Tag Archives: zen music

Willow

Willow
for vocal or instrumental choir

This was one of numerous graphic scores that I had originally planned to dispose of, but saved after meeting John Cage.

At the time, I had created a series of what I referred to as “image” scores, which resembled sparse paintings; this was the only one to have survived. These scores were often created with very clear methods of performance. The strokes in the upper left of the score were inspired by shakuhachi and Tibetan dungchen notation. These strokes were created first, and once in place over a few days I added the other elements as a contrast. I saw three directions of gestures, an oblique movement in the upper left, a subtle horizontal movement on the bottom left, and a crowd of horizontals and rising verticals on the lower right. These directions were important to the score at the time. Any additional layers of meaning as a result of viewing the score as a painting are welcome yet parallel to the work.

I have an interest in vocal and instrumental choirs and the way instruments of a similar timbre interact with each other, especially when they are not bound by melody or harmony.

Below are additional comments on my notes to the score.

The Notes to the Score:

  1. Written for any number of performers, this score can be performed in any manner the performer wishes, including aurally, visually. kinesthetically, synesthetically, interactively, literally, symbolically, or philosophically. 

This is a statement I included in many of my scores and is one that is fundamental to my philosophy of performing them. I consider the reaction a person may have in approaching my scores as a type of performance. How they then express such a reaction, or any long-term results of this reaction are continuations of the performance.

As a performer myself I engage many aspects of my being in playing music. Those mentioned above are just a few, and they often tend to function simultaneously. I am often amazed that this is not more commonly discussed as I find an awareness of how all these manners of expressing music combine is important, as is the balance between them.

A performer may wish to express the score in any manner including all those listed above, exclusively or inclusively. However the performance may also be more intimate and introspective. Many musicians hear scores upon encountering them, and I consider this an aural performance, and as some elements of this performance may never make it to a stage, it is unique and special. An aural performance may also include hearing wind in a willow’s leaves, or grass, upon encountering the score. It could also include hearing a suspension of sound, or a sustained silence simultaneous to the sound upon encountering the score, or at any time when recalling the score.

A visual performance is any reaction generated from observing the score, and both kinaesthetic and synesthetic performances function in the same manner. Any visual image, such as imagining the colour green or a willow tree is part of a performance. As is any movement or physical reaction such as a tingling, an emptiness, a sense of confusion, or a blankness are all performances.

Any reaction to the score could be construed as an interaction. I see that as a person reacts to a score, the score starts to transform. The score initially observed is no longer the same once it has been reacted to. As the score changes, the reactions of the observer again change, creating an interactive feedback chain. Any discussions of objectivity or subjectivity are further performances.

For some a literal performance is interpreting the written gestures as pitch low to high and duration left to right, with dynamics from soft to full. For others a literal performance is a sonic recreation of the image. I will leave symbolically and philosophically for those that are inclined to interpret.

  1. It can also be read from right to left or left to right, and pitch may or may not be interpreted vertically.

This may be construed as a restatement of one form of a literal performance. However, the term “read” can be taken quite literally and the score can be put into words or thoughts in either direction, with or without pitch.

  1. A deep understanding of willows may be helpful. 

Willow trees hold symbolic meaning in many cultures, and an understanding of these might be useful. Understanding the tree itself is also useful.

  1. The performer may wish to sit close to or under a willow, or give a willow branch to a parting friend.

An extended time sitting with a willow tree may provide a rich palette of subtle experiences, emotions and associations with which to perform this work. In sitting under or with a willow tree, the score is being performed.

The score was inspired by a traditional, but no longer practiced, Chinese custom of giving a willow branch to a departing friend. The willow signified the bonds of friendship and unwillingness to part ways. It also represented new life as the willow could be replanted anywhere forming new roots. The willow also provided protection against ghosts. The symbol of the willow therefore conveyed a melancholic sadness for a departed friend and the longing to see them again.

