Show #20: Music By Japanese Composer Toru Takemitsu

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This week’s Rhythm Planet will feature Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu‘s (1930-1996) sonic dreamscapes. Often they are more like painting than music. His music is abstract and textured, but not cold or harsh like, say, Penderecki, Webern, or other modern European composers. He is more like the impressionist Claude Debussy, who was a major influence on his work. There’s also the connection with Olivier Messiaen and John Cage‘s principle of indeterminacy. Moving forward in time, you can detect the influence of Takemitsu on modern J-pop icon Ryuichi Sakamoto, also a huge fan of Debussy. Takemitsu also was a big fan of the Beatles and arranged a number of classic Lennon-McCartney songs for solo guitar.

I will feature his rendition of Here, There, and Everywhereperformed by guitarist John Williams. In addition, I’ll play a rare and long out of print soundtrack of a 1970s TV series Legacy of the Future, also music from the soundtrack for the film José Torres by director Hiroshi Teshigahara (same director of the mesmerizing 1964 film Woman of the Dunes) and the evocative I Hear the Water Dreaming.


Rhythm Planet Playlist: 9/6/13

  1. Toru Takemitsu/ Toward The Sea / Air / Telarc
  2. Toru Takemitsu / Music Of Training And Rest (From José Torres) / The Film Music Of Toru Takemitsu / Telarc
  3. Toru Takemitsu / I Hear The Water DreamingI Hear The Water Dreaming / Deutsche Grammophon
  4. Toru Takemitsu / Here There & EverywhereTakemitsu Played By John Williams / Sony
  5. Toru Takemitsu / Various / Legacy For The Future / Deutsche Grammophon

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In his music you see a dialectic of Orient and Occident, sound and silence. The musical language and imagery, however, is all his own. He started composing when he was 16, and had no important teachers. Takemitsu’s career took off in 1959 when no less than the towering figure of Igor Stravinsky gave high praise and acclaim to his Requiem for Strings.

Listening to Takemitsu is like looking at a Rothko or Pollock painting. You have to kind of let your mind wander over to the right hemisphere. This is music for dreaming. I remember years ago, at the opening of the now-troubled MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) here in LA where the first rooms were sequenced thus: David Smith sculptures, then a room of Pollock’s drip paintings, then a darkened room of Rothkos. I stood and stared, taking it all in. It was utterly hypnotic. I think Takemitsu’s music has a similar effect. For Takemitsu, think abstract expressionist painting: music which has no tonal center or set key, and harmonies that float like clouds; representational painting is like Mozart, Brahms, or Bach, or even jazz standards. It is more conservative, predictable, and accessible. More familiar and safer. Think Brubeck vs. Coltrane.

I like Takemitsu for the same reasons I have always loved Debussy. It came as no surprise, then, when I discovered the Debussy was a huge influence on the largely self-taught Takemitsu. His music embraces color and texture, uses wood blocks, shakuhachi, biwa and other traditional Japanese instruments. I am fascinated by his music, though some may find his abstract landscapes, such as To the Edge of Dream, dark, scary, even apocalyptic. His harmonic progressions are unpredictable. Let your mind wander and enjoy his sonic dreamscapes.

Here is a video of his work Ceremonial: An Autumn Ode.