Kū is the first piece of mine to take its cue from traditional Japanese philosophy. I make no claim to be an expert in traditional Japanese philosophy and I’m no big fan of musical ‘tourism’, which I find quite banal. In all honesty the music has very little to do with Japan, which I’ve not yet visited, nor ancient modes of thought. What caught my interest was the way the philosophy brings together natural objects and human temperament. Even in translation – always a sure-fire way to misrepresent complicated, socially ingrained thought – there was something immediate about the basic but apparently profound connections I was reading about. Basic analogies between man and nature are commonplace in my own language (and I dare say most others): ‘cunning as a fox’ or ‘blind as a bat’, for example. But there’s something beautifully fundamental about the connections in the Japanese philosophy, even after shoddy translation into English.
This piece of music is less about the philosophy itself and more about my reaction to it – less about the effectiveness of translation from ancient Japanese to modern English and more about further translation into music. I’m exploring the basic qualities at the heart of the ancient ideas in yet another ‘language’.
Kū, which roughly translates as ‘void’, is the most highly ranked of the five traditional Japanese elements. In English ‘void’ implies a cold emptiness, which makes the translation somewhat inappropriate. Kū more accurately encompasses the intangible; it represents creativity, the spirit, and those things said to be composed of energies rather than materials.
This piece lends itself to a state of musical concentration, through which we can appreciate the relationship between sound, silence, and the latent performance energies in pauses and rests. Those relationships will be different in every venue, with every performer and with every viola. There’s a parallel (albeit a tenuous one) with the way some martial artists, particularly in powerful fictional tales, are said to invoke kū to become fully attuned to the energy of their surroundings, increasing their awareness and readiness.
I wanted to create a musical situation where the pauses, rests and other silences are more potent in their latency than the sounding moments are in their relative activity. I wanted the ‘voids’ not to be dead, empty spaces but something of a higher order. There’s something exciting about the energy of musical ‘gaps’ – in all their forms – something very different to the familiar, comparatively straightforward transmission of sound through a musical instrument.
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