Shin no Shin, for iPad and electronics

Here’s another contemplative work that I premiered at the Future Music Oregon Concert on November 17th, using iPad and the Kyma system.

It contrasted nicely with the Post Haste Duo’s performance of my chop-buster bioMechanics that was also on the concert (video of that performance coming soon).

Simon Hutchinson – Shin no Shin from Simon Hutchinson on Vimeo.

In his essay on Japanese Aesthetics, Donald Richie explains a three-part formula for classifying the arts, shin-gyou-sou:

“The first term, shin, indicates things formal, slow, symmetrical, imposing. The third is sou and is applied to things informal, fast asymmetrical, relaxed, the second is gyou and it describes everything in between the extremes of the two.”

These three divisions, though, can also all be subdivided in threes, such as shin no sou (the more sou end of shin), shin no gyou (medium-shin), and shin no shin (the highest level of shin).

Requiem, for Shamisen and Live Electronics

For some time now, I’ve been revising my 2010 composition, “Requiem,” and I finally had a chance last month to get into the studio to make a video recording of the new version.

Enjoy it on a system with bassy speakers:

Simon Hutchinson – Requiem from Simon Hutchinson on Vimeo.

This piece, for shamisen and live electronics, is dedicated to my friend, Kawamura Shinyu. Shinyu was the first person I met when I arrived in Japan, and it was through him that I came to study the shamisen. Sadly, Shinyu also grappled with bipolar disorder, and took his own life during one of his depressive episodes. Through this piece, I hope to celebrate his life and express my gratitude for his endless kindness, hospitality, and generosity to me.

Studying World Music and Composing New Music

I’ve been having a wonderful couple of months teaching a summer course in “nonWestern music” (to quote one of my professors: “Who teaches the course on nonEastern music?” but that’s a discussion best saved for another time), while simultaneously trying to make some progress on my opera.

More about the opera sometime soon, but, for now, my struggle, as it always seems to be, is balancing my time between my work as a composer, an electronic musician, and an ethnomusicologist.

These three roles, of course, aren’t mutually exclusive, so perhaps it’s more apt to say that I struggle to balance my time between thinking about music and writing music (and then subdivide that into writing music directly as sound, and writing music as notes on paper).

And then some time is spent watching cat videos on the internet.

The more I study and teach world music, though, the more I believe that an understanding of approaches to ethnomusicology is an invaluable tool for composers (and consumers) of new music. The skills that the students develop in my world music class are completely analogous to the skills of the students in my digital audio class.

Of course, on technical level, the information is very different–I think it might be tricky to spot the similarities between learning how Xenakis’s UPIC works and how to count the tala in Hindustani music–but core idea is the same: Here is music that is different from what you know, but, with a little work, we can find a way to understand it.

To take that idea to the next level, we build the skills to listen more objectively to an unfamiliar piece of music and use our critical thinking to understand what is happening, not just how this music compares to Beethoven or Mozart (or Nicki Minaj). We learn to listen for different ideas of pitch, time, structural, and timbral organization. We learn to discard the assumption that the values of Western music (or, for some students, pop music) are universal (“I can’t get into this piece or this piece. I like pieces that have a rhythm”… ), we learn to try to engage with a musical tradition on its own terms, and we better understand what “music” is (and can be) by using our objective and critical thinking to find the core of a given piece or tradition.

In a recent conversation, I referred to this as equivalent of how Neo “sees the matrix” at the end of the first of those films.

Perhaps, I was being a little overdramatic.

But I hope it’s also clear how these skills are useful to people far beyond the just context of music.

Aaron Pergram performing “Doppelgänger” live

While we’re still working on the studio cut of this piece, here’s a video of Aaron Pergram’s live performance of “Doppelgänger” from the Future Music Oregon concert, November 19th, 2011.

Doppelganger (2011) from Simon Hutchinson on Vimeo.

When composing for soloist and electronics, I often approach pieces as concerti, with the live performer conversing with an electronic “ensemble.” Traditionally, this genre has given composers the opportunity to explore the relationship between an individual and society as well as provide discourse on the importance of both individual and social expression and contentment. The introduction of the soloist’s doppelgänger, a supernatural duplicate, turns this piece into a kind of double concerto, with the soloist faced not only with society but with the implications of the spectral double, supporting or undermining the efforts of the individual to find a place in the social world.