  1. A deep awareness of the performer’s surroundings and the soundscape is suggested.

I feel this is essential to all performances. This is an awareness, a sensing, of everything in the surrounds, and accepting them without judging if they are good or bad, wanted or unwanted. To be aware of all sounds and everything else in the surrounds equally, with each object holding the same importance – to simultaneously remain consciously aware of everything throughout the performance.

  1. This score can be performed in all manners simultaneously.

Windows of opportunity may be created to experience individual forms of performance as well.

  1. This score is performed by being regarded, and does not need to be performed to be performed.

You have been performing this score all this time. This score does not need any further action from you other than you encounter it. In fact it does not need you at all.

r3willow

Randy Raine-Reusch
15/09/91

The Linfield Cello Ensemble, a group of seven cellists led by Diane Chaplin, performed Willow on April 24th, 2016. The score was printed on the cover of the program and the notes included within. Diane wrote: “It turns out that in the lobby of the music building resides a large vase of long curly willow branches. We placed that vase on a stool near the performers, and added a good amount of recently-live willow branches. We did…three interpretations of Willow. The first was one where we all played the same image at the same time; in the 2nd one we chose our own order of images (and in that one I was inspired to get a willow branch and gently run down the cello strings – very evocative). For the 3rd interpretation, we were contemplative and didn’t play, just admired the willow…”

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Resonance

Resonance
for any instrument
for Gayle Young

Each score has quite specific instructions, and if they are truly explored, the performance of the score is fairly clear. I suggest approaching these scores as any other score, in that they should be studied thoroughly, as well as studying the composer and their philosophy.

Resonance is a text score. The words and phrasing I use are intentional, and I use these terms with the multitude of meanings that they can imply. This score uses Zen paradoxes. The seeming dichotomies of be / be not, breathe / breathe not, sound / sound not may lead anyone encountering this score to suspend their assumptions of life and observe their existence from another perspective, or not. Then repeat these actions/non actions until finished. For some this may lead to questioning their whole life, for others it may be a validation of their life experience.

The Notes to the Score:

1. Each gesture should be delicately placed, either purposely or at random.

  • The term “each” suggests: every single one; all; defining one from the other; creating a boundary between the gestures yet treated as related; informing the other yet distinct unto itself; etc.
  • A “gesture” is any movement in sound, silence, space, time, existence…
  • The term “should” suggests: conformity; doing what we are expected to do; doing what we think we are expected to do; societal, cultural, moral pressures. Though it is also suggests a choice, which if not taken can give rise to the guilt of not doing what we think we are expected to do, disobedience, resistance, or nonconformity …
  • The term “placed” suggests: with purpose, with intent, with forethought, so that we had reasons and reasoning for its placement. Therefore judgment, values, ideals, habits, enculturation come into play.
  • The use of “delicately” suggests: with care, softly, with precision, not to disturb, not to alter, not to change, not to transform, with respect, a kind of honouring, like treating a baby or a kitten, like it is precious, like it is fragile, ….
  • Either / or: is a choice of a subset; one or the other; not both yet related; ying / yang; a duality; opposites that are bound together; two sides of a coin; essential to each other in their opposition; defining the boundaries of the other, ….
  • The terms “purposely” and “random” are treated as those above.

2. A deep awareness of the performer’s surroundings and the soundscape is suggested.

  • A deep awareness of the soundscape suggests to have sat listening to every sound, those internal to a body, those external to a body, those imagined, those suggested, those internal voices that sit behind every thought, those thoughts themselves. All these sounds are be heard and treated equally without judgement of being good, bad, wanted, unwanted, noisy, or pleasant. All these sounds are listened to simultaneously with a broad equal attention.
  • A deep awareness of the surroundings suggests that the detail achieved in listening can be achieved with every other sense.

3. This score includes both the shadows of sound and the shadows of silence.

  • Whether or not sound or silence is used in this score, their shadows are essential. Sound shadows can be what are cast behind an object that is in the path of sound waves. Sound shadows can be remnants of sound left long after the sound source has ceased producing sound, they can last for millennia. Sound shadows can be what are left in our experience long after the sound has left.

