Sunday, August 30, 2015

The eye of the piece

I have been grappling with terminology for describing the wonder that is Ainu Tonkori music - it's got a fair measure of delight about it that I find with gamelan but played on a 5 string fretless zither.

The trouble arises - what do you call something that is a musical theme that can vary in note-set, in rhythm, in arrangement, yet somehow remains identifiable? Pieces like those depicting the pecking cranes, the splashing crows and the creeping foxes vary in all these ways, yet remain thoroughly recognisable.

But it's more than a motif or germ in the Western art tradition - it contains within it the basis for acceptable variations. And I don't want a xenoglossic term here.

I have been thinking of drawing a metaphor from Ainu cloth embroidery, which is made of variations on two simple motifs - アイウシノカ (Ayusinoka - thorn-form) - it looks like a parenthesis rotated 90 degrees.

and モレウノカ (Moreunoka - whirlpool-form from two words, turn and slowly):

The thorns and whirlpools combine alone and together to build up to compound structures include flowers, crosses, waves and scales, please see the keyed diagram I made especially at the end of the post. I am chiefly interested in シクノカ Sikunoka eye-form here:
Which comes in various forms:

Now, there is a bit of an Ainu Yukar about an artist combining the patterns to make up an embroidered cloth. It puts me in mind of the way the fragments of a tonkori piece make up the whole, folding and combining to make the tunes

I remained staring,
after the many needle paths
after the countless needle paths
and in the paths of my needle
there would take form
many swirling patterns
countless swirling patterns
The upper clothing racks
would bend under the weight
of the beautiful robes
which I had embroidered.
(Philippi, 1979*)

The core problem remains that (per Okamura 1993**) "In the Ainu language, there is no word for pattern." Tricky.

Taking this all together, and considering that the thing in question is the centre of the piece, I am thinking of coining the usage "siku" for this thing - the eye of the piece as the eye of the storm, as it were. And given the pictorial nature of the music, that seems nice as well. Also because it is a composite (as the melodicle is composite) being made up of thorn and whirlpool - like notes and silence.

For a musical illustration, listen to Oki play "Musical argument":

Or Chiba play "leaping over rocks at twilight":

You can hear the tunes arise from these siku to become so many different variations of the same piece. It is said (by the great Tonkori players of the past that were recorded) that you can't learn a piece from a book or a score because you only learn a tune and variations on it.

Tomita Tomoko says
"tonkori music in its tradition was not written down, and it was very largely based on improvisation, that writing the music out restricts it and is in fact detrimental to the open-ended, improvisational and free nature of this form of music."  (from Jack Claar's Tonkori tutor)
Nishima Ume (original   translation from a blog, where the same point is made)
"Because connecting songs was itself enjoyable, when the three of us played together, she would not stop. Once we started playing, that was it; she didn't even want lunch. We would marvel at how long she could keep going as we did our best to keep up our accompaniment. If I suggested that we take a break, she would say, "If you're tired, let's play lying down," and then she would do just that."
Studying with a great performer you picked up the rules of the possible mutations of the siku.

Does anyone out there have any thoughts?

To help with this reflection on your part, I made up this diagram because there isn't one in any one place and I can't scan it from a book etc etc. This doesn't exhaust them but will serve as an illustration of how these patterns all arise from thorn + whirl. It also illustrates the power (yet again) of combinatorial art.
1 アイウシAyusi Thorn (means literally pierced by arrow)
2 モレウ Morew Whirlpool or Spiral (lit turn slowly)
3 コノイカ Konoika wave
4 ラムラムノカ Ramuramunoka scales
5 ウレソ モレウ Uren morew two whirls together
6 エトコ Etoko swelling whirl
7 プンカル punkara vine
8 アイウシモレウ Ayusimorew (combined thorn and whirl)
9 ウタサ Utasa crossing or intersecting
10 シク Siku eye (eyes)
11 アパポエプイ Apapoepuy Flower
12 アパポピラスケ Apapopirasuke Bud

