EMS Proceedings and Other Publications

Masahiro Miwa’s “Gesänge des Ostens”: Intersection of Technology and Tradition

Yuriko Hase Kojima

Yuriko Hase Kojima, Shobi University


Masahiro Miwa was born in Tokyo in 1958. In 1978 he started his formal studies in composition at Universität der Künste Berlin followed by the studies at Robert-Schumann-Hochschule Düsseldorf after 1985, and he started creating computer music works in Germany. Commissioned by a leading Japanese pianist Aki Takahashi, Miwa composeed “Gesänge des Ostens” in 1992 after moving back to Tokyo. It had been only ten years or so since the time the MIDI system was standardized world- wide and of course the artistic use of the MIDI was not so much introduced back then.

This piece is written for one pianist and two MIDI pianos: one for the pianist and the other for the MIDI signals to play music without a real pianist. The score is unusually written not with the grand staff but single staff and piano part itself is simplified to single line. The piano part is written not only for the real piano phrases but also used for triggering the MIDI signals by pressing certain keys. What triggered through this system is mainly the audio files of Japanese traditional folk vocal music. It is interesting to see that all the musical events happening during the performance are manipulated and merged musically in real-time. Miwa created the software to operate those events himself and what he intended to realize seems to be the same as what we do with technology regularly today except the pitch-to-midi conversion that was developed much after the period this piece was created. Here it is not a problem because the grand pianos are equipped with MIDI system to trigger events while playing real acoustic music.

Musically speaking, the Japanese pentatonic scales are mainly used for composing the piano part to match the traditional fork songs and Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin” which is obviously influenced by the Orientalism of his time. The sense of mismatch created by juxtaposition of old traditional musical elements and the forefront technology gives this piece distinct characteristics that are different from other pieces composed in Japan during the same period of time.

This paper focuses on the investigation of the form and analysis of the piece in order to see how technology and tradition are intermingled to each other to create a new vision of music.


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EMS18 Proceedings