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In Tōru Takemitsu's Words: A Single Sound

In this excerpt from Confronting Silence: Selected Writings, Tōru Takemitsu discusses his fascination with the biwa and the shakuhachi.

For several years I have been fascinated by the traditional Japanese instruments, such as the biwa and the shakuhachi. After hearing some superb performances and meeting distinguished performers, I wrote several pieces for these instruments. There was no other motivation, only pure musical interest and some curiosity. At first the sounds in this music offered fresh compositional material, but gradually they began to pose profound questions for me. Increasingly conscious of the sounds, I tried to re-create them, with negative results.

The sounds of such instruments are produced spontaneously in performance. They seem to resonate through the performer, then merge with nature to manifest themselves more as a presence than an existence. In the process of their creation, theoretical thinking is destroyed. A single strum of the strings or even one pluck is too complex, too complete in itself to admit any theory. Between this complex sound—so strong that it can stand alone—and that point of intense silence preceding it, called ma, there is a metaphysical continuity that defies analysis. Like itchō in Noh music, this ma and sound do not exist as a technically definable relationship. It is here that the sound and silence confront each other, balancing each other in a relationship between any objective measurement.

—Tōru Takemitsu

Excerpt from "A Single Sound", from Confronting Silence: Selected Writings by Tōru Takemitsu, published by Scarecrow Press, Inc., appears by permission of the publisher. This material is protected by copyright. All rights reserved. Please contact the publisher for permission to copy, distribute, or reprint. 


Save 25% on these JapanNYC concerts: 

December 17 at 7:30PM: A Tribute to Toru Takemitsu ›
December 18 at 8:00PM: Saito Kinen Orchestra (Britten's War Requiem) ›

Use code BLG10976*

*This discount is valid from December 1st at 11 AM through December 10th at 11:59 PM. Limit of eight tickets per purchase. Some limitations may apply. Offer is subject to availability and prior sale, is not valid on prior purchases, and cannot be combined with any other discounts or promotions. Valid by phone, at the Box Office, and/or online. No refunds or exchanges. Internet and phone orders are subject to standard convenience fees. 

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