Japanese Court Music and Dance: Gagaku and Bugaku

I’m taking a break from all this portfolio stuff to talk about something fun I got to do recently.

Over the past 2 years or so, I have been learning about Japan and Japanese culture. Going farther back, I’ve been interested in Asian cultures for many years, having joined Asia Society Texas many years ago.

The Japan Society, decided to dedicate some of it’s programming this year to have an imperial focus, in part due to the abdication of Japanese Emperor Akihito.

Japanese society being what it is, there are many ceremonies and rituals when a new emperor ascends the throne. They involve, among other things, music. And the fun thing I go to do recently was attend a performance of Japanese court music.


Gagaku

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) provides the following description for Gagaku:

Gagaku, characterized by long, slow songs and dance-like movements, is the oldest of the Japanese traditional performing arts. It is performed at banquets and ceremonies in the Imperial Palace and in theatres throughout the country, and encompasses three distinct arts. The first, Kuniburi no Utamai, features ancient Japanese songs, partial accompaniment by harp and flute and simple choreography. The second consists of instrumental music (especially wind instruments) and a ceremonial dance developed on the Asian continent and subsequently adapted by Japanese artists. The third, Utamono, is danced to vocal music whose texts include Japanese folk songs and Chinese poems. Influenced by the politics and culture of different periods over its long evolution, Gagaku continues to be transmitted to apprentices by masters in the Music Department of the Imperial Household Agency, many of whom are the descendants of families with deep roots in the art. It is not only an important cultural tool in confirming Japanese identity and a crystallization of the history of Japanese society, but also a demonstration of how multiple cultural traditions can be fused into a unique heritage through constant recreation over time.

Here’s UNESCO video on Gagaku:

Essentially Gagaku is the entire performance and Bagaku is the dance.

Gagaku Instruments

There are 3 types of musical instruments: Wind, String, and Percussion. I’m not sure if all of these instruments are included in every Gagaku performance, but these were listed in my program.

Program insert showing different types of instruments
Program insert showing different types of instruments

Wind Instruments

These are the wind instruments.

  • Ryûteki
  • Komabue
  • Kagurabue
  • Hichiriki
  • Shô

Gagaku translates to “elegant music” and that’s probably the best way to describe the sound of the Shô. You’d probably recognize the sound if you heard it. It’s a “mouth-organ”.

When I was watching the performance, the shô players rotated their instruments over some kind of urn. I thought it was something to catch extra moisture, like spit-valves in trombones. I learned from the video below that the shô has wax inside where the mouthpiece is located and these urns have small pieces of coal in them, which the musicians rotate the shô over to heat up the wax.

String Instruments

  • Sô (Gakusô)
  • Biwa
  • Wagon (yamato-goto)
Biwa, string instrument
Biwa, string instrument

The Gakusô is a type of Koto, which is a 13-string instrument and is the national instrument of Japan. Modern kotos are derived from the gakusô used in Gagaku performances. I couldn’t find a great photo, but the wikipedia article where I found this info is interesting.

The yamatogoto, or wagon, is another type of Koto. But it usually has only 6 strings or so. It’s also considered fully native to Japan, unlike the other types of Koto which were imported from China.

The wagon is on the left side.
The biwa is on the right side.

 

Percussion Instruments

  • Shôko
  • Taiko (tsuridaiko)
  • Kakko
  • San-no-tsuzumi
  • Shakubyôshi

Shôko is a kind of small, metal gong that sounds like someone tapping a iron/stainless steel skillet with a drumstick. The taiko is a kind of large, hanging drum. It’s struck with big, padded mallets. The kakko is a double-headed drum that’s beated with skinny drumsticks. (Shakubyoshi look like 2 wooden sticks. To be honest, I don’t remember these but maybe I was watching something else.)

These are photos I took after the performance. The theater lights helped them turn out really well! 🙂

 


Bugaku

Our program didn’t include much information about the dancing portion, but UNESCO comes through again. Here’s a video that goes much more into the dance portion of Bugaku.


When I was there listening, I felt like I had been transported into a Kurasawa film. In particular, “Dreams” from 1990. And specifically, the scene in the peach orchard when all the dolls come alive.

I love this movie a lot but I have found throughout the years that this particular scene is very difficult to find online (for free).

However, the trailer for the movie is available. The only problem is that it’s set to Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, Invierno and La Primavera. (Violin Concerto in E Major, Op. 8, No. 1, RV 269, “Spring”: I. Allegro; and Concerto No. 4 in F minor, Op. 8, RV 297, “Winter”: III. Allegro.) It’s not bad music, but it’s not Japanese.

