New Shekere!

Shekere

Hello Again.

Just when I thought I was finished sketching out my new music, I got inspired to start writing yet another new tune, so on with the working vacation I go. Also,  I have come into possession of a new shekere, the Africa gourd-shaped percussion instrument pictured above. So I am a happy guy these days.

I will be back with some actual full length posts soon, but in the meantime here is some fun shekere playing by Women Of The Calabash.

Coleman Hawkins: The Hawk Relaxes.

the-hawk

コールマン・ホーキンス: ザー・ホーク・リラクシズ

February 28, 1961: Moodsville MV 15/Prestige PR 1710

I’ll Never Be The Same (6:08)
When Day Is Done (4:26)
Under A Blanket of Blue (4:35)
More Than You Know (4:09)
Moonglow (5:38)
Just A Gigolo (5:04)
Speak Low (6:39)

Coleman Hawkins: tenor saxophone
Kenny Burrell: guitar
Ronnell Bright: piano
Ron Carter: bass
Andrew Cyrille: drums

One of the most profound things about jazz music for those who love it deeply is how it speaks so accurately of/to emotion, that one’s favorite jazz recordings seem to be telling our own stories, often out of time and place. Singer Johnny Hartmann’s rendition of the jazz ballad Lush Life, for example, has told the story of so many heartbreaks, all who have become enamored with it seem to have lived the same life. As well, John Coltrane’s probing, plaintive composition Transition (off the album of the same name) too seems to be commentary on reality and doubt; the very sound of existential uncertainty, music that Jean-Paul Sartre himself might have written if he played the tenor saxophone. Indeed, after nearly 14 thoroughly incendiary minutes of improvisation Coltrane’s return to the main theme feels like glorious illumination wrestled from the jaws of nothingness.

It is this quality of presence that we find in great jazz works, even as times change, which makes the album The Hawk Relaxes by legendary tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins unsurprising as a work of great jazz, yet remarkable considering its circumstances. A much lesser known work in the Hawkins catalogue, this rarely discussed LP (a long time favorite of mine) is an uncommon treasure.

What makes it so is how Hawkins rests in two very different worlds at this time (1961). On one hand he is the foundation on which all great harmonically oriented saxophonists stand, especially after his landmark 1939 recording of Body And Soul, while consistently hiring younger players who would go on to become the major players of the following generation, including the bassist and drummer on this LP. And while Hawkins inhabited these two worlds in the 60s, jazz around him was being radically altered by the music of Ornette Coleman: The Hawk Relaxes resting between Coleman’s landmark avant-garde recordings The Shape of Jazz To Come (1959), and the ecstatically dissonant Free Jazz (Sept. 1961).

And though it was not Hawkins intention to do anything other than record yet more music that reflected his interests and style, The Hawk Relaxes stands the test of time as a superlative example of lush jazz balladry at a time when frenetic new sounds of freedom and experimentation were figuratively exploding out of every jazz conduit. Completely capable of joining in and expertly playing the “new thing” Hawkins continued to do what he liked, what he was inimitably good at: creating moods of great vitality and in this case, romantic power.

For example, Hawkins’ ebullient yet velvety tenor moves like a fogbank into More Than You Know after a beautiful introduction by guitarist Burrell, a ballad made bittersweet by Hawkins arcing ornamentation around the main theme. The more breathy, restrained mood of Hawkins on I’ll Never Be The Same is replaced in his solo with the classic ‘up and down’ harmonic arppegiations that made him famous. But this ability to transport his listeners is also due to the fact that Hawkins had exquisite taste in hiring supporting musicians who were up to the task. Ronnell Bright’s glittering intro to Just A Gigolo is the definitive example of the kind of sedate, beatific piano work that makes one almost inevitably dream of lonely rainy nights and fleeting kisses long since past. Bassist Ron Carter, a supreme master who has gone on to perform on over 2000 recordings (!!), including several dozen considered jazz classics, is also in top form, laying down a soft foundation of rich, restrained tones over which Bright and Hawkins work their magic.

The Hawk Relaxes is a great jazz album, and for all ages and times, and feels like a luscious tonic for the disquieted soul.

I’m in Modern Drummer magazine?!!

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I have just discovered that a (rather gorgeous) album I worked on back in the late 90s (Dean Baltesson’s INTO) was reviewed in Modern Drummer magazine in their January 1999 issue. So, even though I was the saxophone player on the recording, I have at least been listed or named in the most popular drumming magazine in the world, one that I would never EVER in a million years actually make it into… for my actual drumming!! I never thought I would ever be mentioned for doing anything in any magazine… and believe me, if I can end up being mentioned in Modern Drummer for saxophone playing, I might as well be mentioned in Architectural Review for tap dancing!! LOL!

