The Sacrament of Kogarashi to the Birds Above a Sea of Gold
The verse, 木枯らし: The Sacrament of Kogarashi to the Birds Above a Sea of Gold, is by far the most abstract and dissociated from the other verses. The contrast of this verse among the others parallels the layout of Ishiyama’s scroll, which itself begins with a small disjoined fragment of a seascape with birds embellished in gold foil. While the remainder of the whole scroll is one continuous piece, this small section is alone, although it mirrors the conclusion of the scroll, perhaps suggesting the cyclic essence embodied in the work. The first movement, as such, is the most abstract yet the most austere and pristine in its composition. It is not conventionally beautiful per se, but possesses a natural, primal animus suggestive of awakening flocks of birds amidst a stark, rocky seashore. The work is an eldritch primordium of empyreal radiance. When searching for the feeling of such times, places, and eonic litanies, the closest personal feeling I can approach is that encapsulated in the Japanese word kogarashi (“koh-ga-ra-shee”) and the associations it provokes. Literally meaning “leaf wilting wind,” kogarashi is a cold wind that signals the onset of winter; often, there is a scent that is associated with kogarashi. As a child, I loved the winter. In the mountains of Virginia beginning in late September or early October, I would often notice a distinct smell on the wind that would remind me of the approaching season; I would always know with a sense of nostalgia that the smell of this brisk autumnal breeze was a sign of winter. It was not until I was older that I learned the word kogarashi that described this familiar feeling from my youth. The smell of kogarashi, that abiding evocation of winter’s essence, represents the end of a season and the start of another, the inexorable continuation of the annual period and one’s connection to that cycle which encompasses one’s own cycle of life as well as the cycle of all life: the seasons. The instinctive feeling evoked by the smell of the seasons, any season, is an ancient connection we have with those temporal rounds that define humanity’s and all life’s patterns of existence; kogarashi, then, is time’s sacred covenant to its ceaseless cycle, annually consecrated through the ritual of avian migration.
Akogare in the Waves of Shadows and Light
The verse, 憧れ: Akogare in the Waves of Shadows and Light, stands as an immediate contrast to the free and primal opening verse; this work is precisely measured and abundant in traditional melodic and harmonic patterns. This verse also introduces the keyboardist to the ensemble and gives the percussionist their first concrete material, and thus these two instruments operate as the featured constituents of this section. The title and gestures of this verse are inspired by the opening portion of the scroll after the dissociated seascape: craggy mountains and valleys, in which Ishiyama employed his most dramatic uses of light and shadow in this work. The stark change in musical aesthetic here between the opening verses also parallels the drastic change from eternal, golden waves to fluctuating, precipitous penumbrae. The Japanese word akogare (ah-koh-ga-reh) is often translated directly as a feeling of frustrated “yearning”, “desire”, or “longing;” however, akogare is not necessarily romantic or sexual in nature but rather a sense of deep respect and admiration that one feels for someone they greatly admire, usually someone who is exceptionally talented. Furthermore, akogare’s feeling is often colored with the acknowledgement of one’s own shortcomings and the awareness that such a level of talent might be unattainable, from which those feelings of yearning or longing come. Such is the feeling one might have when beginning to traverse Ishiyama’s scroll; in recognizing the vision and the craft that goes into such considerable artistic undertakings, one may often find a germ of yearning for that same resolute purpose and eloquently designed insight within one’s own self. One might call such a sense jealousy, but the emotion of akogare is far less base and ill-wished; rather, it glorifies in the abilities of another through reverence and the wish to one day obtain a similar level of proficiency. Such is also the feeling I have when I begin any new piece of music, studying the pieces of masters that have come before and feeling reverentially inadequate, longing to be better than I was or am. Many of my works consequently follow closely in the path of masterpieces and their masters, whom I admire. Thus, each verse in this collection is modeled on one or more pieces by different composers, for whom I feel akogare. Just as Ishiyama’s influences emerge in his heavy and evocative brush strokes among the crags of the scroll’s beginning, so too do my influences intermingle between the measures, melodies, and motives of my music.
The Dance of Shinrinyoku and the Cuckoo Bird
The verse, 森林浴: The Dance of Shinrinyoku and the Cuckoo Bird, follows again the abrupt shifts in aesthetic between the verses, this verse being perhaps the first ebullient piece of the collection. This verse is one of two dances in this entire work, both of which feature canonic writing; this verse features a canon between the violin and cello, and thus elevates them to the primary concern of this verse. This piece is a new kind of awakening from the first verse. While The Sacrament of Kogarashi signals the onset of winter, The Dance of Shinrinyoku proclaims the arrival of Spring, a time of renewal and rebirth. Thus, the sounds of birds are transformed from austere abstractions to whimsical oscinine trills and chirps amidst a springtide festival. The Japanese word Shinrinyoku (“sheen-reen-yo-koo”), literally meaning "forest bathing," is a warm-season relaxation exercise where one ventures deep into the woods where everything is peaceful. Having been an avid hiker in my adolescence and early adulthood living in the mountains of Virginia, I would often find myself in the forests of Appalachia. While peaceful to some extent, the forests were never quiet, always full of the bird songs native to that region, the chittering of squirrels in mating season, the hum of cicadas perched in the trees, the rush of wind in the leaves and water in the mountain streams. The forest in Spring is a place of many songs, a peace not of sterile ruminative silence but organic polyphloisbic counterpoint. As we move beyond the crags opening Ishiyama’s scroll we enter woodlands, and so are taken by the artist into our own “forest bath” amid the spiring ink trees of his scroll. However, I do not imagine a serene ablution under the canopy but rather one of rejuvenated animation.
