Tones, Timbres, Technology: Japanese Heritage Instruments in the 2lst
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workshop conducted by the
Columbia University Computer Music Center
sponsored by the
Toshiba International Foundation
June 12 - June 21, 2015
Brad Garton, Columbia University Professor of Music and Director,
Computer Music Center
Douglas Repetto, Director, Sound Arts Graduate Program, Columbia University School of the Arts
Columbia-Japan Administrative Liaison:
Ken Aoki, Executive Director, IMJS: Japanese Cultural Heritage Initiatives
special conceptual assistance from Professor Barbara Ruch, Columbia University
The purpose of this workshop will be to explore the materials used in and
the technological enhancement of traditional Japanese musical instruments.
The goal will be to endow the rich sonic heritage of Japanese music - in all
its forms - with a contemporary relevance made possible by the creative
deployment of the techniques and technologies of the new field of Sound Arts.
An additional goal will be to introduce workshop participants to a Sound Arts
perspective, particularly as it is being developed in the ground-breaking
Columbia University Sound Arts MFA program.
- from the project proposal submitted to the Toshiba International
The workshop took place primarily at the Japanese National Informatics
Institute's well-appointed "Seminar House for Advanced Studies" in
Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture. It spanned two weekends of intensive activity,
with students developing projects in the intervening week. Along with the
stated purpose of the workshop, we also considered this an experiment in
pedagogy. A 'hidden' goal of the workshop was to ascertain if sophisticated
technological innovation and creativity could be nurtured through an
immersive "hands-on" environment.
The Karuizawa gathering was also enhanced by a workshop 'prequel', the
Koto Tones and Timbres Comparison Demo presented at the Tokyo University of the Arts (GeiDai). This presentation featured demonstrations
of various types of kotos being newly developed in Japan by performers and
teachers to solve dilemmas in sound and use. The Koto Tones demo
was organized primarily as a contribution and prelude to the
Karuizawa workshop. Presented by one of the
Columbia 2014 "Tokyo Summit"
leaders, Mr. Takafumi Tanaka,
founder and editor-in-chief, and made possible in
collaboration with the eminent performer and Tokyo GeiDai teacher of the
koto, Professor Satomi Fukami (Kikkawa),
it was invaluable to 'prime' the student workshop participants
with the challenges of integrating digital technology design and
Japanese Heritage instrument concepts.
As can be seen in the projects presented below, we succeeded in achieving
both the overt goal of the workshop as well as demonstrating that a high
level of creative accomplishment can be promoted through a direct
material connection, even if the time-frame is quite limited. We are
very proud of what the students produced!
We structured the workshop around the presentation of both advanced
software and advanced hardware techniques. The students were very talented
and motivated, but none of them had been heavily involved in this kind
of development prior to the workshop.
Professor Brad Garton, Director of the Columbia University
Computer Music Center, handled most of the software-based instruction
with Professor Douglas Repetto, Director of the new Columbia Sound
Arts Graduate Program teaching the hardware aspects of the workshop.
Along with Profs. Garton and Repetto, two graduate students from the
Columbia University Sound Arts Graduate Program, Alice Baird and Chatori
Shimizu, were on-hand to assist students and collaborate
in project development as well
as lend their particular perspectives to the process.
Japanese student participants in the workshop were selected by our
colleagues at the Kunitachi College of Music and Tamagawa University.
The Kunitachi and Tamagawa students involved were:
All were advanced students pursuing studies in music composition.
The following are descriptions and short
demonstrations of the projects completed by the students.
The video used was recorded during the final presentations by the students.
Danjo Yamauchi and Chatori Shimizu
Yamauchi is a music composition student with a strong interest
in the timbre of sound. Shimizu studies Shō performance as part of his
musical education and routinely employs traditional Japanese methods
in his Sound Art work. Shimizu and Yamauchi created a new
composition together using the traditional Japanese Shō coupled with a
laptop running state-of-the-art digital signal processing software.
The audio signal from the Shō was processed in
real-time through various transformative DSP (Digital Signal Processing --
techniques that allow digital machines to alter an audio signal)
algorithms, resulting in
an evocative piece that married the marvelous sound of the Shō (played
by Shimizu) with the contemporary sound of computer processing.