Looks like God, the Universe, or the cosmic what/whomever has a sense of humour!

md-review

Nonsense in Japanese Art?

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Recently I was asked a question by composer David Lidov, who also happens to be the author of a great work on semiotics, Is Language A Music? Having written to say he enjoyed the posting of my work The Analects of Naneun on this blog, he focused on one particular analect, which contains what might be described as nonsensical language (my description, not his!):

so! I carried my words
north of Osaka
lying to the clouds
losing my mind on a tea-shop bench
sneaking through Sasabe
with a chuhai theme
Ha! I achieved!

Having mentioned this analect he then asked me if there is “a Japanese aesthetic or philosophy of nonsense?”

Good question!

This analect does kind of look a little like a daruma-uta, one of the seemingly “crazy” Zen poems of someone like Teika Fujiwara, or a paradoxical Zen verse (koan) created to move one beyond the “boundaries” of language or meaning (though I was not at all thinking of or trying to create such a verse). One could also say this analect contains its own sense of fūkyō: “wind-blown madness”, a Japanese term for something containing aesthetic eccentricity.

But this still doesn’t bring us any closer to the idea of such things being decidedly philosophical or aesthetic nonsense in the context of art: the fine arts, art philosophy, or aesthetics. Japanese language itself contains many words that understood as definitions of nansensu, the Japanese transliteration of nonsense. Nansensu covers things that are nonsensical (tawagoto), asinine (bakageta), meaningless (muimi), and even things that are “not even worthy of being called nonsense” (gu nimo tsukanai). Cheerfully silly TV shows can also be considered nansensu, non-pejoratively.

Thus, I will use the general English definitions of nonsense as words or speech that contain no meaning, or crazy or unacceptable behavior as a starting point, exploring the implications of both definitions simultaneously as part of trying to answer the question, beginning in ancient China.

Warring States Period (476 – 221 BCE)

The Zhunagzi of philosopher Zhuang Zhou is considered an essential masterwork of Chinese literature, and indeed one of the great creations of human civilization. An anthology of stories and writings both gathered and written by Zhou, it focuses on a spiritualized understanding of spontaneity and freedom from convention; becoming free from artificiality to live as one should… as a zhenren, an “natural man” unified with both heaven and earth, which often may look odd when compared to how a “regular” person lives in society. The zhenren is discussed specifically in Chapter Six, wherein a wealthy disciple named Tzu Kung asks the great philosopher Confucius about the place of an eccentric, the “oddball”, in society. Confucius says that such a person is odd-looking to society yet he is “a pair with heaven”. Zhou also mentions in this chapter how the disabled or someone with a disfigurement could also be included as one who is outside of society as an oddity and thus had the chance to gain great insight, involuntarily set “apart” from social acceptance. Thus, this idea of an oddball (Jap: kijin) being considered strangely different (weird, eccentric, mad, possibly divine), not regular folk, is well known in Asian philosophy.

We must also keep in mind that something can also be odd by being counterintuitive; containing a hard to grasp truth hovering on the edge of ordinary human intellectual capacities. For example Georg Cantor (1845 – 1918) , a math genius that suffered from mental illness, proved that one could describe or prove that there is an infinity that is more infinite than another infinity (!). In simple terms this can be demonstrated by drawing two lines on a piece of paper (one an inch long, the other two inches long), each divided into such small parts they go on infinitely within the line. But if one line is slightly longer, that line has a “longer” infinity than the other, there is more infinity, more “endlessness”, within it! But if I simply told you that there are different lengths of infinity without explaining myself, it sounds crazy, and many in Cantor’s time similarly dismissed his ideas as crazy (nonsense) because of his illness and the explication of his ideas. So Cantor could be said to qualify as this Confucian oddball, as his thoughts on infinity were certain closer to cosmic thought than just oddness.

Even now in 2017, a vigorous debate is occurring amongst linguists over a rather extraordinary idea about language: one involving the structure of the language of a rare tribe native to Brazil, the Piraha (a name for both the people and the language). Until now it has been fact that something called recursion occurred in all languages. Recursion is how “flexible” a sentence is, how it can be expanded and nested within itself. For example:

Mr. Okaji is a poetic genius.