Anyway, if you are looking for more information on Gagaku and Bugaku, here’s some information:

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bugaku
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gagaku
  • https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/gagaku-00265

Body Image in Art and Design

Over the past week or two, I’ve been collecting a lot more information about body image, or the body, in relation to artists’ works. Particularly, scholars who’ve written about the body, artists who use the body in their art, or artworks featuring the body or body image. It’s been actually quite interesting to look through all of this information. Here’s a list of what I’ve come across below. For some of them, I’ve written some short thoughts or descriptions about what I’ve seen or understood.

Marina Abramovic, (performance art) Rhythm 0:

In Rhythm 0, Abramovic placed about 70 articles of pain and pleasure in front of her, and then stood as an object while the audience manipulated the objects with her body. Starting out innocently, the performance turned more malicious and aggressive as audience members began to cut her skin, tore her clothes, fondled her breasts and even put a loaded gun to her head. (She provided the gun and the bullet.) When a guard announced that the performance had ended, Abramovic, now teary eyed, walked towards her audience as one of them, yet many or all of them literally ran away. The artwork questions how we objectify each other and tests the limits of our civility towards each other.

Carolee Schneemann, (performance art) Interior Scroll:

In Interior scroll, Schneeman reads a paper scroll as she simultaneously pulls it from her vagina. Definitely an act of reclaiming her body and her ownership of her sex.

“I thought of the vagina in many ways– physically, conceptually: as a sculptural form, an architectural referent, the sources of sacred knowledge, ecstasy, birth passage, transformation.”


Barbara Kruger, (photography collage) including Your Gaze Hits the Side of My Face, Your Body is a Battleground, You Are Not Yourself:
I have to admit that I don’t quite get the art, but I really like the phrase, “Your Body is a Battleground”. It represents so well how strongly we have to remain conscious of the fact that we have a right to not look like how the media, fashion, and the contemporary body aesthetic tells us we should look.

Cindy Sherman, (performance/photography) including Untitled Film Stills and other photos series in which she dresses up as other people/identities:
This is an amazing selection of images that challenge identity and image. When I looked through these photos, I thought “Who are we really?” Is our identity ours, or do we in some way embody the identity of others? I’m still not so sure I know what Cindy Sherman really looks like….
Link

Pipilotti Rist (video performance) PickelPorno:
Pipilotti Rist apparently made her mark with this video. It features a man and a woman, some nudity, and a fish-eye camera, along with other imagery; some sexual. At first, I really didn’t like the video because not only did I not see any intention, the production quality is fairly poor. (I guess I’m used to HD!) I turned it off, and then returned to watch it. After a while, I found enjoyment in the unusual or overlooked perspective views of the body. For instance, with the camera so close to the body, human skin is seen as it really is – hairy and imperfect. I found that while I often wanted to turn away, I couldn’t. It was like a visual exploration of the body, reminiscent of the way 2 lovers explore each other’s bodies.
View film on YouTube
"Pickelporno", Pipplotti Rist, 0:57"Pickelporno", Pipplotti Rist, 4:17"Pickelporno", Pipplotti Rist, 6:35



Ana Mendieta (performance/experimental) Cosmetic Facial Variations:
She was a Cuban artist whose work included a series of “Cosmetic Facial Variations, such as looking ambiguously male and/or female.




Orlan (‘whose medium is plastic surgery – commenting on the world of artificial changes to the body to be perfect/beautiful’):

Seems as though she has undergone a series of plastic surgeries, and then uses not only the surgical results as artwork, but also the surgery videos. She also seems to want to push our interpretations of chasteness and sexuality in religion, and the openness, or lack of openness, of female sexuality.

Laura Mulvey, (scholarly writing) “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema PDF”. “A seminal work on ‘the gaze’ – how female identity is structured through the male gaze”:
Points

  • Women are Passive and receive the action; Men are Active and give the action
  • Men are both the lead actors and the spectator; women are there for them
  • Women’s lack of a penis is a threat of castration and unpleasure; are “disarmed” simply due to lack of phallus/phallus-symbol
  • Scopophilia, “love of looking”
  • Cinema defines space, time and size
  • Image of women used for detachment and voyeuristic active/passive mechanisms


Interview with Vanessa Bancroft, from The GuardianInterview with Vanessa Bancroft:

The artist makes performance pieces featuring up to 100 semi-nude and nude models, many of whom resemble the artist and/or have eating disorders. Bancroft admits that she has been struggling with eating disorders (exercise bulimia) since she was 12.

