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About this Work
It is possible to conceptualize the stylistic changes undergone by Maki Ishii's music as follows. (1) 1950-66: A process of individualization in a post-Webern style. (2) 1967-74: Establishment of his own style and its development ("Expressionen," "Kyō-Ō," and "Kyō-sō" are from this period). (3) 1975-83: The period of repetitive music. (4) 1984-: The synthesis of Eastern and Western music (in works such as the symphonic poem "Gioh"). Kyō-sō belongs to the second period, when, as Ishii says, "My musical methodology became clear and I consciously explored ways to fuse Japanese and European elements."
The piece sums up the various orchestral techniques experimented with in "Expressionen," Op. 10 (1967) and "Kyō-Ō," Op. 13 (1968). At the same time, the "Japanese elements'" are arranged with moderation, carefully but ubiquitously, without upsetting their relation of stylistic sensibility with the "European elements." In this sense, the work not only provides a comprehensive overview of all of Ishii's works, but it also marks a transition that leads to his Sōgū ("Encounters") I and Sōgū II for Japanese traditional instruments in 1970-71.
Kyō-sō ("Sound Strata") is made up of a structure of multiple layers of sounds and times. The sound layers are expressed both vertically and horizon tally in various forms - multilayered, mixed, absciss-layered - of the sound color of the different instrument groups. In the time layers, on the other hand, different kinds of time, such as quantitatively measured time, partially free time, and completely free time are expressed either simultaneously or sequentially. For example, in the opening section of the piece the cymbals and maracas play two bars in 4/4 rhythm according to the score. During this interval, the tam-tams (dora), clappers, and gong may be played within 24 seconds. And the harp and celesta are given relatively greater temporal freedom; they must be played for four bars within 48 seconds. This relationship between measurable and free time changes qualitatively into completely free time when the work rushes into a condition of chaos or into a kind of climax. Moreover, in the parts of the work where pitch is fixed, twelve-tone rows and their various mirror images and transpositions are used as both horizontal and a vertical sounds. Yet these represent simply what can be called a technical economy in the assembly or expansion of sounds; they are not the twelve-tone rows which function as serial music. Further, the opening section, which uses the horizontal musical technique of "entrance," does use rhythms and series, yet both are expressed rather freely.
The work consists of three main parts. These can be referred to as "the presentation of the materials," "the developmental transformation of the materials," and "the overall conclusion of the whole."
The piece opens with quiet, sigh-like tam-tam sounds, around which twine the sounds of other percussion instruments, none of which, however, breaks the hush. Soon string instruments join in, increasing steadily in number, as six groups of percussion and string instruments gradually increase their volume and extend their range. Xylophones and maracas make their distinctive sounds nonperiodically, and wavelets of cymbal sound spread from time to time. While wood and metal wind instruments join in very softly, all at once the string instruments begin to vibrate, and as they rise to a crescendo the sounds of the wood and metal wind instrument groups change fortissimo into clouds of sound points. Swaying back and forth between loud and soft rendition, the whole becomes a cluster of violent, grain-like sounds and reaches its first climax. Meanwhile, the high-pitched woodwind group and the trumpet group cut indeterminately into this sound cluster several times, creating different sound and time layers. Just as the totality of sound reaches its highest level it is severed by a sudden and total silence.
In the second part, as part of a process of return from silence to movement, the oboes and flutes at the beginning take on the sound of the prolonged mordents or trills (yuri) of the traditional Japanese shakuhachi flute. Riding on a quiet string cluster, the antique cymbal group flashes out brightly, while the flute and oboe cluster sways within the high-pitch area. In this work the high range of the woodwind cluster often recalls the shō (mouth-organ) or the oboe-like hichiriki (bamboo double-reed) of ancient Japanese court gagaku music. Once the orchestra grows silent, the cymbal and tam-tam groups carry on quiet yet suggestive monologues. They are gradually joined by the wind and string instrument clusters, increasing by increments the layers and thickness of the sounds. The long journey toward the second climax is propelled by multiple layers of swirling tone color and wild movement by the percussion groups. After the climax is reached, there are two extremely loud roars, which sway forward like great waves, leaving behind their reverberations in the silence, which leads to the third part.
A flute solo supported by the moaning of tarn-tarns and a large drum recalls the opening of the second section. Maracas continue to make a special sound between a string cluster layer and the high sound range of the woodwinds. Volume gradually increases as the piece moves forward in a straight line toward its final climax. The drum group begins a wild dance, and, after the orchestra roars four times, there is an overwhelmingly loud sound. The whole orchestra surges and seethes into a tremendous roar. As it reaches its extreme limits, it suddenly stops completely. In this moment of stillness, everything seems to have fallen into a crack in time. Then a piccolo dances upward, and the string cluster softly closes the piece.
[Remark by the composer: Composition was begun in 1962, and finished after a period of intensive work after a commission by Min'on in 1968. The work was first performed on February 7, 1969, at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan Hall by the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mori Tadashi as part of the First Min'on Festival of Contemporary Music. (Maki Ishii, transl. C. Drake)]