Mononoaware and the Avian Liturgy :
The verse, 物の哀れ: Mononoaware and the Avian Liturgy, is our midpoint in this collection and our moment of reflection before commencing with the cycle. One can perhaps continue our metaphor of the cycle of season in this verse: having traversed now through the austere and brisk Winter, and danced through the revitalized Spring, we now find ourselves in the quiet estival heat of a midsummer’s eve below the baldachin of stars. This is a slow and contemplative verse featuring improvisatory birds sounds from the percussionist on autoharp couched within a pondersome ensemble in a chant-like canon. The liturgy is embellished by the ritualistic chimes of the celesta/piano with the intermingling of bird calls, reminiscent of the initial verse and presaging the lethiferous rota of time’s wheel. The bird sounds that once were primal and unbridled are now constrained by the regularity of some cryptogenic, volucrine liturgy. However, though we believe in the permanence of our rites and rituals, the immortality of our liturgies and traditions, time will weather all into nothingness and return to its primordial commencement. The Japanese word, Mononoaware (“moh-no no ah-wa-reh”) or "the pathos of things," is the awareness of the impermanence of all things and the wistfulness at their ephemerality. While melancholy is associated with mononoaware, this feeling does not suggest a general sadness, but rather a deeply felt emotion that envelopes the feeler as he or she comprehends the transience of everything. Everything in existence is temporary: the beauty of youth, the passion of romance, the security of wealth, the privilege of power, the constancy of tradition, even the seemingly eternal changing of the seasons, cycle of the sun, orbit of the earth, and mosaic of the stars will all change and decay. As we worship the seeming immortality of such cosmic cycles by our millennia of tabulated requiescats and catalogued regulae, there is an abiding truth that they will inevitably and unavoidably fade, ultimately to disappear into the dissociated void of gas and dust in our ever expanding universe. However, the temporality of things should not be mourned but cherished, for such impermanence is the genesis of beauty.
The Dance of Komorebi and the Cauldron of Fire
The verse, 木漏れ日: The Dance of Komorebi and the Cauldron of Fire, brings us to an autumnal forest scene. The beginning of Fall in many parts of the world is a time of harvest and celebration before the stifling months of Winter. Here we have our second festive dance, a four parted canon and canonic fantasia. The Japanese word komorebi (“koh-mo-reh-bee”) refers to the sunlight that filters through the leaves of trees. If one has seen and walked among the kaleidoscopic panoramas of a temperate forest in Fall, the imagery of a “cauldron of fire” lit by the light of the sun chromatically rarefacted through the leaves overhead needs no further clarification. Though the verse is festive, the sense of mononoaware reminds us that such beauty is transient; the piece ends not with ululations but with whispers and the recurrent reminiscence and resurfacing of the ornithic liturgy, reminding us that all festivals end, all seasons change, and all life decays by the relentless flight of time.
of the Infinities in the Chasm of Stars
The verse, 幽玄: Yuugen’s Enunciation of the Infinities in the Chasm of Stars, returns us to the beginning of our cycle; however, our return shows us only a shadow of where we began; there has been a transformation, a deliquescing of the pristine origin and diffusion of the primal substance of The Sacrament of Kogarashi. However, what emerges from this disintegration is not the false cycles we believe immortal, but the revelation of the deeper, subtler, most mysterious universal mechanisms that underlie all cycles, all transformations, all life, all cosmic occurrences. The Japanese word yuugen (“yoo-gen”) is an awareness of the universe that triggers emotional responses that are too mysterious and deep for words. No greater awareness of the subtly of the universe can be had than through the apprehension of the physics and mathematics that fuels all cosmic engines. As we approach the end of Ishiyama’s scroll we have reached the sea from the distant mountains, returned to the vision of the pristine origin; however, we are compelled onward, beyond this origin to a deeper truth. We find ourselves pulled into the black chasm of stars over and past the sea, we are pulled out of our cycle, beyond the seasons, beyond cycles of the moon and sun, beyond life, beyond death to the greater mystery of the cosmos. We are called to recognize the transience, and consequent beauty, of the human experience by enunciating that which is perhaps most immortal in this universe - not our laws but its own – by boldly contemplating, as mathematician Georg Cantor did in the late 19th century, the infinities of infinities, the infinities within infinities, and our humble ability to apprehend that which is most supreme and everlasting in our species’ perhaps evermore diminishing time to gaze upon this universe in miraculous self-awareness.