contains the interval of a tritone between C and Gb. The scale is C Db Gb Ab B which has no normal fifth (G). I’ve taken the syllables from infant vocalizations again. The tritone has the ration of 7:8.
I didn’t have a shamisen which is used in Zen Noh theater’s transitional sections but I’ve heard them played live and I discovered if I held my Indonesian rebab sideways and plucked it, it sounds like shamisen quite a lot.
The rhythm I’m playing is from the beginning of the Korean Gutgeori jangdan which is one of my favorite parts because of the bounding stroke. It sounds like a ball bouncing gradually going from few to many strikes between 3 and 6 seconds. One of my ethnomusicology texts says it’s the most indicative rhythmic gesture of Buddhism. It’s also played on both small and very large wooden “bells” which look more like wooden jingle bells than another kind. Those sound like what are called Chinese temple blocks.
Green tea starts as a fairly traditional composition for Shakuhachi, Taiko drum samples played in the Korean manner but I have two flutists and two drummers. At :51 they start to go out of phase both in tempo and tuning by 10%. At 1:17 it jumps to a probable resonant frequency of 2:1 so I’ve compressed the octave into the range of a tritone/#4/b5 (C-Gb). The drum rhythm has also doubled. In the last section the octave has been compressed into a single semitone but it’s a multi-octave melody so that’s why it sounds like it’s alternating between more than one note.
In the creation of a Zen garden the great landscape gardeners of Japan say that a garden should capture the spirit of the age it was created in. Fairly sure my music doesn’t do that. What style or which composer/composition captures the essence of our age?
Last edited by lolirl; 01-07-2016 at 08:22 PM..
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