5000 Words of Artist Hideki Nakazawa: No. 4

"Japanese Syllabic Polyponies" Which Surpassed Sound Poetry

By Hideki Nakazawa

  • 1. Interest in Polyphony

    As a part of my activity as an artist, this year (1997) I composed music using the Japanese syllabary as a sound material, and made them public. That is, three pieces of "Japanese syllabic inventions in two voices," four pieces of "Japanese syllabic canons in two voices," and five pieces of "Japanese syllabic canons in three voices;" and as you will see from those titles, they are all polyphony (multi-voice music). My main interest was in polyphony, not in the use of the Japanese sylabary which may seem rather strange to declare as music. Earlier, by the way, I had published a group of musical compositions called "Polyphony of Colored Light" whose material was the six basic colors.

    The reason why I am interested in polyphony is that polyphony is considered to be the situation which makes into a chimera the concept of the opposition between two things called "bitmap" and "object." This concept of the opposition between "bitmap" and "object" was the theme of my solo exhibition held in June of this year (1997), and it was also the main subject of the three past articles of this series. Simply speaking, the bitmap is a material-like and atomism-like concept which can be correlated with "multitude," and the object is a body-like and idea-ism-like concept which can be correlated with "singularity." And what lies in between is the concept of polyphony which puts "several" bodies equally side by side. Among numbers, the number "2" is most symbolic as it lies in between "multitude" and "1," so I think "two-voice polyphony" is the most significant one among other polyphony. This has both natures of "multitude" and "1," and at the same time this is different from either of them, that is, this has a nature of somewhat like a happening. Here, in order to avoid confusion, let me say that the number of voices used in polyphony is from two to at most ten or so, although polyphony means multi-voice music. On the contrary, multitude in the bitmap is as many as the number of atoms, a great number like infinite.

    I hope you understand from what I explained above that I do not necessarily use the term polyphony as a musical term. And yet, it is of course not an imposssible matter to interpret these in the range of music. To be concrete, harmony (harmonic music) spreading out on the plane coordinates is the bitmap in a music form, and monophony (single-voice music) lying on a single line is the object in a music form. Such harmony as seen in Beethoven's symphonies is a colorful system made by function harmony, and it is worldly, as it was established with the development of civil society. And such monophony as seen in Gregorian chants is a clear-formed system made by a single line of melody, and it is ideological, as it was established based on a theological demand that the God voice in monotheism was supposed to be spread by means of a single voice. The medieval theology began to collapse in the Renaissance period, and then polyphony which had been hated and avoided up to then came to be approved for the first time as church music. The polyphony implies even such a historical meaning that it is a so convenient concept as to be used for interpreting things other than music.

    I will no more go deep into the matter concerning the chimera of the concepts of the oppositions between two things which needs infinitesimal calculus and the coordinates, and instead, let me write about the thing whose material is the Japanese syllabary, and then interpret my works which actually became musical pieces.

  • 2. To Music from Sound Poetry

    Japanese hiragara (and katakana) are phonetic symbols. As they are the marks which express sounds, you can treat them just like musical notes. Until the time when I actually reached the state of using them for composing music, however, I needed to study the same kind of trials both historically and theoretically, and to have some motivation as an artist.

    Historically, the preceeding examples of using letters not as "a tool for spinning out meaning" were already seen in expression forms called sound poetry and visual poetry. Both of them originated from the experiments done by Futurism, Dada, and Surrealism in the early 20th century, and also flourished in the 1960s by those activities done by Fluxus and others. In Japan, Hide Kinoshita, an avant-garde artist in the early 20th century, left some sound poetry using the alphabet. Seiichi Niikuni's visual poetry made in the 1960s, the motif of which was kanji, is also important.

    Theoretically, two big streams of the sound poetry in a broad sense can be said to have originated from Futurism's "onomatopoeia" (born through excessive usage of onomatopoeic words) which appeared as a line of letters with no meaning, and Dada's "simultaneous poetry," (which could not be comprehended, as it was recited in more than one language at the same time,) where he deprived of the meaning by putting more than one voice side by side, each of which had meaning. By the way, sound poetry in a narrow sense is "a linear poem made by meaningless artificial sounds from the start," which stemmed from the former. After all, at the first stage, their main purposes seem to have given such a bad impact as the destruction of meaning or cutting the one-to-one relation between signifie and signifiant.