4. The resonance of being, breathing and sounding should be regarded, disregarded, neither or both.

  • This alludes to a Zen state of deep awareness without discernment or judgement. An expanded awareness of being and what surrounds us leads to experiencing a quantum / satori state where boundaries /space / time can start to dissolve. Space becomes indefinable and opposites combine. Our sense of dimension dissolves into a grand all encompassing nothingness while simultaneously fracturing into a vast myriad of other dimensions all intersecting.

Once all these “notes” are explored, playing or not playing the piece is effortless.

Randy Raine-Reusch
05/19/2013

r3Resonance

Noh 1

Noh1
for ichigenkin, Noh actor
or any other performer

The ichigenkin is a one string Japanese zither, which I have studied for many years. Ichigenkin philosophy reflects both those of Zen and Shinto. Noh is a form of Japanese drama.

The Japanese concept ma is an underlying element of this score, and both the practice of ichigenkin and Noh make extensive use of ma. Ma is emptiness that is full. It is the white space around a Japanese painting. It is the empty space in a flower arrangement. Ma is an extended pause in Japanese music that is full of tension or anticipation. Ma is the small recessed section of a traditional Japanese room used for hanging a scroll, or placing a plant.

The Notes to the Score:

1. Express one sound, one step, of any duration in one second, minute, hour, day, week, month, or year.

  • The score displays the number one written in traditional script. One is the second theme of this score and forms a paradox with ma. Ma needs two opposing elements, a duality: something and nothing, sound and silence, form and formlessness. One is singular. In Taoism and Zen, dualities form a pair linked in their opposition, and together become one. Hence there are two participants indicated and one action. There are further dualities in the suggested participants: one who sits – one who steps, one that is silent – one that creates sound, etc.
  • Time is of no consequence in this score, although it is an integral element. The suspension of time carries the ma in movement and music. Yet the duration of the ma is not specified and can in essence be held indefinitely.

2. No essence of being or the absence of being should be left unexplored.

  • The score incorporates everything, and nothing, combined.

3. No aspect of sound and silence, nor the absence of sound and silence should be left unrealized. 

  • The duality of sound and silence create a pair, in mathematics a set. If we can define a set, then there is an absence of the set that defines it. That absence can be full of ma.

4. One is exclusive, inclusive, both, and neither.

  • One is exclusive: there is only one. One is inclusive: all is one. They can integrate, or negate each other, or both.

5. Existence should be neither regarded nor disregarded.

  • This might be self-evident. Whether or not the score, participants, this discussion or this world exists or not is inconsequential. However keep an eye on it nonetheless.

Randy Raine-Reusch
02/13/2013

R3NOH1

Premiered Aug. 10, 2014
by Redshift Music, Vancouver, Canada
Colin MacDonald – Baritone sax

 

 

Tanso Afternoon

I sit playing my tanso, small thin hard hollow bamboo, with a small notch on the end to blow into. A clear sound is produced with care. With time an ephemeral complexity of small notes flit around the melody. At first it seems to have a light expression, but I sense something deep here. This is a modern instrument that has more holes to play more notes. Yet it awakens something ancient, timeless.

My breath must be precise as the notch is small; a miniscule change produces something unexpected. I strive to perceive the imperceptible, to embrace the microscopic in my expression.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The high tones cry, the lower tones sigh. A murmur appears. Another voice arises between notes. An inner landscape of peaks and valleys, irregular surfaces, twists and turns – all within a nuance. A pitch drops slightly with a forgotten despair, and then rises with a fragile hope.

My soul rises from my lips and fingers, as my mind is helpless but to just listen. So much pain, so much joy, so much life. Then a train in the distance answers, and my soul responds unhindered. A crow comments as the wind in the trees and my breath ebb in unison. My soul and the world around me interconnect in the music. My mind is quiet.

The notes disappear yet my lips and fingers continue to move. The sounds outside disappear yet nothing has changed. All that is left is a vast yet intimate connectedness…an infinite oneness. I am playing, listening, being and not being, all at the same time. This depth of being and not being is both peaceful yet unnerving. It is so powerful that I stop.