Janine Antoni (process) Gnaw:

The artist took two blocks of chocolate and lard, bit into them piece by piece, and then made a chocolate box and lipstick out of the pieces she’d bitten. I appreciated this for the repurposing of the lard and chocolate, but biting into lard feels viscerally creepy. Detailed description from MoMA and from Brooklyn Museum. Link

Chris Woebken (design, technology)Animal Perception Helmets:
I love that these seem so game-like, fun, and goofy. My favorite is the ant, because it’s such an abstract view of the world. It also reminds me of Pipilotti Rist’s work, Pickelporno. I’m considering the use of magnification in my project.
Ant helmet



Simon Høgsberg (photography) Faces of New York:
A photography project featuring 10 New Yorkers who Høgsberg found immediately fascinating after a month of looking, 7 hours a day.
Musician, TV show hostNewspaper boyUnemployed Link

Phillip (“Mr Toledano”) Toledano (photography) A New Kind of Beauty:
Features a series of still photographs of people who have clearly undergone some type of plastic surgery. The people themselves did not look “normal” – as in, their plastic surgery procedure(s) was very obvious – but their portraits were beautiful. For the most part, I found that many of them looked alike, both men and women, as if the same facial aesthetic was the same for both men and women. They seemed so much like a new species of hermaphroditic, male/female neutral people, I wanted their names to be more exotic than just Steve, Yvette, or Michael….
GinaSteveYvette



Something-Fishy.org
A few links on eating disorders in men and ballet dancers. (Note: There are few reference links provided, so the factualness of many of these statements cannot be easily verified, but the anecdotal information is useful.)

“A ballet dancer is very aware of what her body looks like. At each practice she attends she wears skin-tight clothes and dances strenuously in front of large mirrors. A dancer has to look at herself for many hours in a day and this can cause a realization in the dancer. The general public may look in the mirror for a few minutes a day, hardly aware of what they really look like, but a dancer has no choice but to stand in front of a mirror and compare herself with others in the room…. The truth is as stated by a dancer, ‘In the real world people who are not thin do not get jobs.’ “


Emma Hack (skin illustrator, photographer, sculptor), Various skin illustrations:

I just came across this artists work and found the camouflage aspect of her art really interesting and beautiful. And, I enjoyed how the work focused less on the body and more of the body’s disappearance into the art. Her website is emmahackartist.com.



Genesis 1:27 God Created man in his own image:
Lastly, I was just listening to the radio the other day, and there was a guy talking about homosexuality and tolerance. The man speaking was relatively conservatively religious, except that he advocated for tolerance towards gays and lesbians (though not towards gay marriage.) In any case, he quoted the Bible and it seemed to fit with my body image interest, so I’ll just add it here, too. Link.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Responsive Performance: Spatial Media Final

For my Spatial Media final, I worked with Igal Nassima on a dance-performance, technology project. It was meant to be a site-specific work, that would eventually incorporate choreography with a specific dancer or dance group.

The inspiration for this project was the dance performance “Mortal Engine” by Chunky Move.

Igal was also particularly impressed with the geometric shapes in this short performance, called “Triadic Ballet”.

We also found other dance-technology performances online, such as this beautiful performance called “Frost”.

FROST from Tina Tarpgaard on Vimeo.

As you can see from our proposal, our intent was to incorporate more architectural elements into the stage area of the performance space.

When we actually started to implement the code, we ran into a few problems. First, I’m not so hot at C++ and I felt pretty overwhelmed with the coding challenge. I really appreciated working with Igal, since he’s much more advanced, but it also made it quite difficult for me to really understand what was going on. For example, when I wanted to make a big change to the code, I had to ask for help in order to figure it out. For my section, I used some of the extracurricular work I’d been doing with Jared Schiffman on building grids and changing colors to create different visuals for the project. Igal then incorporated that work into whatever he’d been working on.

We also had trouble with our physical area. Originally, Igal’s designated staging area was too much of a high traffic area for our needs and we had trouble controlling the lighting. We wanted to include 2 cameras, but our lighting/space environment was much too spastic and unpredictable to rely on. So, eventually we shared a space with Molly and Diego, which helped.

We used a one-panel backdrop, a short-throw projector and a web-cam mounted horizontally between 2 AutoPoles. We ended up using 1 camera because we were never quite able to use the TripleHead2Go, despite searching for drivers.

