Oni Daiko and Too Cool

Ba Ren Chi has two new singles out, both available (for free as always) on Jamendo.

The first is called Oni Daiko, or “Demon Drums,” and is my take on a traditional Japanese summer festival form, in which the performers wear some scary looking oni, or “demon,” masks during part of their performance. I’ve seen such numbers many times in my partner’s home area in the western part of the country. But being who I am, I couldn’t limit myself to traditional Japanese instruments, so while there is a shamisen and some drums that sound like they could be waidaiko, there are also plenty of other sounds that are pure improvisation on my part, at least in terms of the instrumentation. So a pretty prominent marimba, a vibraphone, a xylophone, some concert percussion instruments, pizzicato strings, and why not, a drum and bugle corps drum line. There’s some other stuff, too, but it might be hard to pick them out.

The second, Too Cool, is much more conventional in terms of its form and instruments. Flute, upright bass, drums, conga, and piano are the main ones, but then there’s the punctuation and the opening and closing sections, which feature other kinds of sounds and a very different atmosphere. There’s a riff in the middle section that begins in the piano and then passes to a solo flute, then a flute section. It’s probably the line that sticks with me most.

Both were too much fun to make. If people enjoy listening even a fraction as much, I’ll be very happy.

From Non-Space to Landscape

I am struck by the notion of the absence of space in Vladimir Propp’s account of the wondertale. This is similar to Mikhail Bakhtin’s observation about the absence of the effects of time on the hero and heroine of romance, where they have adventure after adventure but, in the end, don’t seem to have aged or been left psychologically changed by any of their experiences. They remain the same couple “of marriageble age” at the end that they were before the kidnapping, the pirates, the crocodiles, the earthquake, and so on. This, in part at least, is what Voltaire makes fun of at the end of Candide when Cunegonde turns out to be old and ugly from having waited so long.

Propp’s suggestion is that wondertales developed from rituals in set places (the forest hut, the boundary between this world and the next, the animal and human realms) and that the “in-between” spatial elements were added only later. He describes this in an eloquent phrase: “The road is present only in the composition, not in the texture.” By this he means that while there are great spaces traversed, the tales skip over the time of movement itself, often by means of a set formula like “He road for a long or a short time, near or far…,” which, as he puts it, “refuses” to describe the journey itself in any detail.

He contrasts this to epic spatial descriptions, especially those of well-known works like The Odyssey, about which he has this to say:

For us there is no doubt that the Odyssey, for example, is a later phenomenon than the wondertale. In it the journey and its space are elaborated in the style of epic. Hence we conclude that the static elements, the stops of the wondertale, are older than its spatial composition. Space has intruded into something that already existed before. The key elements were created prior to the appearance of spatial representations. We shall see this in greater detail below. All the elements of the stops already existed as ritual. Spatial representations separated into long distances things that were actually the phases of ritual.

(Historical Roots of the Wondertale, Chapter Two; tr. by Miriam Shrager, Sibelan Forrester, and Russell Scott Valentino; in ms.)

Describing the “phases of ritual” from which wondertales emerged constitues the heart of the book, it seems to me.

But I am struck by the contrast between this primordial (in the sense of story telling) absence of space and the sense of landscape that encompasses everything for a writer and thinker like Anne Whiston Spirin, whose work I’ve been exploring. She is not alone, of course, though her work might be the most profound on this score, especially her description of the obstacles she faced in approaching landscape as language (in her The Language of Landscape) and the ways she set out to overcome them. Space here is a conceptual tool, the fundamental texture that makes composition possible.