My mind returns, objects in the room reappear; the sounds outside have names again. I am holding my flute. I am still feeling the connectedness, but am now in the world again as well. The wind and crows are calling for me to return. I want to feel this world some more before I go back into infinite oneness. I make some tea.

Face of Alzheimer’s

My mother has Alzheimer’s. At writing this, she is a month short of her 91st birthday and is in relatively good health otherwise. She is in a full care facility and is comfortable there. Visiting her is both difficult and fascinating. Her mind is slowly failing, but the decline is in waves, as is common with this disease. At times she seems clear and interacts easily. However, the majority of the time, she doesn’t remember anyone except me. I can see that it takes her longer and longer to recognize me, and some days not at all. She responds to questions with answers that are not connected to the inquiry and usually with only a couple of words seldom speaking in sentences.

Although most of my mum’s memory is gone, music, especially that of her youth, is still very deep in her. She remembers the words to many songs, and can sing them at the mere mention of the song title. It seems that music is stored in another part of her brain, which the disease has not reached fully.

smileyaugust54Humour is similar. I always tell her jokes, so she can laugh. As my mum was born in Scotland, puns along with playfully insulting the English, the Irish and most often the Scottish, all said in a Scottish brogue are the best way to make her laugh. She can even follow a series of jokes on the same subject, even though the logic of puns is usually quite complex and divergent.

I find most interesting is how social behaviour seems to be deeply situated in her brain. My mum has always been reactionary, responding to a question with an answer that seems to fit, until you probe further. She has always saved face. When I was young, everyone outside of my house loved my parents. My parents were considered to be kind, funny and generous. They volunteered for a number of organizations and were well known in the community. At home was a different story. My parents battled constantly with all the rage, vitriol, hostility, and loathing that anyone could possibly manifest. Often it was thrown at my sister and myself as well. Their transition from Jekyll to Hyde was the most difficult, as it could happen in less time than it took to close a door. No one outside of the house knew who my parents truly were.

Having an outside face was important for my mother, although she was probably never consciously aware of it. Throughout her life she would greet someone with a big smile and a wonderful compliment, yet the moment their back was turned she would make a hate-filled remark about them. Still with her advancing Alzheimer’s, she will put on a front for people but scowl or grumble when they are gone.

Having this “face” is probably the deepest thing in her psyche. Somehow even in the depths of this disease her psyche constantly develops new face saving devices. Last year, when I asked my name, she would respond correctly. Six months ago she answered by jokingly saying three Scottish names: MacTavish, McNab, and McKay. Now she responds with “Same name as I have.” She has a number of these face saving phrases, and they come out immediately, whereas a full sentence is difficult in any other conversations.

Keeping her laughing
Keeping her laughing

There probably is good reason for all what I have observed in my mother’s daily life. As learning social behaviour and putting on a “face,” is one of the first things we do as a child. We make faces for our parents, and we mimic and respond to theirs. We respond to foolish things our parents do and our laugh always gets a warm response from our caregivers. Music is often used as a comfort for babies, and we often start to sing well before we use words. Social behaviour, humour and music were the first to be formed in our psyche and the last to go.

I will continue to tell my mum jokes and keep her laughing and when she can’t sing anymore, I will sing for her. Even though my mum terrorized me, and I still am in pain from my childhood. Coming home from visiting her, I am so extremely tired that I often sleep deeply for a couple of hours. It takes a toll. Yet, I have a deep sense of compassion. I will continue to take care of her until she passes. Is this me putting on a “face”?

Thanks to Kia Ull for this link:

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014

Waikiki, Ichigenkin and Yamada-sensei

In 1992, I studied ichigenkin with Chie Yamada, who had achieved a master status in a number of Japanese traditional music styles, and was not only an adept musician, but a masterful teacher. I had first taken some lessons with her a few years earlier, but this was the first time I could spend an extended period in Hawaii just to study ichigenkin. On my arrival her husband was not supportive of my lessons, as Yamada-sensei (sensei means professor/instructor in Japanese) was in therapy for cancer and some days the medicine made her quite ill. However, Yamada-sensei insisted I come every day to study, and her husband acquiesced.