    Although released from meaning, the phonetic expressions, beneficial ones as a phonetic symbol, do not seem to me to have been pursued very logically thereafter. I think it is because that the West where they were born belongs to an alphabet zone, where consonants and vowels are kept as different letters (=sound unit). Sound poetry which is composed of vocalized seried consonants tends to give you a very strong expressionistic impression, as if it were atonal day's Schoenberg's music. Because of that, sound poetry in an alphabet zone seems to me not to be so systematically organized as Webern's music, which could show the intellectual manner of a series even away from keys.

    In the sound poetry in an alphabet zone, the only one that tried to possess a systematic construction may have been Schwitters's "URSONATE," which applied a sonata form. Theoretically, that was the one that gave a total construction on the time-axis to one-voice sound poetry in a narrow sense, and yet its details gave an impression like a "shriek," owing to the serial usage of consonants.

    At this point, you cannot ignore an arising situtation of adopting a music form. Here, let me quote a composer Stockhausen's theory that "music is the relation of order in time," which makes it easier to expand my story hereafter. His theory allows both phonetic symbols and colored light to be treated as sound materials, and enables to take over the whole result obtained in the field of music which pursues the form of expression on the time axis. Although it is useless to discuss whether the intermedia "URSONATE" is a poem or music, the theory made from the music side shows that it is at least quite acceptable to treat it as real music.

    By treating it as music like this, the same development seen in a twelve-tone technique or a serial technique, which made possible systematic composition even away from keys, can also be possible in sound poetry (or music made of letters as a sound material).

  • 3. The Japanese Syllabary as a Sound Material

    Hiragana (or katakana) which expresses the Japanese syllabary becomes important in this point as a sound material. Because the Japanese syllabary has two main characteristics.

    One is the existence of the systematic table of the 50-sound kana syllabary. (See the table of the 50-sound kana syllabary in the bottom margin.) This system, which can specify any single letter by fixing a column and a line, resembles considerably to the tonality system of the temperament. That is, as there are あいうえお(a i u e o) in the "a" series (=あいうえお; a i u e o), あいうえお(a i u e o) in the "k" series (=かきくけこ; ka ki ku ke ko), あいうえお(a i u e o) in the "s" series (=さしすせそ; sa si su se so), and so on, so are there do re mi fa sol la si do in C major (=C D E F G A B C), do re mi fa sol la si do in D major (=D E F# G A B C# D), do re mi fa sol la si do in E major (=E F# G# A B C# D# E), and so on. Therefore, modulations or inversions in musical composition can be performed by means of the 50-sound kana syllabary. (e.g. Changing ka ki ku into sa si su is modulation; changing ka ki ku into ko ke ku is inversion.) If it were with the table of alphabet, which has mixed letters of consonants and vowels in bad order, this could not have been possible. By the way, it will become more perfect, if you confine letters just to the genuine 50 sounds, (not 5l sounds with "n,") omitting such letters as "" (n) which has only a consonant sound, and sonants made with the twin marks, and also contracted sounds (like "hya").

    The other characteristic is as follows: the 50 sounds, each of which is made of the combination of a consonant and a vowel, have perfect sounds, (a i u e o being able to be considered to be combined with some aphonic consonant,) and furthermore, any sound can be shown by a single letter which can always be written in a regular-sized square box of the Japanese manuscript paper. This validates the concept of a "blank letter" (or an "em blank") and a phonetic-symbol arrangement as a coordinate construction element. In other words, the system of the 50-sound kana syllabary can be recognized as "the system of the sound coordinates," just like the Western way of putting musical notes. Such being the case, the technique of linear musical compositions and the law of harmony can be performed by using the 50-sound kana letters. (For example, polyphony's notes can be written by kana letters, by putting the time in a vertical direction, and a voice part horizontally.) This could not have been accomplished in an alphabet's expressing way. Because, each letter width of the alphabet differs each other, and even a consonant, which has no independent stable sound by itself, has its own mark, and a blank space is nothing but an indication of a break between neighboring words and cannot indicate a fixed space amount. Therefore, even in this point, contracted sounds like "hya" should be omitted, as they need a two-letter space in spite of their being a single sound, so it is really necessary to use only the genuine 50 sounds.

