Sonic Arts Lounge


Sonic Arts Lounge

Traditional Gagaku Music from Japan for shō

Naoyuki Manabe

Naoyuki Manabe

© Masayasu Ikeda

Past Dates

The sounds of the shō mouth organ may seem foreign to listeners of Western music – they are reminiscent of an accordion or a harmonica. The shō is used in traditional Japanese gagaku, a type of music that was played at the Imperial Courts. Approximately 90 compositions are still known of today. These works are tied to traditional rules.

Banshikichō refers to the mode of the work within an untempered modal system, and contains very specific ornamentation, tuning and ranges. When the shō is played, melody, harmony and rhythm unfold in the movement and spatial sound development of dissonant clusters.
John Cage, who was in close contact with Japanese artists from the 1960s onwards, also studied traditional Japanese music with great intensity. His composition Two4 for violin and shō is a challenge in many ways. The violinist has to differentiate six microtones within a semitone, which results in 84 tones at his disposition within an octave. Even though Cage does not demand precision in each individual tone, a defined vagueness is to be displayed within a tonal space. While the violin necessitates playing notes of a long duration, the shō marches quickly through its sound material.
A friend, companion and pupil of John Cage’s, Toshi Ichiyanagi was born in 1933 in Kobe (Japan). From 1952 to 1961 he lived in the USA and attended, among other institutions, the New School for Social Research, at which Cage was an instructor. From 1956 to 1963 he was married to the artist Yoko Ono. Ichiyanagi was one of the New York avant-garde represenatives of experimental music. After returning to Japan in 1961 he wrote numerous compositions, in which he combines classical Japanese with Western music.
While Naoyuki Manabe is a high-ranking Gagaku and shō musician, Marc Sabat’s long engagement with experimental music and pure tuning systems meant that he was predestined for this concert.

John Cage
for violin and sho (1991)

Toshi Ichiyanagi
Still Time I
for shō (1986)

Naoyuki Manabe, shō
Marc Sabat, violin

In collaboration with the Embassy of Japan in Germany and DAAD: Berlin Artists-in-Residence programme