Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Kabuki Music Reconceived for Guitar Soloist

At the beginning of last month, Pinna Records released a recording of guitarist Giacomo Fiore performing a short suite, which he commissioned from Japanese-American composer Kenji Oh. Oh created a sequence of five short movements inspired by the Kabuki play Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura (Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees). More specifically, the music was based on the final scene from the play’s first act, “Josetsu Horikawa” (Horikawa mansion).

Set after the conclusion of the Genpei War of 1180–1185, the play concerns the complex relations among the samurai Minamoto no Yoshitsune, his mistress Shizuka, his wife Kyō no Kimi, and his loyal retainer Benkei. Each of the characters is portrayed by one of the suite’s movements, while the opening movement is inspired by an overture for jōruri puppet theater, the original medium for which this play was conceived. In addition artist Shari Arai DeBoer designed a watercolored linocut for each of these characters, all of whom are illustrated on the album cover:

from the Pinna Records product page

Oh composed this piece for a prepared guitar. A rubber band, paper clips, and a strip of paper are all required to produce the sonorities of the Japanese instruments that would have been played as part of this kabuki performance. In addition, the guitarist is required to whistle in two of the movements to evoke the sound of a bamboo flute. (That “flute” plays phrases from the “Sakura Sakura” folk song.) Readers who have followed Fiore’s career know that he is very much at home with alternative techniques for performing his instrument, allowing one to appreciate the classical sonorities that Oh had in mind in composing this score.

The one irony is that this suite lasts only eleven minutes. Having been fortunate enough to experience samples of Japanese classical theatre back when I was making business trips to Tokyo, I am well aware of the almost glacial pace at which events unfold (contrasting sharply with the more Western sense of time that one encounters in the films of Akira Kurosawa). Oh, on the other hand, seems to reflect Buckminster Fuller’s ongoing objective of always trying to make more with less.

Because this piece is so brief, the best way to obtain it for listening is through an download Web page. However, Pinna Records is also releasing an accordion book featuring DeBoer’s images. This is a limited edition of 100 copies printed and bound at Cardoza-James Binding. One may purchase both this book and the audio download through the item page created on the Pinna Records Web site.

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