To be honest, I’m not really happy with the end result of our project. Things just didn’t seem to go well from the get go, and I sort of lost confidence early on. By the time we got our code to really work well – as in, the day of – there really wasn’t time for us seriously choreograph anything, aside from general movements you might do when you’re looking in a funhouse mirror. So, during our critique, we didn’t get many useful comments which makes it hard to know how to improve.

I think that for work like this, if you really want to do something spectacular a dedicated performance space is essential, for not just the dancers but also the technologists. And, you also need a space for them to work together. I do remember reading some research on this topic once before, I think at Ohio State University. Their dance and computer science collaboration also had similar difficulties with the collaboration space itself, and the difficulties of miscommunication or of underestimating the amount of time it would take for a computer scientist or dancer to modify their work quickly. I think I assumed that it would be easier for me, since I sort of understand them both. Really, it’s not the same and I’m finding that the lives of dancer or technologist/designer are very, very different. So much so that I think one infringes on the the other. I guess that’s if you want to be a purist and only do dance or only do design. I think it is possible for a dance-tech team to work, but this project I think was doomed from the start, in that I (as the dancer) needed to focus on the programming aspects and not just the dance aspects. If we had separated our work more, perhaps the end result would have been more fruitful…or maybe just more time would’ve helped. I definitely do not think this type of work is easy.

Code is here. I worked on GraphicsTwo.

(Extra work I did with Jared Schiffman.)
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Event: The Kitchen Presents – Nancy Garcia/Chase Granoff

Saturday, November 7, I went to The Kitchen with a friend to see a double performance by Nancy Garcia and Chase Granoff. Nancy Garcia is also a graduate of ITP.

As far as Chase Granoff’s work, “The Art of Making Dances”, I quite liked it. I found it easy to “get” quickly, in that I found it both entertaining and provoking in a non-intimidating way. They were offering a copy of The Art of Making Dances after the show. I didn’t get it because, well, mostly because I didn’t want to spend $10. Maybe if it had been $8 or $9, I would have bought it. Plus, I wasn’t alone and I didn’t want to hold up my friend. We were hungry.

As far as Nancy’s work, “I need more”, I really wanted to like this particular performance a lot more than I did. Maybe I was hoping for something that better fit my particular aesthetic needs, or maybe I was hoping for something I could connect with on a more immediate level. For instance, I would have liked to see more of an emotional statement with the choreography, as well as more cohesiveness between the dance sections. Although the four parts flowed one to the other, I also had a feeling of choreographic separation between the parts, but maybe that was done purposefully. In addition, I also did not appreciate the how loud music/sound was, and I didn’t understand the purpose of the singing. On the other hand, my exposure to the type vocal performance she was doing is still quite limited, so I guess I would have always a difficult time connecting with anyone’s show that involved that type of sound/vocal performance. I’m still learning, so there’s still time.

Anyway, none of these things really turned me off to her work, and I only offer these critiques as audience feedback (should she ever check out my blog). In viewing her website, I found her other work interesting and I’m impressed by her continued activity as a dancer, so if I have a chance to see her work in the future I’ll probably take it.

In any case, before I wrote this post, I checked my Gmail account and found the email Nancy sent to me regarding ITP. I asked her advice regarding ITP and she really wrote the most comprehensive and useful response of all the people I talked to about ITP. I wish I had looked it up when I was selecting classes this semester because it was really good advice. Well, I won’t post her answers but I will post my questions:

Hi Nancy,

Midori Yasuda sent me your contact info regarding the ITP at NYU. She
also sent me a link to your thesis, and I thought it was really very
interesting.

I plan to apply to ITP. My background is in dance and human-computer
interaction/usability. I’m interested in this program because I have
been looking for a way to synthesize dance and technology; although I
do not dance as much as I used to, I still have a passion for the art.
Your thesis seems very similar to an example something I might like to
pursue.

If you don’t mind, I have some questions that I’d like to ask:
————————————————————————-
I’m interested to learn more about what led you to ITP? Did you have
any doubts?
What have you been up to since graduation? Did you have a plan for
what you wanted to do after graduating?
What types of ideas did you want to explore?
How difficult was it to pursue study in movement, dance and
technology? What were some of the challenges? highlights?
How challenging did you find the more technical aspects of the program?
Is this still something you are pursuing?
If this was my focus at ITP, do you have any advice for me?
How did you come up with your thesis?

Tuition is a big factor for me. How did you deal with tuition costs?
Are you aware of any scholarships or grants for dance-based work in
technology?

Now that you’ve graduated, what is your opinion of the experience?
Would you do it again? Is there anything you’d change?”