I think Mr. Okaji is a poetic genius.

Yesterday I told Miyuki that I think Mr. Okaji is a poetic genius.

Tomoko told Akiko that she heard that yesterday I told Miyuki that I think Mr. Okaji is a poetic genius.

The idea that Piraha possibly does not (or cannot) do this has not been officially proven. But at the moment this seems to be the case, and if true, will overturn a famous theory on the existence of a “universal grammar” in humans by the most famous linguist ever, Noam Chomsky. The author of this idea of non-recursion in Piraha is a linguist named Daniel Everett, whose work many are skeptical of due to (a) the research being currently inconclusive, and (b) Everett is one of only a few non-natives who can speak Piraha with any fluency. But such an odd idea is possible, and Everett’s revolutionary theory is looking a lot less crazy or counterintuitive (“nonsense”) with every passing year. For linguists and/or social scientists like myself, this is very thrilling stuff!

(Note: Piraha is also notable for not containing number words like one or two. The Piraha say “a few” or “more” instead!).

The Kamakura Era (1185 – 1333 CE)

Moving on in our search for a possible Japanese aesthetic or philosophy of nonsense we can then look at the rise of Zen Buddhism, as much of what we call Japan’s signifying aesthetics are related to Zen aesthetics. In this case the most relevant topic is the Japanese (and Korean) history of certain Zen monks, Buddhist “madmen”, that renounced formal ministry and wandered around getting drunk and frequenting brothels in order to make some greater point about the nature of Buddha-hood or Reality. This to many was heresy, since core Buddhist theology includes precepts against monks consuming intoxicants, or being sexually active outside of marriage.

Also, according to one anthology of Japanese tales and legends (Nihon Ryōiki), the discourses of the original Buddha Siddhartha are delineated into three proceeding eras in which they are studied and practiced: the True Teachings (shōbō) Period from Siddartha’s enlightenment on for approx. 500 years (ending around the time of Jesus), the rise of Counterfeit Teachings (zōbō) period lasting for another 1000 years, and eventually a time of nothing but Degenerate Teachings (mappō) lasting for the next 10,000 years in which Buddhism will totally decline and be completely useless nonsense. This is then supposedly followed by literally millions of years before another true Buddha will arrive to correct and revitalize the teachings. Coincidentally (?), the legendary Zen iconoclasts and eccentrics of Japan begin to appear in the Mappō period, which may further the argument that they are proof of such degeneration, ergo the aforementioned heretical, antithetically Buddhist socio-sexual “nonsense” which could come to aesthetically influence creative people.

The Edo Era (1600 – 1868)

Another interesting aesthetic of (possible) nonsense occurred in Japan’s Edo Era (1600 – 1868): a time when many were interested in the eccentricity (ki) and “madness” (kyō) of certain writers, painters, and so on. For example, a well-known musician-turned-samurai-turned-literati and painter named Uragami Gyokudō (a.k.a Gyokudō The Lawless) was of the belief that getting wildly drunk was a prerequisite for painting!

During this time, several notable “compilations of eccentrics” appeared, biographical anthologies of documenting artists such as Gyokudō, including Biographies of Nagoya City’s Madmen, Fallen Chestnuts, and Eccentrics of Recent Times. In all three (Eccentrics especially) such men were detailed in light of Confucius’s idea of “divine oddballs” and how one could view these eccentrics as having various types of moral virtue in their madness. So it may have not have been nonsense that they espoused, but types of madness of which nonsense could play a part. The seeming nonsense of creative outsiders captured in these anthologies became popular in general public, consumed as entertaining strangeness. This trend became less popular though as Japan began to undergo the socio-political modernizations of the following Meiji Period (1868 – 1912).

It must also be mentioned that not everyone would have necessarily wanted this designation; that being glorified as an eccentric or madman against one’s will, no matter how popular it made a person, was not freedom at all. In fact, this phenomenon could be explained as a reflection of narcissism on the part of the glorifier, wanting to see the world as a reflection, dehumanizing the glorified in the process. Alternately, self-identifying as an eccentric (or creating “nonsense”) for the sake of attention and admiration in this context would seem to suggest the very artificiality Confucius’ spoke of the kijin being freed from! And indeed one can find many examples of such artifice in the more abstract forms of creativity wherein one might explain away a technical deficiency as a conceptually sophisticated “choice” lying beyond the comprehension of the “ordinary” man. But in reality, the true avant-gardist is actually he or she who passionately makes a thing they desire to see realized in the world that they have not “seen” anywhere else except in their own imagination, and upon production discover it is at the forefront or the edge of other things; labeled eccentric post hoc by those who critique or consume it. This is also often true of what many define as grotesque.