    It is by taking advantage of these two important characteristics that systematic musical composition by using the Japanese syllabary becomes possible for the first time.

    Firstly, by using the Japanese syllabary, you can pick out from the table of the 50-sound kana syllabary a tone row which has not only no implication of meaning but also a beautiful coordination. For example, a tone row of "かさしちつぬねへほ (ka sa si ti tu nu ne he ho}" is a combination of a vowel structure of "a a i i u u e e o" and a consonant structure of "ka sa sa ta ta na na ha ha." (This is a basic tone row of the first voice part of "Japanese syllabic canon in two voices, No. 3.") The stream of the sound poetry in a narrow sense whose origin is in Futurism's onomatopoeia has at last been able to obtain its necessary arrangement. As far as I know, there has never existed any similar trials which used the table of the 50 sounds as the basis of making a tone row.

    Secondly, by using the table of the 50 sounds, even harmonic composition becomes possible. You may probably be doubtful about the existence of function harmony which relates to listening, even if you depended on the table of the 50-sound kana syllabary. Actually, a concrete technique of composing polyphony, counterpoint, can be composed by a letter unit. In other words, the stream originated from Dada's simultaneously progressing poetry has come to be able to obtain a rigid structure for the first time to reach a letter level (=a sound level). As far as I know, there has never existed any similar trials which applied counterpoint to the level of letters.

    Thus, Futurism's onomatopoeia and Dada's simultaneously progressing poetry, getting rid of their presentation of anti-good sense impact, have come to be integrated into my musical pieces which have musically worth-listening structures as a whole and in detail.

    By the way, what directly motivated me to think and compose was my works publicized at my solo exhibition held in June, 1997. I presented there bitmap-type works and object-type works, and as for the former, I presented CG works of letter-coordinates-type paintings with great number of arranged letters to be seen, not to be read. And as for the latter, CG works of single curved lines were presented, where dots were linearly connected. In order to emphasize and dramatize "Japanese syllabic polyphonies in two voices" which links the two of them, I needed some performance to be listened, into which the coordinate nature of the letter arrangement and the linear nature of the row of letters were supposed to be melted. So, I composed the Japanese syllabic polyphonies intending to perform them on the first day of the exhibition. I will not go into detail any further, but the relation between compositions and performances will suggest the relation between the original data and the printout of CG works.

  • 4. Explanation of Musical Pieces

    [a] Japanese syllabic inventions in two voices
    These were composed just one day before the exhibition, as I needed them to use as an explanation of my solo exhibition at its opening.

    The first piece is like the 5-7 syllable meter, and the third one is like the 7-5 syllable meter. Those basic tone rows were chosen instinctively, and so there mixed some sonants with the twin marks and also a sound "n." The reason is that at that time I had not established yet a clear composing technique of the 50 sounds. But, in the second piece, you will see clearly, by comparing the two voices, that it is the perfect counterpoint composed on the basis of the table of the 50-sound.

    [b] Japanese syllabic canons in two voices
    After composing "Two-Voice Inventions," I had a chance to listen to all of these: "URSONATE" by Schwitters, Hide Kinosita's works performed by Ms. Tomomi Adachi, Ms. Adachi's lecture on sound poetry, and Toru Haga's sound poetry performed by himself. Though they were different from the polyphony based on the 50-sound syllabary, the music form of "URSONATE" and Toru Haga's serene sound poetry of hiragara made me realize the necessity of applying a more rigid music form. And I composed these canons using a rigid canon form, depending on the way of a tone row of the twelve-tone technique.

    The first piece is a rigid canon starting 1 tone behind and having the same key, the second one is a rigid canon starting 1 tone behind and having a key of one-line difference, the third one is a crab canon starting 4 tones behind and copying in a reverse way, and the fourth one is an inversion canon starting 1 tone behind.

