Resinous Fold 2+4+3 (for Malachite, Bronze & Cerumen)
Sarah Peebles, shō performance & composition (2014)
Resinous Fold 2+4+3 is a composed multi-track audio-work comprised of three solo shō improvisations I performed and recorded in collaboration with recording engineer Ted Phillips. The eight initial Resinous Fold shō solos explore traditional gagaku harmonies of the shō (Japanese mouth- organ) and create paths between what I think of as listening zones. Unlike the more widely known chordal drones which underpin melody in the main body of gagaku, Japanese court orchestra music, resinous fold solos shift between smaller tone clusters drawn from gagaku’s harmonic centres, and is inspired in its flow by gagaku tuning pieces known as chōshi (music for one or multiples of instruments).
Resinous Fold refers to the mixture of beeswax and resin which tunes and holds the shō’s metal reeds in place; each solo and multitrack work is dedicated to present or historic elements of the instrument, and is contemplative in its own unique way. Introduced to Japan from China between 710-794 AD, the shō is free-reed instrument whose elegant external design alludes to natural forms, yet hides an intricate technology within. Simple tones from individual pipes transform to rich, complex timbres as air flows through several metal reeds, travels up and out smoked bamboo pipes, and collides as it emerges from multiple points from its circular body. Sum and difference tones and interference patterns of sound emerge and create an immediate, mesmerizing sound which envelopes the surrounding space. In 2+4+3 the listening experience becomes a dance between instrument, player, performance space, microphone, recording engineer, loudspeaker, listening space, and listener. Each of the solos works was recorded at close range and from different angles in a relatively dry room. This up-close, dry sound is how I have usually experienced playing the shō in traditional cultural contexts in Japan. The intimate, dry sound reflects the instrument in its most intriguing context. I have further explored acoustic and psychoacoustic characteristics of the shō in layering the three stereo recordings, where the 14 respective pipes of the instrument appear in a different position of the stereo field in each recording.
This composed work reflects traditional practice where multiple shō perform a specific chōshi, overlapping one another in a round-like fashion, while exploring the effects of multiple recordings (of different improvised performances) within a loud- speaker and headphone listening context.
Solo improvisations recorded by Ted Phillips, April 2007 at Studio Excelo, Toronto; multi-track composed by Peebles March, 2014.
Released on Delicate Paths – Music for Shô | たおやかな歩み 笙の音 (unsounds 42U,2014) | Sarah Peebles with Evan Parker, Nilan Perera, Suba Sankaran. SOCAN for Canada / ASCAP for the World except Canada (Peebles)
About the artist:
Sarah Peebles is a Toronto-based American composer, improviser and installation artist. She gathers and transforms environmental and found sound for live performance, radio and multi-channel contexts, performs the shō (the Japanese mouth-organ), and creates habitat installations which prominently feature sound. Her distinctive approaches to shō improvisation and composition, which include acoustic and digitally processed performance, draw from gagaku (Japanese court orchestra music), microtonality and psychoacoustic phenomena of this unusual instrument. Peebles’ installation practice focuses on BioArt which explores the lives of native wild bees, pollination ecology and biodiversity. Her activities span Europe, North America, Asia, New Zealand, and Australia and include collaborations with a wide variety of musicians, writers and artists.
“In the 80s, while I was studying music composition in Japan, I was intrigued by the seemingly esoteric role some traditional musics played in contemporary Japanese society. I was given the opportunity to study the shô—the mouth-organ used in gagaku, ancient Japanese court orchestral music and dances—at a small Tokyo shrine, Sendagaya Ward’s Hatonomori Hachiman Jinja. Via this shrine I became familiar with basic gagaku repertoire and played for Shinto ceremonies, weddings and related functions, and also learned how to tune and repair the instrument. From that time onward I’ve explored improvising with, writing for and toying with the acoustic, amplified and reproduced sound of the shô. I’ve often wondered who thought up this remarkable work of nature-meets-technology—this instrument, so elegant and deceptively simple-looking, which sounds so ethereal. The answer, of course, isn’t really who, but by which paths the shô has come into being.
The shô, a free-reed instrument, was introduced to Japan from China between 710-794 AD, and is one of a large family of Asian mouth-organs developed before and since that period. It has traditionally been played in Japan as a part of gagaku for court, temple and shrine functions. Contemporary compositions and improvisation have become a part of its repertoire since the 1960s, and its arresting pipe-organ sound has drawn fans from around the world. Asian mouth- organs likely originated in what is now Laos more than 3,000 years ago. They reflect an intriguing, synergistic relationship between human beings and the habitats surrounding us. Since ancient times, mouth-organs have utilized the nest materials of wild stingless honey bees (such as genus Trigona in Laos): honey-making bees in tropical regions that are cousins of stinging honey bees (genus Apis). The stingless bees that forest peoples of the tropics have used throughout the world are social bees that gather plant resins and produce mixtures of secreted wax and these collected resins (as well as plant gums, oils and other substances), which the bees combine equally and use within their nest as construction material. Indigenous peoples have gathered these materials from wild nests for millennia—often boiling down components and mixing them in specific proportions—and applied them to mouth-organs in many ways, as well as to many other cultural items.
Ecology and human culture intersected in new ways as bee husbandry and agriculture progressed in ancient Asia. The mouth organ that became the shô utilized wax from managed bees—eventually from Japanese honey bees, Apis cerana japonica, a subspecies of the Asiatic honey bee—along with human-gathered resin, ground malachite, lead, bronze, lacquered wood, buffalo horn, silver, and smoke-cured bamboo from the hearths of old houses. It has changed little since arriving in Japan, except for the occasional experiment”—Sarah Peebles, Toronto, 2014
For more information on the artist, please visit her homepage: Sarah Peebles homepage
© 2014 by Sarah Peebles