Ueda expressed an interest in investigating new ways
for her as a composer to 'connect' with
traditional Japanese instruments. Baird's work in Sound Art exhibits
a broad-ranging interest in "interface", especially capabilities made
possible by new technologies. They decided to use a set of basic
EEG sensors to monitor the overall electrical output from an
individual's brain. This global EEG signal was then used to control
the synthesis of a traditional koto, mapping aspects of the EEG
signal onto musical parameters (pitch, modulation, etc.) of the
In addition to this, Ueda and Baird built a simple hardware 'switch
box' interface that allowed them to transform how the EEG was being
interpreted as musical parameters controlling the koto synthesizer.
In his initial presentation to the workshop, it was obvious that Horie
was interested in the automatic generation of music by computer, known
as 'algorithmic composition'. This is a particular specialty of Prof.
Garton's work, so he and Horie worked together on building an algorithmic
system. Horie was also intrigued by the possibility afforded through
technology of 'moving outside the concert hall', deploying work that
could interact in interesting ways in a multitude of contexts.
The traditional concert hall setting is also not always suitable
for Japanese Heritage presentations, so Horie's concepts may find
direct application as we move forward with the next stage of heritage
Although Horie claimed "never to have done any programming before",
by the end of the two weekends he had produced an application that
responded to pitches detected in an environment and algorithmically
generated harmonizations for those pitches. By learning the computer
music research language RTcmix, he was able to translate his
application from a general-purpose laptop computer and build it to
run on mobile devices (an iPhone is shown in the video demo). This
portability will allow him to imagine many possible ways to move
'outside the concert hall'.
Takano was also interested in working with a musical interface, but
his focus was more on the physicality of an instrumental interface. He
wanted to learn how to construct devices that could potentially work
as performable instruments; things that he could design to meet his
own particular musical needs. Prof. Repetto was an obvious choice for
this work, and together they produced a system that could trigger
various musical processes.
Takano also discovered that the data generated by the device could
be used to control real-time graphics generation, as is shown in the
video of his final presentation.
Inspired by the outstanding work done by the workshop participants,
Prof. Garton wanted to contribute to the final presentation in a
direct way. Drawing from the work being done by the students and workshop
staff, he built two simple 'demo' applications designed for use
on mobile devices. The sound is generated by a synthesis technique
called "physical modeling" in which the physics of existing
instruments (in this case a koto and a hichiriki) are used to
determine audio synthesis. Currently we are planning to use
these 'virtual instruments' (along with other work developed at
Karuizawa) in the annual Spring (2016) Gagaku/Hogaku concert at Columbia
The evening ended with a special presentation of an installation work
done by Columbia graduate students Baird and Shimizu. One room
of the 'seminar house' was converted into an interactive performance
space, featuring real-time data collection, musical performance,
and video/audio generation. This site-specific work was an ideal
ending to the workshop, bringing together many of the themes that
were explored over the two weekends.
Final presentations from the workshop were given to a distinguished
panel of guests, including:
Professor Cathy Cox (Tamagawa University and Kunitachi College of Music)
Professor Shintaro Imai (Kunitachi College of Music)
Professor Johnathan F. Lee (Tamagawa University)
Professor Jill Lipoti (Rutgers University)
Professor Yoshiaki Onishi (Toho Gakuen School of Music)
Professor Barbara Ruch (Columbia University)
In addition to these distinguished guests, several other prominent figures
in Japanese computer music were following the progress of the workshop.
Though they were unable to participate directly in the workshop due
to scheduling conflicts, they include:
Professor Jarek Kapuscinski (Stanford University)
Professor Naotoshi Osaka (Tokyo Denki University)
Professor Takayuki Rai (Kunitachi College of Music)
Professor Akira Takaoka (Tamagawa University and Tokyo University of the Arts)
We are looking forward to extending the initial groundwork accomplished at
this workshop, and to expanding upon it in New York in 2016. We welcome any
inquiries about the workshop and what we did; please write to
garton-at-columbia.edu for additional information.
We want to give our sincere thanks and appreciation to the
Toshiba International Foundation for the support that made this workshop
possible, as well as to the staff of the Japanese National Informatics
Institute,which made the superb resources of their Karuizawa 'Seminar House'
available to us.
L-R: Ryosuke Horie, Danjo Yamauchi, Mamoru Takano,
Masayuki Nino, Chatori Shimizu,
Sayaka Ueda (in front), Alice Baird, Brad Garton