    As for the way of making tone rows, let me put examples: The first voice of the first piece, "さちぬひふへほ, (sa ti nu hi hu he ho)," next becomes "たにふみむめも, (ta ni hu mi mu me mo)" by modulating 1 line, then next becomes "なひむいゆえよ, (na hi mu i yu e yo)." And the basic tone row of the first voice of the third piece, "かさしちつぬねへほ, (ka sa si ti tu nu ne he ho)," next becomes its inverted form, "こそせてつぬねへは, (ko so se te tu nu ne he ha)," then becomes the reversed form, "ほへねぬつちしさか, (ho he ne nu tu ti si sa ka)," and finally becomes the inverted-reversed form, "はひにぬつてせそこ, (ha hi ni nu tu te se so ko)."

    The tone rows were chosen according to the table of the 50-sound syllabary, and some in the fourth piece took a knight jump, for example. All these putting together, there appear such examples: half of the neighboring chords in the second piece are all unified in the same line (e.g. "so" and "sa"), and the first tone row of the second voice of the third piece shows itself as it is as the second tone row of the first voice.

    [c] Japanese syllabic canons in three voices
    Ms. Adachi's request for my composing gave me an occasion to try to compose three-voice canons. Comparing to two-voice canons, three-voice canons tend to be more harmonic, so my main purpose was to maintain them as polyphony. At the same time, I tried various beats, while controlling rhythms. In order to give quite an experience to the audience, there is controlled rhythms and no fixed pitch.

    The way of choosing the tone rows, the way of making tone rows, and the canon techniques are the same as the previous one, and for example, a rigid canon of the second piece is also a circular canon at the same time. Concretely speaking, the three voices are made of the first voice which is composed of 42 sounds including blank letters, the second voice which already has 15 sounds ahead, and the third voice with 15 sounds behind. And the fourth piece aims at a proportional canon, though it is not so strict.

    (Written in October, 1997)

    (Entries in the margin)

    [a] Scores of "Japanese syllabic inventions in two voices"
    Pieces of three. Composed on February 11, 1997. Performed for the first time by Kyo Ichinose and Tonika Ichinose at Gallery NW House on June 4, 1997. The title at that time was "Two-Voice Polyphony; Inventions of the Row of Letters," and later it was changed as above.

    [b] Scores of "Japanese syllabic canons in two voices"
    Pieces of four. Composed on May 19, 1997. Performed for the first time by Kyo Ichinose and Tonika Ichinose at Gallery NW House on June 4, 1997. The title at that time was "Two-Voice Polyphony; Canons of the Row of Letters," and later it was changed as above.

    [c] Scores of "Japanese syllabic canons in three voices"
    Pieces of five. Composed on August 10, 1997, at Ms. Tomomi Adachi's request. Performed for the first time on October 4, 1997, by Tomomi Adachi Royal Chorus at Students' Hall of Hosei University.

  • Chimera

    An imaginary terrible creature in the Greek myths made up of a lion's head, a sheep's body, and a snake's tail. In biological sense, artificial or abnormal deformation made up of a mixture originally of different genes. The reason why I regard polyphony as a chimera-tic matter is that I want to put an emphasis on its being beyond the level of just a mixture, and its being a deformed mixture born from a basic principle corresponding to such a level of genes.

  • Harmony and Homophony

    Some say that an antonym of polyphony is homophony, but homophony is the one that has chords to accompany its main melody. And some even call it harmony. The reason why there is no definite idea is that having a mixture of elements of monophony, polyphony, homophony, and harmony produces wonderful charms of music, as you will see in the fourth movement of Beethoven's ninth symphony. In my paper, let me explain like this: Monophony is the single-melody music with only one voice; polyphony is the music which has several equally independent melodies; homophony has a main melody to which function harmony accompanies; and harmony is the one which is composed having function harmony in the center from the start. Defining them like this, you will recognize that an example of the best harmony is seen in a table of guitar's chord progressions (with no vocal sound), not in Beethoven's scores.

  • Atonal Music and Sound Poetry in a Narrow Sense

    In the early 20th century, every field's basis on which everyone had been depending without anxiety collapsed from the foundation. In music, it appeared as the destruction of a tonal system, and in languages, as the destruction of a making-sense system. In art, it was the destruction of perspective.

