In Trembling White (2019)

The prospect of writing a piece involving traditional instruments has always seemed problematic to me. The time when a composer could simply be inspired by other cultures music and "spice up" their songs with “exotic” sounds and rhythms is well passed, and after thinkers like Edward Said and ideas like postcolonialism, it’s impossible to borrow material in the same way as before without the accompanying sour taste of cultural misappropriation.

I have heard the energetic shamisen playing of a woman folksinger in Okinawa, and I have witnessed the evocative playing of shamisen in the performance of Kabuki theater. The traditional music of Japan is sublime in its own way, and I feel there’s nothing I can do with this music without reducing its beauty.

So what can a composer do? I believe we can let us inspire by the ideas behind the music, and let them be expressed in our own practice and culture. To be specific, I have always found the ideas connected to the idea of sawari, the noisy qualities of sound, to be very interesting. The shamisen typically produce sawari on its lowest string, but I wanted to think about the concept it in a more general sense including any kind of way of disturbing the pitch. Or to borrow the more poetic phrasing of Takemitsu, by creating 'obstacles' in the sounds. By creating a sonic world where musical gestures and phrases were hidden and blurred I was hoping to neutralize the connotations of these two instruments, creating a white canvas where new ideas could be explored.

In the end, I became fascinated by the world I had created, and completely forgot about my initial reservations, as I hope you will forget about everything I’ve just written, and just listen in your own way to the music you’re about to hear.

– Program note from the premiere 13.03.2019