Shintaro Imai

Creating music without sounds as units,
but with sound itself

Neither of my parents are musicians. My mother, however, is a floral designer studied in the German style. It was through her work, perhaps, that I had one of my first encounters with the arts.
Meanwhile, lately, I have become quite fascinated with bonsai.

Bonsai is the Japanese traditional art concerned with miniature trees. Bon means a tray or a pot, and Sai means to grow a tree. So you grow a small tree on a tray.

Both floral design and bonsai deal with plants. But the attitude toward the plant is significantly different.

In floral design, plants are cut into pieces, as units, then the designer composes them into a piece of art. And, so to speak, each plant is anonymous in this case.

How about bonsai?
Let’s see the process of bonsai making.

First, you cut a tree and put it in a pot. Second, you trim the branches. Next, you bind the branches with wires, to form the shape. Then, you change the pot to a fitting tray. Finally, you moss the soil, and put the tree on a table for display.
まず、木を伐って器の中に入れます。次に、枝を剪りそろえます。そして、形を整えるために枝を縛ります。 さらに、ふさわしい鉢に移します。最後に、土へ苔を生やし、観賞するための台に木を載せます。

In floral design, each plant is treated anonymously as one unit of many, to be composed into a piece of art. But in bonsai, the plant itself becomes a piece of art, where the plant is identifiable as a unique whole and never substitutable.

Now, it could be argued that “ordinary” music composition is similar to floral design, in that the sounds are considered as units, namely notes, to be composed into a piece of music. And each sound is likewise anonymous in itself.

The English composer Trevor Wishart tells us that, for sound-oriented composition, composers must first learn that “sounds are not notes.”
This, however, could be often overlooked by composers, especially when composers and performers are separated.
Wishart then proposes to change the metaphor for composition from architecture to alchemy. But here the sound still remains a material.

I wondered if a sound in itself could become a piece of music. How would such music sound?

My works included in this album are generally related to the orientation of microscopic movements of noise inherent in any given natural sound.

This kind of noise is impossible to realize artificially, and would lose its quality of fascination if it were cut into discrete elements or units.

I create musical works by using the computer to “prune” and “reform” the sound itself.

The bonsai master Seiji Morimae said the following about the aesthetics of bonsai: “The best thing, in the final analysis, is to trust in nature.”

His words are of great assistance to me in my work.

Shintaro Imai