Work in Japan Advice Board
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
As Shakespeare’s Hamlet spoke these words, indeed there are more things in our world than any of us have ever dreamt of. It takes imagination to understand this connection, and an experiential leap to partake in it.
The Arts are particularly connected, which is why collaborations across disciplines work well. I have spent over 30 years studying brush calligraphy (Shodo). Early in my practice I felt there must be a connection between Shodo and Music.
What started as background music, usually Jazz piano or saxophone, grew into experimenting with a wider range of styles of music. Particular musicians and genres seemed to tune the mind and body to the point where I could sometimes surpass myself in calligraphy. One of the challenges in practicing any art or instrument is falling into a rut. Painting the words without the poetry. Playing the notes, but not the music.
In talking with musician friends, I found that their issues were often analogous with mine. We all sought simultaneously to fine-tune our technique and to transport ourselves and our audiences into a trance state. The more we were able to achieve this, the more enthusiastic we became about practice and performance. The word enthusiasm derives from the Greek root entheos, meaning inspired. Synesthesia is an experience in which one sense seems to merge with or cross over into another. Common words coming from this experience are tone color, cool jazz, and even evocative color names such as burnt orange.
I wondered if there might not be even more to this connection than imaginative analogies and synesthetic experience. Something deeper, that would reward exploration with further visits from the muse. Searching for other examples of people who had explored collaborations between Art and Music, I found that most famously, Russian born painter and art theorist Wassily Kandinsky had gone far down that path, painting compositions that went beyond abstract art into the realm of painting what he heard. I found I could see the music of Wagner's Lohengrin or Richard Strauss' Last Four Songs better through the paintings of Kandinsky. I discovered this observing the paintings in detail at an exhibition through Opera glasses, while listening through earphones to that very music that inspired Kandinsky.
Surely this must be possible with Shodo and music, and yet the few such collaborations I found online were singularly uninspiring. It was as if two artists were performing their own thing at the same time, but not making a connection, not providing an experience that viewers could understand. Still, I felt there must be a way to make the connection which was so palpable to me also accessible to others.
Although artists are often a bit eccentric, that is outside the normal circle of society, artists have the opportunity and the privilege to widen the circle, so that others can also see and feel what the artist feels. This has happened over and over again in the history of art. The beloved Operas of Puccini were not well received at first. The paintings of the Impressionists were ridiculed by art critics of the day as sloppy and incomplete. How to make the connection with Shodo and music? Shakuhachi bamboo flute or the Chinese Ehru maybe, but how to make the connection with Western Jazz and Classical music?
It was then that recently I had the privilege to conduct a collaborative workshop exploring the connections between Shodo and Violin with Abe Shiori, a talented and versatile violinist who was also interested in my ideas on such connections. These are two worlds that ordinarily have no connection. The people who go to concerts do not go to calligraphy exhibitions. The people who practice Shodo are not typically fans of violin, either classical or jazz. Two worlds that apparently have nothing in common, but in the Twilight Zone of synesthesia, they are barrier free.
If performers and participants do not normally see the connection, then there seemed to be little chance for the ordinary person to see it. However, we discovered that the two worlds have more in common than we had imagined.
The theme of our workshop was the synesthesiac connection between line and sound. We introduced elements of our practice, and offered insights from the edge, to participants who were inside the circle of conventional knowledge regarding Shodo and violin. We uncovered many insights in the workshop. Here are just a few.
In Shodo, the line you execute carries life energy or Ki, depending on subtle factors such as speed and smoothness of execution. This line continues between strokes and connects them with a Kimyaku, or Ki line. It also depends on the "bite" you achieve at the start of the stroke. The initial contact creates a resilience or spring in the brush, that gives the line a visual and visceral sense of elasticity. This does not occur if you drag the brush like a limp rope. It turns out that a similar thing occurs when the bow of the violin is applied to the strings. The first contact must lightly but securely bite the strings to create a resonant and continuous sound.
In Shodo, the resonance is carried by the hairs at the core of the brush, known as inochige, or life hairs, which are carefully selected for their quality. The hairs surrounding the core hairs serve more as a tank to hold the reserve ink until it is drawn out onto the paper. I asked Shiori if there was anything analogous in the violin? Indeed, there was. The upper and lower pieces of the instrument are connected by a sound post, a vital part of the instrument which is sandwiched between the two pieces and transfers the vibration to the whole instrument. In Japanese this is known as the konchuu, or spirit pole.
Such discoveries led to a deeper collaboration in performance, in which the brush would respond to the violin, and the violin to the brush. We explored how this changed with different styles of music, and found that the same instrument responds quite differently in the hands of different, but equally accomplished musicians. This also how it is, and always has been with the calligraphy brush, for thousands of years.
Such discoveries were more than we had dreamt of. Through the workshop we got a glimpse, a taste, and a feeling of how the arts help us discover that we are all more connected than we know.
William Reed SEMINARS & COACHING: http://www.emcquest.com WEBSITE: http://www.williamreed.jp WEB TV: http://williamreed.tv NANBA: http://www.nanbanote.com iPAD CREATORS CLUB: http://ipadcreatorsclub.com
William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.