Movements, Colors and Nearness
(1998 for Art Summit Indonesia II)
When body breathes, or hand touches, there may be sound. The sound making is the means to explore the outside world through touch and hearing. There are two factors: physical movements of the body and the inner sensing of the movements which describes them a moment later. The sound confirms this description from a different sense gate, that of hearing.
A sound exists but nowhere since it is a memory rather than a physical event. A sound arises and disappears at every instant. When a sound arises, space arises, and time too. Space and time are mental frames. They are renewed at every instant together with the sound.
Music is said to have melody and rhythm. Are they really necessary? They are concepts, abstractions and external to the direct experience of physical movements and their sensing?
Music is a process, an activity to be shared, not with an end-conscious method, but as a technique of the body. It is not constructed, but blooms like a flower.
Music is not word, not image, not concept, but a practice, a discipline, a training. The training of music consists of repeating formulas perseveringly by slowing down to observe minute changes in the timing, color, posture of each time, then in returning again without losing the gentle but sustained care. If one strives to control, the tension will result in the negligence of details. It will be hard then to hear the very sound one tries to listen to.
Now using shamisen as a model, we investigate the relation between the hand movement and the tone color. Shamisen is a Japanese traditional three-string lute with a long neck and played with a big plectrum. The lowest open string has a buzzing sound, and different finger positions on the other two strings resound in varying colors. Varied formulas are composed from the balanced distribution of these finger positions and the hand movements through them. A section in a musical composition consists of the combination of formulas.
A formula is not a sound pattern itself, but rather a chain of the inner sensing of sound producing movements. It is learned through the resulting sound pattern, but this is only the means to penetrate into the right feeling for the formula. This is why, in the traditional music lessons, the student plays a phrase perhaps three times together with the teacher before being allowed to play alone. It is like a candle flame used to light another candle. The learning is a conditioning, not the transmitting. When the fingers move in the right way, the sound pattern could be varied every time, although for the performer it appears to be always the same formula. And this "rightness" of the way cannot be defined, because it is not a concept, but a practice.
In Japanese traditional music culture in general, all the instruments were considered as percussion. Even on a flute, colors are made of fingerings which is the way of hitting the finger holes, with modulation or small ornamental movements, and of the breath which blows into the mouth-hole with incessant fluctuations. The board zither koto was stroked this way or that way, and these strokes were treated like a shaman's drum beating.
The pitch is a linear measurement. The duration or time interval is also linear. The rhythm is a sequence of time intervals. The melody is a sequence of pitches with rhythm. All of them can be described without being experienced. They are abstract and conceptual. Modern music has been described within a preconceived frame of pitch- and time-axes.
Colors are not abstract. They are felt, but not described as numbers, images or words. They are composite. They may consist of intonations, movements, modulations, also timing for inner fluctuations. They are not fixed, but floating.
Colors are ordered by the nearness. Two sounds are never identical. They are near or distant. When colors are distributed in time, the time is also organized with the nearness. It is not measured with exterior unit, it is felt. When these distributed colors in time are repeated, they become a formula.
A formula is repeated, but each repetition is not identical. Every sound is followed carefully in all the details, and every appearence is treated distinct as if for the first time, although there never is the first time, because a formula conditions musicians, therefore it is not to be invented or created, but rather to be appropriated. When it is repeated, intentional movements gradually become the spontaneous comprehension of the interior and exterior states. Repetition is a skill, and it brings more skills.
When a color arises, and then this color is replaced by another color following a formula, musician observing this change with one's own hand is like a person carrying a container full of water without spilling. The hand is moved like that of someone else, or rather of a life-size puppet. Like the dance teacher moves the pupil's arms and legs from behind, the hand doesn't express its own will, and fingers are felt empty like a glove.
In traditional ensembles, when two flutes play the same formula together, the coordination is not exact by the exterior time measurement, but for the performers themselves they are playing the same music at the same time, and all these minor deviations, resulting differences in intonation and timing enrich the color and give the sense of vibrating space.
When changes are regulated by exterior measures like tuning, scale, beat or tempo, the principle of self-regulation is lost. To maintain sensitivity and the efficiency of formulas, timing, color, posture and coordination are constantly and intentionally made to float. The movements are felt ungrounded and not striving. Slowing down, diminuendo, distant, faint or uncertain movements, are effective means to regain the attention.
Time is felt by count or breath, the posture of the performer serves as the anchor for movements.
If music is movement, and sound is only the description of this movement, then music is without beginning and without end, because sound is not an object which stops at one time and moves at another time. Music is in a state of flux. If the change has no beginning and no end, then there are only parts without the whole. Music is never complete, never finished, and never satisfactory. Musicians need forbearance.
A musical composition may consist of sections, which are not integrated, and not fixed. A section may consist of formulas. A formula may be repeated, may be transformed gradually through contingency, may be interrupted and abandoned. Or at times it is not necessarily played as a whole. Varied combinations are built up and broken again from the different partial movements like spinning a thread out of a cocoon, or like disentangling the knotted threads. Sometimes separate movements are held until the suitable moment for each, like a cat pauses before jumping after a moving object.
An ensemble is not controlled from outside. It is coordinated through entwining or ackowledgement. Each instrument may bring its own formulas and the ensemble is a meeting ground. It depends on nothing but the consciousness of musicians. They feel all the movements and sounds around them and supply their share at the suitable time. The formulas are modified through contact with others. This music need not have the score. Each part is distinct, but the whole is ambiguous.
Musical notation is never perfect. It need not be. Modern notation has been the master plan to be realized. It described the sounds in pitch-time frame with some auxiliary symbols. Musicians tried to realize this image of music on the paper. If music is movement, then notation may tell musicians how to coordinate and how to proceed. It describes the process and not the result. Some traditional notation systems like tablature do this. Music can also use oral transmission, rehearsals, recorded models as well.
Music is not only the stage performance. It is a learning process like a ritual. The training, long preparation, performance, and the final clearing are the necessary steps. Through this process friendly relations grow. This is musicians' life. Music is just an aspect of it.
Nothing is absolute. All the rules are there to be broken. Music may be lovely, it may be beautiful. But it won't stay long. It will disappear. One day it will be forgotten. Since music is delicate and fragile, it is dearly taken care of. But then we remember people can live without music.
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