“Between” the Taishō & Shōwa Era (1920 – 1936)

In the early 20th century, a writer with the pen name Edogawa Ranpo (Tarō Hirai) became known for his novels, which contained many themes considered deviant to regular social norms, many considered bizarre, sexually deviant, or decadent. Subsequently such works became known as eroguronansensu, an abridged Japanese transliteration of the English words erotic, grotesque, and nonsense. Eroguronansensu works tended to focus more on sexuality than nonsense: literary descendants of 18th century Japanese erotic woodblock print collections (shunga) that, though mostly unonctroversial, occasionally included fantasy scenes of women being raped by octopi, decapitation, bondage, and even crucifixiion. Oddly enough, shunga have been illegal in Japan for decades while hardcore pornography is not, the difference being modern pornography uses digital pixilation to hide female genitalia. The rules for both are changing though as the 21st century progresses.

Eroguronansensu has become ero guro in modern arts: styles or genres of visual arts that focus primarily on the erotic, though a movie like Hitoshi Matsumoto’s R100 could be considered a work of aesthetic nansensu. This imaginative dramatic comedy about a businessman who gets caught up in a bizarre BSDM club is self-referential in a very humorous way, as it is also a film about itself being shown to a group of producers who can’t figure out the meaning of the very film they are either knowingly (or unknowingly) in. Though the meaning of the film eludes them (and us the viewers) it is finally revealed that the title of the movie “R100” is the movie’s rating, meaning only 100-year-old people are allowed to see it: the only ones who can understand what it is about! Indeed, the scenes where the producers spill out of the screening room for a smoke-break, expressing their continuing confusion over the mostly nonsensical plot and meaning are completely hilarious, and worth the effort to learn Japanese. If there is an artistic aesthetic of nonsense, I would suggest Matsumoto’s film would be a good example of such a thing.

Myō No Yō

All things considered then, I think the key to Lidov’s question is summed up by one particular phrase that can be coaxed from the various eras and cultural objects considered: myō no yō, a certain sense of “useful uselessness”, tangible or intangible aesthetic creations rooted in a conception of nonsense which are considered pleasing, entertaining, uplifting, and/or worthy of recognition, things that have sense via nonsense. For example, my mentor Shozo Shimamoto (1928 – 2013), painter and founder of the legendary art collective the GUTAI, often created ink/paint works (called nyotaku) by painting nude women and pressing thin paper against them, or having them roll on a horizontal canvas on the ground. Ordinarily, painting oneself with ink while nude and rolling around on the ground would be considered nonsense, especially if one did it in a public space for no apparent reason. But do the same in an art studio on a canvas and sense is made of this same nonsense, because we have contextual use for the body and ink.

Indeed many of Shimamoto’s works had a flavor of whimsical nonsense while retaining or creating aesthetic power: dropping bottles full of paint from a crane, or showing movies on the back of his bald head. Fellow GUTAI artist Saburo Murakami ran through a series of giant, vertical pieces of paper, while another (Kazuo Shiraga) wrestled with clay, ending up being bruised by the pebbles embedded within. These “useless” acts are the reason you, the reader, now know who they are, if you did not before, and the GUTAI’s ebullient myō-no-yō inspired many including myself to seek artistically excellence and originality passionately. I would thus call Master Shimamoto a kijin, a personification of the Confucian oddball who becomes something more full and enriched, more genuine in their perceived nonsense. His work also engendered much work from we his “students”, his collaborators, his spirit continually inspiring action and utility in his absence.

So… there is no formally defined and practiced aesthetic or philosophy of nonsense that I can point to in the manner which Lidov requests of me. But myō no yō may be the closest thing to it, or to the future formation of such an aesthetic school: sensible nonsense, useful uselessness, play that produces work, sobering intoxications of the artistic soul.

Ω

The Analects of Naneun (Pt. 6)

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This is the final post of my six part English translation of (a few select pages of) my 1999 Japanese zuihitsu The Analects of Naneun (a.k.a. ナヌンの論説: nanun no ronsetsu). I will be releasing the second wave of translations later in the year, so I hope you will join me then. Thank you for reading them and for your input. For more information see Part One.

