August 2011 Convention
Charlotte, NC

Music of Jikken Kobo

Traditional Japanese flute music has had a huge influence on the development of modern music for the Western flute. In her lecture/demonstration, Mihoko Watanabe, flute professor at Ball State University, focused on the music of “Jikken Kobo,” meaning “experimental workshop.” This was a movement established in 1951 by Takiguchi Shuzo, poet and art critic, who served as mentor to artists in many media. The group’s members included composers Kazuo Fukushima (b. 1930), Takahiro Sonoda (b. 1928), Hiroyoshi Suzuki (b. 1931), Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996), and Joji Yuasa (b. 1927). Seeking to provide an artistic recovery from the devastation of World War II, its pupose was “to experiment in combinations of traditional Japanese modalities with its modernistic procedures.”

Mihoko Watanabe

photo by Leonard Garrison

As examples of flute works deriving from the principles of Jikken Kobo, Watanabe cited Takemitsu’s Itinerant (1989) for solo flute, Yuasa’s Mai Bataraki II (1987) for solo alto flute, and Fukushima’s well-known Mei (1962) for solo flute.

She offered a judiciously paced and insightful performance of Takemitsu’s piece. Her preparatory remarks covered the friendship of the composer and his friend, sculptor Isamu Noguchi, for whose memory Itinerant was written. She recommended a 2010 film, Leonie, on the life of Noguchi’s mother. She demonstrated several shakuhachi techniques that Takemitsu captured on the Western flute and spoke of the Japanese concept of “Ma,” or “perpetual silence, unmeasured time”—Takemitsu’s work is replete with pauses.

The concept of “Ma” also figures in Yuasa’s work. Yuasa taught for many years at the University of California in San Diego. Watanabe demonstrated several elements of Noh flute technique, especially its piercing high register, that figure in Mai Bataraki II. Its title refers to dance (Mai) and movement (Bataraki). Its structural principle is Jo-Ha-Kyu, meaning introduction-development-finale. Watanabe received an appreciative ovation for her performance of this difficult piece, effectively capturing its intensity and range of expression.

As time did not allow an in-depth exploration of Mei, Watanabe referred her audience to her excellent article, “The Essence of Mei” in The Flutist Quarterly (Spring 2008), and reiterated one of her main points, that the piece seeks to recreate effects of the Japanese Noh flute and not the shakuhachi as is commonly asserted.

—Leonard Garrison