Yamada-sensei playing ichigenkinThe ichigenkin is a rare one-string Japanese zither that some believe may have come from the Chinese seven-string qin. Both instruments were played by philosopher-musicians who would sit in front of their instruments without striking a string, believing that if a musician and an instrument are in the same room, then music is also present, no action is necessary to produce the music. “The music can be heard,” they would say, “if you know how to listen.” Before beginning my lessons, Yamada-sensei described this philosophy to me and added, “Sometimes I just look at an instrument and I hear it play, the music is instantly born inside me.”

This strong sense of philosophy is inherent in the ichigenkin, and Yamada-sensei would often explain: “The ichigenkin must be part of your body. It has only one string and no place for the sound to resonate; it cannot produce a strong sound by itself. The sound must resonate from your body.”

“You can not hide the sound with other notes,” she would say, “the ichigenkin has a pure sound. It can only be played as part of you, and the music should come as naturally as any movement.”

Studying daily with Yamada-sensei was challenging and rewarding. I worked hard to understand and apply the philosophy of the ichigenkin while I developed my finger and picking techniques and memorized each piece. It was only through listening and feeling her play and trying to copy it as well as I could that I made any progress. This was not music that you could learn from reading notes off a piece of paper; this was music you had to experience. She often remarked, “You can either read music or play it. You can’t do both at the same time.”

One day after I played a piece, Yamada-sensei sat quietly for a minute and then nodded saying “With the ichigenkin, every note must come from deep inside you. You must play from your center, deep in your body, because this is where the real sound is. But when you play you must also bring the sound out of your body into the air. Today I can feel the music come from you, this is the sign of a good player.” She then would regularly tell me if my focus on my centre (hara) was too high, too low, too forward or too back. She knew the instant it was not correct.

In the last days of my lessons Yamada-sensei would often look at me and scowl, “You are so relaxed on the instrument that it resonates inside you. You play like you are Japanese, yet you are not. You must have Japanese blood.” Then she would shake her head and in a sad voice ask “Why aren’t you Japanese…you should be Japanese?!”

On the day of my last lesson her husband thanked me for studying with her and being very patient with the occasional repetition of lessons (the medicine made her forgetful). He said that I had given her a lot of energy and made her days meaningful. He said that I was her best student and gave me the contacts for the Ichigenkin school in Tokyo, asking me to be in touch with them.

I was Chie Yamada’s last ichigenkin student. She died of stomach cancer a few months later. Her husband gave me the instrument that she taught me on. yamada1

She was the best teacher that I had ever had. She could see things that were inside of me and guide me to use them, sensing things about me that no other teacher ever had. I could sense hundreds of years of knowledge being passed to me; lessons that she had learned from her teacher before her, and likewise for centuries. When she taught, every note sang, as she would place it deep inside of me. I was taught to play each note as if it contained the whole piece of music. The piece should be as complete playing only one note as it was playing all of the notes. She taught me to feel the rightness of every note, to give each note time to exist and resonate in my body. She somehow had a deep understanding of the music that I always had felt inside of me, but never knew how to release. She nurtured my internal music, gave it life, and brought the deepest parts of me alive with it.

While I studied with Yamada-sensei, I stayed in a dorm room with 6 people, so to practice I would go and sit on a bench at Waikiki beach for hours every night. This was actually quite dangerous because the beach was where drug dealers, pimps and other underworld folks did business at night. They each had their spot, and any intruders were not welcome. However they fully accepted me. I had a spot I could practice, and many times a bunch of very scary looking people would come and listen. They asked me questions about the music, and myself, and we developed quite a personal relationship. They were totally fascinated with the ichigenkin and its philosophy, sometimes sat for hours just staring at the dark ocean and listening to me play. The only time somebody started to be aggressive to me, a number of big guys came up and told him that I was their friend and anyone wanting to mess with me had to mess with them first.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014