    Firstly, in music, the composing method since Beethoven which had been relying on the tonality system seemed to reach a deadlock after Wagner's works. In such a situation, what at last appeared were "atonality" by Schoenberg and "multi-tonality" by Stravinsky. The former, atonal music, however, was expressionistic and fierce, as if it had been crying over the lost basis of composition. In fact, Schoenberg had to invent another basis of composition called "twelve-tone technique" after the atonality day. His intellectual disciple, Webern, however, surpassed intuitive Schoenberg in making the most of the possibility of the twelve-tone technique. In fact, contemporary music in the late 20th century started from Webern's structural manner of series. By the way, the latter, multi-tonality, later gave birth to the neo-classicism in which various manners were mixed.

    This is the same with languages. Until the end of the 19th century, everyone believed happily that "the poem was beautiful because its content was beautiful." The linguistic achievement obtained in the beginning of this century by Saussure and others, however, was that "the relation between a certain word's meaning (signifie) and the word's symbolic element (signifiant) was arbitrary" and that "a language was a linear and line-like thing." Though accepting this achievement sincerely, people had to make poems, and there at last appeared sound poetry in a narrow sense originated in onomatopoeia and simultaneous poetry. It is no wonder that the former, the sound poetry in a narrow sense, which only keeps shrieking, gives you the similar impression to atonal music. The latter, simultaneous poetry, which sometimes makes you feel tantalizing, produces a similar effect on you to that of those works by Stravinsky in his multi-tonality days. By the way, I take the standpoint that poetics has not ever produced "the manner of the row of letters which maintains the structure, even if it is away from meaning." (There were some examples in an alphabet zone such as making meaningless words follow a fixed form of verse, or writing a sound text for voices on a script like a musical score, but I do not know any examples that ever go deep into the principles of word-making or voice-arrangement.)

    Also in art, perspective (perspective drawing with a point) since the Renaissance seemed to reach a deadlock. In such a situation, what at last appeared were Kandinsky's "hot abstract" (perspective drawing without a point) and Picasso's "cubism" (perspective drawing with more than one point). Kandinsky, who was on friendly terms with Schoenberg, always had a feeling of oppression in "what should be drawn without looking at anything?" and his works became fierce, impressionistic abstract paintings. In fact, Kandinsky later used geometrical figures for a picture construction, and Mondrian quickly restored them only to picture construction elements, and established "cold abstract." By the way, Picasso's followers later produced a collage mode. Isn't it a kind of polyphony in history that such similar things are happening almost simultaneously in different fields as seen above?

  • Counterpoint; Voice Part

    Counterpoint is a linear composition technique without depending on harmony. In the Western way of putting musical notes, it is a horizontal direction technique. Though it includes a linear composition technique for one voice, it is, in a narrower sense, an arrangement technique of all independent melodies in polyphony with more than one voice. There are various techniques such as inventions, canons, and fugues. As for a voice part, it is not necessarily a vocal or an instrumental part, and whenever there exist more than one independent melodic lines, each line is called a voice part.

  • Canon

    One form of counterpoint. With a regular interval after the first voice, the second voice chases it, and so forth. In that meaning, it is sometimes called a chase music. A "troll" is a typical canon. This form has a strict rule, and it originally means a rule or a standard. In that sense, it is sometimes called a law music.

    There are various kinds of canons depending on the way of chasing. The one that chases in its strictest form without changing the melody form is a strict canon, and some chase from the same key and others from a different key. The one whose second voice takes up an inverted form of the first voice is an inversion canon, that is, their musical intervals are upside down. The one whose second voice takes up a reverse form of the first voice is a reverse canon, that is, the order of a note-arrangement is reverse in right and left. As its form resembles to a crab, it is also called a "crab canon." The one that circulates is a circular canon. The one each of whose voice performs in a different speed is a proportional canon.

  • Table of Japanese 50-Sound Kana Syllabary

    あいうえお a i u e o
    かきくけこ ka ki ku ke ko
    さしすせそ sa si su se so
    たちつてと ta ti tu te to
    なにぬねの na ni nu ne no
    はひふへほ ha hi hu he ho
    まみぬめも ma mi mu me mo
    やいゆえよ ya yi yu ye yo
    らりるれろ ra ri ru re ro
    わゐうゑを wa wi wu we wo

    (Preferably, please use the same-width font to see the table.)

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