My source for this is Arai 1973 ***

There are some pages around on this - in English

same in Japanese

There are two pages selling things as well with some details

* Philippi, D. L. 1979. Songs of Gods, Songs of Humans. The Epic Tradition of the Ainu. Tokyo: Tokyo University Press
** Okamura, K 1993 The clothes of the Ainu people  Kyōto-shi : Kyōto Shoin
 "In the Ainu language, there is no word for pattern. One reason for this is because the pattern symbolized the wearer's inner spirit as well as the guardian spirit, so the Ainu try to avoid assigning the pattern a name. Sometimes, they say, "I can see the pattern," meaning they can identify the wearer of the clothes by the personalized appliqué and embroidery work.
 *** Arai, Ayako 1973: On the Pattern and Color of the Ainu Clothing,  Bulletin of the Tokyo College of Domestic Science 13, 129-140, 1973-03
You can read it yourself hear and lok at the many illustrations from the photographed clothes: (there is a part two as well and there is a PDF directly obtainable here:

Edit: The problem was nicely put by Kumiko Uyeda in her thesis (2015)

"Improvisation worked with alteration of melodies. The word “irette” or “irekte” means “to sound” and the principal melody or motive in a song is called “e ikai sa irette,” and the section that is varied from the principal melody is called “ikai koro irette.” In traditional tonkori playing, putting variation (ikai) in tonkori playing showed the skills of the tonkori player and the players were very proud of including complicated hand techniques and variations into the playing, which also portrayed their individual spirit or soul into the performance. (Tomita 1967:13). In the transcription of “Ikeresotte” by Tomita/Tangiku (performed by Nishihira) the  repetition of the principal melody is altered by extraction or addition of melodic notes, or by a variation in the rhythm of the motive, or by repeating small sections of the melody. The recognition of the melody was never lost, where the modification never strayed too far from the “model.” This is shown in the following examples of “Ikeresotte,” where different versions have varying rhythms, pitches, and melodic lines"

read it here: 

Uyeda 2015 - The Journey of the Tonkori A Multicultural Transmission

Edit: I had considered using kata, which is the japanese term used for a similar motif used in shamisen music as a metaphorical reference to the kata used in social situations (eg Malm 1963**** Keister 2004*****) but that conveyed a sense of being a section or cutt-off thing, as well as being xenoglossic. Also, the kata is intentionally static and provide repertoire-wide leitmotivs as Keister puts it which is antithetical to the melodic cell I am writing about.

**** Malm, W P. (1963), Nagauta: The Heart of Kabuki Music, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. It's online, which is nice. Well worth reading
***** Keister, J K 2004 Shaped by Japanese Music: Kikuoka Hiroaki and Nagauta Shamisen in Tokyo Routledge
"The specific details learned in artistic training consist of patterns of performance behavior commonly referred to as kata (form, pattern, or shape): discrete, detailed units of predetermined patterns of action which are pieced together to constitute entire songs, dances, tea ceremonies or karate routines. These formulaic patterns not only structure the music, but also dictate precisely the manner of artistic execution by musicians. At the level of musical structure, kata appear as stereotyped patterns, sometimes with specific names, that comprise the musical formulae by which traditional pieces are composed, performed and learned.6 At the level of musical performance, kata appear as formal patterns of behavior in the stage manner of musicians who must carry out all actions with precision and grace.7 At the level of musical transmission, kata patterns are crucial interpersonal behaviors, such as bowing and honorific language, in the relationship between teacher and student that instills the proper decorum for traditional arts. All these stereotyped patterns, the musical phrases, the stage manner and the interpersonal behavior, are expected to be carried out with the utmost grace and elegance at all times and meant to be performed precisely as they were learned from the teacher. In this way, much of Japanese traditional music appears to be predetermined and formulaic, a musical practice often perceived at first by Westerners to be based solely on “form” as opposed to “content.” Kata is at once a surface aesthetic, a structural principle, and a process by which individuals are integrated into a social group in order to learn, practice, perform and transmit the music of one particular school.
Analyzing the musical structure of nagauta compositions reveals a use of musical kata similar to the use of physical kata in the social domain. Like the collection of stereotyped patterns of behavior that individuals rely on in various social situations of music-making, the building blocks for nagauta compositions are also a set of stereotyped musical patterns. Nagauta compositions are almost entirely through-composed and do not develop thematically in the manner of Western classical music compositions. Instead, nagauta is based on various combinations of four kinds of melodic patterns: 1) melodies absorbed from many defunct shamisen genres; 2) ozatsuma patterns (a subset of the first category) that consist of 48 stereotyped phrases used for heightened speech sections; 3) repertoire-wide leitmotives that signify special moods, places or people; and 4) standard melodic procedures without any known historical connection. It is this last category that makes up the majority of nagauta compositions (Malm 1963:213–214).4 The existence of such stereotypical patterns in nagauta has a practical purpose in that it aids in the memorization of lengthy, through-composed nagauta pieces."

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