Imagine if there was music that had been created in the 7th Century which still sounds harmonically avant garde today. As early as the 6th Century, Chinese court music came to Japan. The Japanese introduced the koto and the biwa (a kind of lute) and this music became Gagaku. This now very Japanese court music has remained unchanged in its eerie and mesmerising form ever since. It is considered to be the oldest and most highly sophisticated and artistic music of Japan, (just don’t remind them that in its roots it was originally Chinese.)
Someone once said ‘beauty walks a razor’s edge’. Our concept of beauty in art or in life is subjective of course but surely we recognise it in that moment when there is a fresh never before seen juxtaposition between the traditional and the razor’s edge of the unexpected, the danger and freshness of the new.
The music of Gagaku is positively haunting. It sounds ancient, as it of course is, but also simply confounds all the received wisdom of how beautiful music should be put together. It is the earliest polyphonic music in the world and seems to obey harmonic laws all of its own. For example a form called Kyojo..it is at first appearance in the key of D. But the drone which underpins it is in E and A. Then the main emphasis of the melody line is E and F. This sets up a kind of implacable tension that just continues throughout the whole piece. This music would often be accompanied by a classical dance (bugaku).
Forgotten Fish Memory Orchestra decided to attempt to recreate something in the Gagaku style but typically approached it using all the wrong instruments.
The traditional court instruments have been supplanted as follows…
Sho (wooden mouth organ) Accordion
Hichiriki Chinese oboe (suona)
Ryuteki (transverse flute) Block flute
Wagon (Japanese zither) Box harp
Taiko (large standing drum) African Bass Drum
Shiko (small gong) Tibetan hand cymbals
The Forgotten Fish version was also decorated with percussion which plundered the vast kitchen of orchestra member Milu Ling. The result was a piece of music called ‘Radio Gagaku’. Utterly unauthentic but nonetheless having a distinctive unique ‘gagaku’ quality.