(Each analect is to be meditated upon for many hours and days, rather than read momentarily like poems. Thus I encourage you to read a single one and stop for at least a few minutes to contemplate it, and let it seep into your subconscious; let the kotodama arise within after your eyes have received it).

ナヌンの論説

(54)

to possess the gate of the sky
or an empty notebook and a distant star
choose a time to stop saying
“rule over us!”
end this “sorry to keep you waiting”
festival.

(55)

a solitary month;
cold water in a black fish year
knee poles on which she rests;
a cormorant gives a grand speech.

(56)

so! I carried my words
north of Osaka
lying to the clouds
losing my mind on a tea-shop bench
sneaking through Sasabe
with a chuhai theme
Ha! I achieved!

(57)

dresses have left
empty corners
“was,” the subject of
our Japanese sentence
turning useless, a letter
addressed to one’s
own shoes.

(58)

leaping from one
non-existence to the next
in the o-choko cup, there it is!
the entrance to words!
amanuensis for saké

(59)

write “a lily”
and carry my language
be careful;
fish never mistake
water
for pork.

(60)

(she) it is done;
cut and gone
from mountains
calving hills
we couldn’t climb
… and all I am
… and I cry.

(61)

poetry; the
wet libretto of
the seaside tune
she sees gulls
and yet writes goat

(62)

crawling out of unknown quartets
denying the jazz post hoc
miscarrying tomorrow;
a (government) song
a divine-retribution-gong

©1999 ダニエル・シュネー

©2017 Daniel Schnee

The Analects of Naneun (Pt. 5).

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Here is Part Five of the English translation of the first few pages of my work The Analects of Naneun (ナヌンの論説: “nanun no ronsetsu”). For more information see Part One.

(Each analect is to be meditated upon for many hours and days, rather than read momentarily like poems. Thus I encourage you to read a single one and stop for at least a few minutes to contemplate it, and let it seep into your subconscious; let the kotodama arise within after your eyes have received it).

ナヌンの論説

(46)
ikyōto; pagan
betraying the polite radius
creeping past the Dharma
outside the temple
there she is…
kissing…

(47)
I think to speak
and say “poet!”
what vanity!
a fish speaking news
of the north wind
to a falcon…

(48)
a space
a while
so much in-between
when there is
nothing.

(49)
tetsugaku-no-michi
un-nouned citizens
lost in pace
going on through
the national evening;
boats on
yesterday’s waves.

(50)
saké overflows
a soup of evening contents
sprayed through teeth
yoghurt zoo

(51)
to make the fresh
poem of the hototogisu
ride your white illusion backwards
and don’t borrow tofu
from an ox.

(52)
we knoweth not:
and the street is what is left,
so let’s fall over, and do what
the moon tells us.

(53)
my season of consciousness;
a foot-worrying path
tears of the long mile
so… decade, be my poem!
be the letter that makes ‘to exist’ easier
to pronounce.

©1999 ダニエル・シュネー

©2017 Daniel Schnee

The Analects of Naneun (Pt. 4)

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Part Four of the English translation of the first few pages of my work The Analects of Naneun (ナヌンの論説: “nanun no ronsetsu”). For more information see Part One.

(Each analect is to be meditated upon for many hours and days, rather than read momentarily like poems. Thus I encourage you to read a single one and stop for at least a few minutes to contemplate it, and let it seep into your subconscious; let the kotodama arise within after your eyes have received it).

ナヌンの論説

(35)
naka; core
soto; horizon
one speaks of both
un-melted snow then,
A poem.

(36)
Matsukaze; her sad, sad world
non-self cuts
the green tongue
of the world.

(37)
Damn! What an ego.
As plump as a
Chamo-e melon
“I am…”
just wild geese honking

(38)
phrase of loneliness
into Osaka’s sky
ghost hiding in an
empty bell
I sing, alone.

(39)
Ippen; dreamt
the poem of
600,000 people
salvation is certain!
even for this vain season?
this Daniel of retreating years?

(40)
my; other
another, this,
that, more…
this stupid page is
becoming soup.

(41)
messiah void;
the truth?
the horse poem praises the moon
koto plucks her harp
and the world is so unsure…

(42)
white?
orchid?
what word to use?
what is certain
in my floating days?
rice never changes
Its mind!

(43)
It was like this.
The moon ran away
before we could finish
our colorful
nonsense!

(44)
sashimi sits
stark naked
tuna…
chopsticks approaching…

(45)
this book?
that book?
anything can change
anywhere is fine
everybody dies

©1999 ダニエル・シュネー

©2017 Daniel Schnee