Friday, April 04, 2014

The Garden of Music

'I love gardens.  They do not reject people.  There one can walk freely, pause to view the entire garden, or gaze at a single tree.  Plants, rocks, and sand show changes, constant changes.' -  Tōru Takemitsu, 'The Garden of Music' (1975)
We're off to Rome next week and I was remembering our last visit there and a trip to the water gardens of the Villa D'Este, which got me thinking about Liszt's Les jeux d'eaux à la Villa d'Este and then other music inspired by gardens, like John Cage's Ryoanji and Tōru Takemitsu's In an Autumn Garden.  In a 1984 lecture Takemitsu spoke of wanting the orchestra itself to resemble a landscape garden, where 'things sparkle in the sunlight, become somber when it is cloudy, change colour in rain, and change form in the wind' (see Confronting Silence: Selected Writings trans. Yoshiko Kakudo and Glenn Glasow).  He describes experimenting with the organisation of instruments as if they were features in a garden: in Dorian Horizon for example, the oboe is played at the front of the stage while the shō can be heard from some way behind, so that they create a sense of space and distance.

When Takemitsu came to compose Arc for Piano and Orchestra in 1963 he divided the orchestra into four groups ranging from the most fluid, mobile sounds to the most enduring and stable, corresponding to (1) grass and flowers, (2) trees, (3) rocks and (4) sand and earth.  Takemitsu drew two diagrams to illustrate the concept (which you can see reproduced in an online essay), one showing the organisation of these landscape elements, the other showing how the solo piano, which takes the role of the walker in the garden, moves through them.  The pace of the walker (the tempo of the piano) is up to the performer.  However, the content of the garden is planned - 'there are no chance elements as in a shakkei garden, which includes outside features [i.e. borrowed scenery - distant views from outside the garden itself].'  Nevertheless, he concludes, 'some of my works may resemble the shakkei in that natural sounds may be heard with the composed music.' *  This suggests an interesting way of thinking about the use of field recording in modern composition - as akin to the shakkei concept in Japanese gardens. 

*  David Toop quotes this in his book Haunted Weather (2004) and goes on to reflect ruefully on his own Japanese-influenced garden's borrowed scenery - 'a slab of brutalist red brick - sheltered housing that once featured in a television series called Neighbours from Hell.'

No comments: