Saturday, February 03, 2007

Sounds alike

Marc Geelhoed is a perceptive critic with a considerable range of interests, so it's disappointing to read this:
Jo Kondo's two brief works Isthmus and An Elder's Hocket set a few Asian-sounding ideas free in a small ensemble, let them scurry around for three minutes, then turn them off. Development is an evil word to open-space advocates and to Kondo, apparently. They were cute, and were warmly received, but I couldn't help but think that Lou Harrison wrote better Japanese music.

I can't help but wonder how Geelhoed defines Japanese music. Since American music is music made by Americans, I kinda assumed that Japanese music was music made by Japanese.

It's disappointing that the programmers chose only two shorter pieces by Kondo, but both are fine pieces. In An Elder's Hocket, Kondo is explicitly about some connections (it really is a hocket), and the referends of his characteristically ambiguous tonality can be quickly sorted out (early Cage, late Stravinsky, and early 70's Soho).

While Lou Harrison was much more engaged with Chinese, Korean, and Javanese musics than with Japanese, he did, in fact, write three pieces with explicit connections to Japanese music. However, on closer inspection each of these turn out to emphasize their distance from actual Japanese practice: one movement of Harrison's Pacifika Rondo is an hommage to Gagaku, Japanese court music, but instead of the stately regular metre of Gagaku repertoire, it is constructed from a very strick pre-compositional plan based upon permutations of measures with varying lengths; the Suite for 4 Haisho is an experimental accompaniment for Noh drama using conjectural reconstructions of medieval instruments; and the Suite for Sangen, for shamisen, features a Prelude that uses Indian Jhalas and an Estampie that is an explicit hommage to European early music. I think that it's fair to say that Harrison was knowledgeable about Japanese music, but he didn't compose much of it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's amazing how pervasive orientalism is in music. Anything from "over there" is supposed to sound like the exotic east, and when it doesn't, then it's not behing properly.