Place, Time, and the Non-human: Influences of Mediaeval Japanese Thought on my Descants Series for Solo Instruments in Natural Environments

Saturday, Feb 25, 2023

13:15 p.m. - 17:30 p.m.

In my recent work – engaging with eschatological Buddhist mappō thought (Vanitas series, 2014-17) and the changing nature of the environment over centuries as preserved in cultural memory (“utamakura” series for instruments and field recordings, 2018-2022?) – I have explored the interconnectedness of human and non-human sound in works for the concert hall through the lens of Zen and Kyoto School aesthetics. When concerts became impossible during most of 2020, I began to reevaluate the event of musical performance itself in my practice, particularly the sterile, exclusionary rooms in which most concertising is done. Without diminishing the role of field recordings as a method for bringing a particular sonic environment to an audience or for providing raw material for the composer to work with, covid restrictions pushed me to reimagine how I might structure a piece of composed music so that it could function as an exercise in inter-being (broadly defined) communication rather than a one-way pronouncement from a controlling “composer”. The result of this reflection is the five-part Descants series (2020-21) for solo instrumentalist (shō [doubling u], high voice, objects, viola, and shakuhachi respectively) in an outdoor location. 

In this artist talk I will discuss the mediaeval Japanese concepts of time (the premodern clock), place (onmyōdō), and buddhahood of non-humans (sōmokujōbutsu) which informed the creation of the Descants series. I will also discuss the first performances of four of the pieces, the spiritual significance of the chosen performance locations, and how the freedoms composed into the works were interpreted by different performers in different locations and times. The recordings of these performances – which make use of a variety of microphones in unusual configurations in order to decentre the composed music and introduce a sense of uncanniness, as if listening through non-human ears – document unique instances of communication between the environment, performer, and composer. It is hoped that these pieces afford being heard soteriologically, potentially opening listeners – including the performers and composer – up to a deeper understanding of the limitless potentiality (hollowness; emptiness; nothingness) of the world.

Daryl Jamieson

Daryl Jamieson is a composer and researcher based in Zushi and Fukuoka, Japan. He co-founded the intercultural music theatre company ‘atelier jaku’, and is active as a researcher, writing on Japanese aesthetics, and contemporary music and spirituality. Jamieson’s music is strongly influenced by his study of nō theatre and Japanese philosophy. In 2018, he received the Toshi Ichiyanagi Contemporary Prize for the third of his 'Vanitas' trilogy of music theatre pieces. He currently teaches composition and aesthetics of music at Kyushu University and his music is published by Da Vinci Edition and the Canadian Music Centre.