Wabi Sabi is an aesthetic idea from Japan. Difficult to explain, as any Japanese native will tell you. But it runs through all the artistic and philosophical ideas that we associate strongly with Japanese art and culture.
The Wabi part means becoming deeply immersed in a kind of natural beauty in nature, and being separated from the superficial aspects of mass culture. It also suggests an ability to break free from preconceived cliches about beauty and seeing even apparent ugliness as containing beauty.
The Sabi shows the passing of time, seen in a single object or environment, a withered leaf or a derelict building, and being profoundly touched by this sense of transience and mortality. Imperfection in things is also deeply appreciated.
The aesthetic of beauty that includes the imperfect and the impermanent, this comes from a basically Buddhist outlook on the world. It contains a certain kind of melancholy, as we see in the Japanese relationship with the sakura cherry blossoms, but Wabi Sabi is more than that.
One friend of mine, a Japanese woman, told me that after seeing a performance concert by Forgotten Fish Memory Orchestra, the only way she could think of to describe it was ‘Wabi Sabi’. Interesting.
Here are some words often used when people are struggling to describe the aesthetic centre of Wabi Sabi, especially visually.
Nostalgic. Asymmetrical. Humble. Imperfect. Marks the passing of time. Organic. Raw. Serene. Understated.
Nostalgic.. Forgotten Fish do certainly arouse this in their audiences. They play music which is definitely from the old world, ancient Europe, or ancient Asia, they often employ old fashioned technology, instruments, lights, they are hardly modern in any sense of the word.
Asymmetrical. A difficult idea to place on a music group. There is a diversity of music and forms which is not balanced, a bit all over the place.
Humble…not especially, but what performing music groups are?
Imperfect..definitely. Often musical and theatrical chaos on stage.
The passing of time…the orchestra’s repertoire is made up of music from all over space and time, from 9th Century Gagaku to 21st Century circuit bending. Old folk tunes to home made instruments and experimental sound sources. Maybe it’s mostly the passing of time but traveling backwards, or even sideways.
Organic ..only in a very generous definition of the word. They are the ultimate artificial experience. Artifice in its best sense.
Serene..there are moments.
Understated ..almost never. It’s maximalism taken to the extreme.