It is a musical piece without words.  At Japan Society on Nov. 11, Sounds to Summon the Japanese Gods featured world class vocals in a pathway of sound, leading toward an expansive landscape.

In this journey from the Imperial House to the garden and back, Ko Ishikawa sits on the stage for more than 15 minutes, deep in thought.  Without words, the hallways at Japan Society become filled with sound and energy in a form of kagura, described as “Shinto music to entertain the gods.”

The first part of the program is a Traditional Gagaku Repertoire.  The composer, Mamoru Fujieda, asks the performers to create with sho, koto, and of course, chanting.  The build is moderate.  We feel no anger of the gods or wrath.  Instead, there is a light tone of appreciation and awe, as the performance continues.

Sounds to Summon the Japanese Gods includes with the bubbling of shochu, a Japanese drink.  The sound in the background is short of volcanic.  The rise in energy is kept at bay, while each movement continues.  The stage expands slightly, as each new performer is introduced.

According to Artistic Director Yoko Shioya, much work of work at the Japan Society consists of “improvisation based, experimental music programs.”  She continued, discussing Sounds to Summon the Japanese Gods, “All the syllables are very long….I don’t really know if it has real meaning or if it is just sound…It’s just the voice as the instrument.”

Can the gods be summoned?  Who are we, as people, to summon them?  Including transformative ritual leading viewers to new insight, performance structure can be interpreted.  As we challenge the concept of myth and appreciate forms of presentation, Sounds to Summon the Japanese Gods is like a refreshment of the spirit.

ko-ishikawa-photo-by-haruka-akagi

Ko Ishikawa, photo by Haruka Akagi

Three musicians, Ko Ishikawa, Kayoko Nakagawa, and Ami Yamasaki carry the piece from a square stage space through a pond, inviting spectators to look and listen.  In communion with the spirit, the audience is invited to journey twelve centuries back.

The blend of musical instruments and arrangements is uncommon.  Calling on their own techniques, the performers improvise, coordinating sound and their breath.  With harmonics and phrasing, the music blends.

In Kame Biraki, “Opening of the Vase,” the performer encounters pots with teal, red, yellow, and white ribbons.  Slowly, she opens the canisters, and begins to vocalize.  With a wide range of tones that sound like bird calls and horses, she wanders across the meditation pond, sauntering among the plants, feeling the water at her ankles.

While other performances at Japan Society have focused on the sky, building an almost dizzying world past a horizon to the stratosphere, this performance solemnly considers the earth and how we inhabit it.  It expands out rather than up.  The rituals can be viewed at a distance, as the water, the plants, and the earth are included in understanding.

Something so elemental presents so clearly.  The performance time is pleasant for the ears and centered on the soul.  Not really a re-creation of an older ritual, Sounds to Summon the Japanese Gods, is a rare international performance event found only at Japan Society.

This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.