Abstract / About the project


The chamber theatre work “Koto” is initiated by a commission from Rosetta, a Kyoto based contemporary music ensemble, in 2019. The idea behind the concert is to investigate on the possibility of “without framing”, which challenges on the traditional concept of music being a “framed”, or “bounded” art form. The commission came with two questions to address:

1. How can this flexibility of public be adopted into musical concert?

2. Musical work itself usually has a time frame of beginning and end. How can we deframe this tradition?

In composing the work, my main concern was how to get rid of the “frame”. The idea of “frame” has always been a key element in defining the meaning of “music”. John Cage, for example, has attempted to challenge the concept of “music” by providing a frame of 4 minutes 33 seconds to his work 4’33”. The common feature between these two works and most other musical works are quite clear—the framework, and in this case, the duration. Cage has attempted to challenge the concept of “music” later by composing 0’00”. If music starts and ends at the same time, is it still regarded as music? Does it even exist? This clearly resonates with his famous line, “I have nothing to say, but I am saying it.” Cage’s maximalistic approach in 0’00” arises a question for myself—is it possible to write a work of infinite duration, i.e. it only has a beginning, but does not have an end? Here one would only need to start, and once it started, it will keep on forever.

This question retains while I composed “Koto”. Eventually, rather than drilling myself into an infinite loop of philosophical challenge, I decided to compose many short pieces, which some has fixed duration, some has time flexibility, some are purely improvisatory with no fixed duration at all. These short pieces are compiled as a collection, and they could be played, unplayed, or even play repeatedly. The performers may follow the order (i.e. from I to XXVI), or can play them in random order. This would make each performance of the work more flexible, and thus somewhat blurs the “frame” of a “bounded art form”.

“Koto” is a collection of 26 small works, while most of them have no fixed duration, some are written in the traditional format. All the movements are inspired by dialogues from Yasunari Kawabata’s novel of the same title, published in 1962. The novel was cited by the Nobel Committee as a part of decision to award Kawabata the 1968 Prize for Literature. The story is about Chieko Sada’s life in Kyoto, where she lived with her adopted parents, and later on met her long lost twin sister Naeko.

The 26 dialogues function like a condensed version of the novel, with most of them spoken by Chieko Sada, and a few by other characters. To perform this work, there are a few general guidelines:

1. This is a location-specific work, it would be best to perform in Kyoto, by musicians who are related to Kyoto, and musicians who can speak native Japanese;
2. Most pieces do not have a fixed duration, and they are left for the musicians to decide how long and short they want them to be;
3. The number of repetition, unless otherwise notated, are free for interpretation;
4. Some works are written in C score, some in transposed score, please make sure to read the asterisk in the bottom;
5. All players should play from full score;
6. Even though the work is preferred to be played in order, it is acceptable to skip, or to repeat any movements from before and after;
7. Between movements one may decide to give a full stop before the next, or may start without stop. In some occasions, two movements may overlap (e.g. VI and VII);
8. This piece may be performed with all the pages printed out in either A2 or A3 size in front of the audience during the performance, as a kind of visual artwork;
9. Have fun.

p.s. One interesting fact about Kawabata’s novel and this work—Kawabata’s novel was completed on 14 June, 1962, while this musical work was completed on 21 June, 2019, just a week and 57 years later.

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