Category Archives: ambient

KotoJazz 11: Koi NoBori & Koi

To commemorate Japan’s Children’s Day or Kodomo no Hi, I play a jazzed up version of this non-koto but traditional Japanese piece called “Koi NoBori”, which means carp “streamer”. A short sample of “Koi NoBori” will be available for your listening shortly in the “sample sounds” page of this site. The Koi NoBori represents Children’s Day in Japan and is one of the most celebrated holidays of the entire year.

Since 1948, this holiday has celebrated children’s personalities, the happiness of all children and gratitude for mothers. Originally Tango no Sekku, it was celebrated by all of East Asia on the fifth day of the moon based on the Chinese lunar calendar.

The koi represents love and friendship in Japan, perseverance and faithfulness in relationships, especially romantic relationships. In China, where the koi originated, the koi represents masculinity, courage, individualism, determination, longevity, and perseverance. One of the most revered images or symbols of China, the dragon, is believed to have been transformed from a koi. This legendary koi had successfully navigated upstream to the top of a mountain where it was transformed into a dragon, according to ancient Chinese folklore.

The carp serves an ornamental function in Japanese gardens. They are kept in outdoor koi ponds and Japanese gardens for decorative purposes.

The Koi symbolizes lessons or trials we encounter in our own life’s journey. It symbolizes our own perseverance of enduring life’s struggles, which often call us to swim against the currents of our time and travel upstream. When you see a koi or connect with a fish in its wildlife place of residence, pay homage to its enduring serenity and perserverence, and honor its place in our lives. On one of the most time honored national holidays in Japan, Kodomo no Hi (Children’s Day) raises up the carp streamers or “koi nobori” as a reminder of characteristics we seek to pass on to our own children, the child within each of us, and what the koi symbolizes or represents.

Songs about koi and matsuri(s) include:

Other:

Children’s Day is preceded in March 3rd with Hina Matsuri, which celebrates girl’s day or dolls day. The historical significance of the dolls are the hina- nagashi (floating spirits). The dolls are floating spirits floated down stream to the open sea taking troubles and bad spirits with them. Today, imagine for ourselves in our own lives and perhaps practice this time honored ritual in Japan, and place the troubles of our day and all bad spirits in our lives in a small boat and watch it float downstream and carry away. “We will be healed.”

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KOTOJAZZ 4: KOTO INFLUENCES TODAY

If you talked to contemporary ambient/ new age artists

  • Lee Pui Ming,
  • Geoffrey Castle,
  • Riley Lee or
  • Brian Eno,
  • would they attribute some of their influences to Koto music? There’s no question in my mind each of these artists’ musical expressions are rooted in the same source. The spirit of these creators of art, whether or not directly linked to Koto, have produced their works in the same spirit as those of Koto, stirred by the energy and images of the Natural world; Nature breathing life into their music. Each offer a subtle eastern influence, except in the case of Riley Lee where it’s more front and center. Riley Lee’s Satori, for example, as a Grand Master of shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute), pulls from similar Japanese traditions.

    While it might be a stretch to say that the alternative rock band Kid Simple’s album “Samurai” or The Sun Dogs’ single “This Shroud” were inspired by traditional Koto music (more Native American influences), it is more accurate to say their music happens upon a same consistent, slow and steady base accompanied by a exploration in and out of dissonance, similar to those often expressed in Koto pieces.

    Koto Jazz is an exciting genre concept for which the above artists may or may not subscribe. Even if these artists came upon their similarities completely independent of Koto influences, the spirit behind the Koto tradition is present in their music.

    What I love so much about Koto music are its basic principals — there are none– none that can be defined and put into a western context; back to its Shinto- Buddhist roots. Perhaps, it involves a tune stringing along a single minor/ sharp chord somewhat randomly interwoven, but not always; possibly fusing a jazz chord progression or two into the mix (but very rarely more than two), with long moments of silence and silent moments where it seems (from a western perspective) a note should be played? Koto does not attempt to interfere with a pure and transparent channel of life flowing through music by intervening patterns imposed by western chordal structures and definitions. This all too often restricts and limits the free natural flow of sound and spirit.

    To quote part of JFK’s eulogy of Robert Frost, “if art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. . . We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda, it is a form of truth.”

    KOTOJAZZ 2: CONTEMPORARY NEW AGE/ JAZZ PERFORMERS WITH A TOUCH OF KOTO

    Some hints or images of koto jazz influences can be heard in the contemporary tunes of

  • George Winston (Windham Hill Records),
  • Peter Kater (Silver Wave Records),
  • Shadowfax (Windham Hill Records), and
  • Andreas Vollenweider (Edel Records, Sony Records).
  • These globally popular musicians transcended their time (the 80s) with a deeper challenge to the traditional sound and rhythm. Each received international recognition for their music, and much can be credited to their serious experimentation with eastern influences.

    KOTOJAZZ 1: KOTO JAZZ DEFINED – SPIRITUAL ORIGINS

    Hatchidori Wa Hana Ka[ra] Hana [e tobu] (Hummingbird Flies from Flower to Flower) and Kabutomushi (Rhinoceros Beetle) are musical tunes that attempt to capture the energy or images of the natural object; in this case, a hummingbird and a rhinoceros beetle. I believe staying true to the spiritual origins of Koto is paramount.

    Spiritually, Koto jazz seeks to bring out the Japanese Shinto-Buddhist spiritual nourishment derived from connection and reverence to nature as well as ancestral worship. The western influences of jazz, in part, have their origins in western Judeo-Christian ideals and institutions. It is my opinion we need to bring these two together into an harmonious whole of “yin and yang”, bringing out the best in both traditions which lifts us to broader spiritual growth and learning.

    The best written description/ representation of this that I’ve read to date is the a #1 New York Times Bestselling book by James Redfield called The “Celestine Prophecy“, and our evolution toward a global non-religious spiritual awakening.