Born in 1933, Toshi Ichiyanagi went to America in 1952, where he was influenced by John Cage, and following his return to Japan in 1961, produced a large amount of indeterminate and aleatory music, contributing to the creation of a modern music using new compositional techniques transcending the limitations of conventional Western music. At a festival of modern music held in 1961 he created a sensation by introducing for the first time in Japan, along with works of his own, the avant-garde and experimental music of American composers such as John Cage and Morton Feldman. He was also one of the first to introduce in Japan the music of Iaanis Xenakis with its determinism and use of computers; David Tudor, a pioneer of computer electronic music; and Steve Reich, defined as a minimalist. He also has contacts with the neb-dada groups of artists active in the 60s and 70s; the dance company Ankoku Buto centering around Tatsumi Hijikata; and the avant-garde “group-music” in Japan, having stimulating effect in all kinds of fields and holding performances with the groups in question. His won works too constantly exlored new realms of modern music, extending from the indeterminism and aleatorism of the 60s to the later concepts of “space” and “originality,” involving works incorporating, for example, traditional Japanese music and its theories.
‘Symphony: Berlin Renshi,’ first performed in 1988, took as its text renshi (linked verses) – along with renku (linked haiku), a unique from basically supposed to be composed by a plurality of poets – and was an exploration in musical terms of the question of ‘originality’ and the relationship between art and the everyday; This was to tie up in turn with Ichiyanagi’s quest for modes of expression and originality suitable for the Japanese in relating to the music of West.
Believing that this question of East and West in music must inevitably be faced, Ichiyanagi set about deepening his own appreciation of Oriental thinking and music; and in 1989, as a means of tackling the question of East and West, launched a performing group, ‘Tokyo International Music Ensemble: New Tradition’ devoted chiefly to gagaku (ancient court music) and shomyo (Buddhist ‘hyms’) and to instruments used in Japanese music from medieval to early modern times. One sees here Ichiyanagi’s view that traditional Japanese music, and music by modern composers who use traditional instruments, are not inevitably confined to Japan, bu tare something that can speak, and establish communication, internationally. This, from a broader viewpoint, can be seen as demonstrating his determination to reconsider the question of how we should, in terms of ideas and philosophy, evaluate exchanges with composers active in other countries relative to traditional music.
In 1995, Ichiyanagi published ‘Momo,’ his first opera, based on a work by Michael Ende. It was an attempt at collating Ende’s inquiry into the nature of time with the relationship between music and time, and at the same time to define the nature of modern opera as distinct from nineteenth century opera.
The changes in the apprehension of sound in the 21th century can perhaps be see as involving a process of trial and error in a fundamental reexamination of the framework and definition of music. Within that process, Ichiyanagi has for more than 50 years been one of the leaders of modern music in the interplay with composition, performance, scores, improvisation, and all kins of different ideas.
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