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Description by the Composer
«The almost inaudible sounds produced by the Japanese drums at the beginning of Mono-Prism represent a challenge to the traditions of East Asian drumming. What will emerge from these whisperings at the verge of audibility? Quiet and ethereal sounds have had no place in the drumming traditions of East Asia. Drums have been used traditionally in the context of religious festivals, their function being to disturb heaven and earth with their powerful sound and dynamism, and to awake sprits.
«As a player continues to strike his drum to the ultimate degree, so the sound of the instrument as produced through human agency (jinrai, "music of man") transforms into a sound as produced by nature (chirai, "music of earth"). Successions of sounds produced at an extremely high dynamic level still the passage of time and give rise to new sounds. The orchestral attacks threaten to interrupt the sense of condensed time, the accumulated resonance.
«Western sound produced through human agency here blends with the palpitations of nature: the sound of wind coming into contact with trees, the sound of flames blazing.
«The Chinese Taoist of philosopher Zhuangzi divided sound into three categories. Renlai (Jap. jinrai, "music of man") refers to the sound produced by blowing a series of flutes, and by extension to the sound produced by human begins employing musical instruments. Renlai is thus the sound which emerges through the relationship between man and musical instruments. In contrast, dirai (Jap. chirai, "music of earth") is the sound produces by the wind as it rushes through the tops of trees. It is also the roar which emerges as the wind blows into hollows and cavities of huge trees. Whereas these two types of sound are created through the agency of man and of nature respectively, tianlai (Jap. tenrai, "music of heaven") is the elemental force which rouses these two types of sound into action. Tianlai is thus a nation of music which transcends the distinction between "music of man" and "music of earth" and is more profound than either. The "music of heaven" is thus the voice and the palpitations of nature in all its awesome splendour. One of the ideal goals of drum performance is to achieve a state in which the listener arrives at the ultimate point of listening to the "music of heaven".
«In Mono-Prism, the orchestra is joined by seven players of Japanese drums performing on seven drums with heads attached to the body with cords (shime-daiko), one large drum with riveted heads (Ō-daiko), and three medium-size drums with riveted heads of the type known as Chichibu-daiko.
«The title Mono-Prism is a compound word consisting of the elements "Mono", which refers here to the monochromatic tonal quality of Japanese drums, and "Prism", referring to the prismatic tonal quality of the Western orchestra. "Mono" thus symbolises the Japanese musical element and "Prism" the Western musical element. The drum ensemble plays in the manner of a spiral, moving back and forth between determinate rhythm (simplicity) and indeterminate rhythm (complexity). For its part, the orchestra radiates in the manner of a prism acoustic and temporal elements qualitatively different from those underlying the motion of the drum ensemble.»
«First performance: July 1976 at the Tanglewood Festival in U.S.A. by Ondeko-Za and the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Seiji Ozawa.
«First European performance: September 1981 at the Berliner Festwochen in the Berlin Philharmonie by Kodō and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra under the direction of the composer.
Maki Ishii, 1992