Orchestration (cont.)

Mixing the three choirs

As shown in Figure 8 the seating arrangement for the kangen orchestra is: Woodwind players sit in the back with the ryûteki players on the left, hichirikis in the middle, and the shô players on the right. For each instrument, the seating arrangement of the 3 performers forms a triangle with two players sitting on the back row, and the first chair in front of them. The string players sit in front of the woodwind players with the two koto players on the left and the two biwa players on the right. In both cases, the first chairs are the ones sitting closer to the middle of the stage. Finally the three percussionists occupy the front row with the shôko on the left, the taiko in the middle, and lastly the kakko on the right. There is no conductor. The 16 musicians synchronize via the melody. The typical training for a musician of kangen music starts by learning one of the three-woodwind instruments for seven to ten years. Then, the musicians add to their training the study of either a string or a percussion instruments as well as dance or singing. Therefore, all musicians know the melody and how their part fits in relationship with it.



                                     Reigakusha ensemble


Kangen orchestra

Figure 8


For example, during one of our sessions with the musicians from the Reigakusha ensemble, we noticed as the ensemble was changing repertoire from a kangen to a bugaku work, the shô player ISHIKAWA Ko switching for the taiko and the hichiriki player NAKAMURA Hitomi leaving her instrument behind to put on an extremely colorful costume and masterfully perform a dance as if this was the only thing she had done all of her life.


1. Form and instrumental textures

The orchestration of the introduction and coda sections of every kangen piece is prescribed and static for the rest of the work. The first and the last sections act respectively as a gradual fade-in and fade-out, and only the first chairs play in these sections. Moreover, the instruments’ entrance in the introduction follows a strictly preset order: the ryûteki enters first, followed by the percussion instruments, the shô, which enters quasi- simultaneously with the hichiriki and finally the biwa and the koto. After the equivalent of about a phrase-length of solo playing, each first chair is joined in by its respective peers. Hence, the entrance of the second koto completes the tutti that is invariably maintained until the coda. At that point, the instruments disappear following another preset order. The percussion instruments stop first, followed by the woodwind instruments, and then the biwa and koto. 

2. Register

The de facto separation of the choirs based on their acoustical properties and different functions is emphasized by their separate registers, where the string and woodwind instruments occupies two separate ranges: the lower register for the former and the higher one for the latter.

3. The beauty of kangen music

The relationship between the music’s timbral transformations and its phrase structure has been established. Examples from Etenraku have been used to support our points because this is one of the most standard works of the repertoire. Example 5, an excerpt from Seigaiha, is introduced to show that phasing interplays between phrase structure and timbral transformations adds one more dimension to the music.


Simplified version of Seigaiha's first phrase of Section B (measure 17-24)

 Example 5

Seigaiha's phrase structure is eight-measure long, with four beats per measure. That structure is established with Section A’s two phrases where we find the expected four measures of melodic motion with an overall color favoring the woodwind instruments, coming to a sustained-tone at the phrase’s mid-point in phase with the taiko’s obachi, where the overall color switches to a mixture of shô  and string instruments.

But the synchronization between the music’s phrase structure and its timbral transformations is broken in the first phrase of Seigaiha’s Section B, as shown in Example 5. The 4+4 measure pattern has switched to a 2+4+2 with the sustained-tone on F# starting two measures before the taiko’s obachi, setting a marvelous feel of ambiguity, which is maintained in the second phrase of Section B where an eight-measure melodic motion is introduced without a sustained-tone. Finally, the phasing between the two parties is re-established with the first phrase of Section C. (These last two phrases are not shown).

The 2nd phrase (measure 8-16) of Konju-no-Ha provides another example of a method of out-phasing the phrase structure and the sound transformations. The phrase cycle is four-measure with four beats per measure, as shown in Example 6.



Konju-no-Ha: 2nd phrase (measures 9-16)

Example 6

The melodic line of this phrase does not create the standard 4 + 4 where each four measures would further be divided in 2 + 2, instead, the lines merges the two groups of four measures into a 6 + 2, consequently, there is no change of timbre that corresponds with the first taiko’s obachi. Moreover, the sustained-tone of the last two measures is in fact out-phased, starting two beats earlier than the taiko’s obachi.

Our purpose with these last two examples was not to start an exhaustive list of out-phasing techniques, rather we wanted to make two points: First, we wanted to give the reader a sense of how alive this music is, an impression that he/she may not have gotten from our square presentations of the various techniques covered in this section. Second, we wanted to prepare the listeners to expect the unexpected as he/she listens to kangen music and to go beyond its overall static sonority, because it has so much beauty to offer already beyond its first curtain.

4. Timbre and time

Like its Western counterpart kangen orchestral music is composed of superposed layers of sound but while Western music layers usually blend, layers of Japanese orchestral music do not. The listener can at all times easily differentiate the sound of instruments across choirs as well as within each choir. The intricate and refined interaction between the eight kangen instruments is clearly perceptible at every moment. This provides a complex and dynamic experience even if on a larger scale other elements appear slow or static. The richness of kangen music is not based on a high level dramatic progression but on the inner life of the ever-elusive moment.

Although this research has focused exclusively on orchestration in kangen music, it must be emphasize that its temporal qualities are also fascinating, so much so that this is in fact material for a research in itself. But for the time being, we refer the reader to an article we have written on the correlation between timbre and time in kangen music. Japanese Traditional Orchestral Music: The Correlation between Time and Timbre, it can be found at: http://www.jaroslawkapuscinski.com/pdf/japanese-traditional-orchestral-music.pdf .