Sō-Gū I (1970)

Basic Information
Japanese 遭遇 I 番
German Sō-Gū I
Opus 018
Year 1970
Category Chamber
Duration ca. 12 min. (not determined)
Instruments shakuhachi, pf
Score information

This work has not been published.

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About this Work

The title "Sōgū" means "unexpected encounter." In 1970, when I set out to compose this piece, I could not have predicted that the shakuhachi bamboo flute and the piano, two instruments representing the completely different views of music found in East Asia and in the West, would encounter each other in the same space at the same time.

The shakuhachi is, of course, an important instrument in traditional Japanese and traditional East Asian music, while the piano is often called the "king" of western instruments. My motive for composing this piece was the wish to know what would be born when these two instruments, from traditions with such different worldviews, encountered each other in the same space and time for the first time in music history. And my desire to see whether a sound-world generating new meaning could be achieved from the meeting of such opposites as East and West, tradition and modernity.

The shakuhachi is an instrument possessing great physicality. With the shakuhachi, the human breath directly becomes sound, or, better, breath itself is music. In contrast, the piano is an instrument comprised of highly complex mechanisms, and producing sounds on it requires control of these mechanisms by the intellect. In this sense, these two instruments are polar opposites. Their encounter would be a meeting of physicality and non-physicality, human and machine.

To create this piece, I had to discover a methodology which would allow these two qualitatively different instruments to be brought together. Yet this was extremely difficult. The first thing I did was compose a solo piece for each. Then I mixed Japanese musical elements with the piano piece, which was composed according to the prevailing avant-garde approach at that time. At the same time, I carefully introduced avant-garde phrases into the shakuhachi piece. That is, avant-garde techniques and Japanese sound elements are brought into close proximity. Further, these eastern and western sound elements are filtered through the sensibility of the composer according to a certain directionality. This directionality is an attempt to achieve something which can perhaps be called a formal feeling of unity or intimacy. The two solo pieces are performed simultaneously, encountering each other according to certain rules and with the anticipation that a new world of sound imagery, differing from either of its components, will make its appearance.

This piece represented a new experience for me. I sought to allow both the concepts of traditional Japanese music and the musical attitudes of the musicians of the traditional instruments to be reflected in the piece and, in this way, to set out to explore a new world of sound.

Maki Ishii