Whose Authorship? Authenticity in Chinese Popular Music under Global Modernism 

By Ya-Hui Cheng


In his discussion of literary forms during the period of global modernism, Ramazani (2016) argued that the commonly used scheme of foreign form and local content (abbr. FFLC) neglected transcultural materials and favored Western centricity, a trend inherited from colonialism. To comprehend the local elements, Ramazani suggested three schemes to examine local aspects: foreign form and foreign content (FFFC), local form and foreign content (LFFC), and local form and local content (LFLC). Those schemes complement FFLC to formulate additional analytic devices in studies of global modernism in the twentieth-first century, or geomodernity as specified by Gavin Lee (2019).  


A similar challenge occurs with the study of transcultural meaning in musical discourse when defining authentic musical vocabulary from the otherness in world music programs in the West. The main issue remains similar to Ramazani’s in that the boundary between foreign and local aspects is hard to delimit and easy to oversimplify or mistakenly dichotomize. Similarly, the notion of otherness in studies of cultural displacement resonates with the condition of intimacy between private and public realms. <1> These perspectives form the debate on the music for young adults in China in the Post-Mao era when China opened its domestic market to the free world. At the time, the most well-known youth music was Northwestern Wind rock, which integrated foreign and local elements to present the intimacy between the public and private realms. The styles of rock music from the free world inspired youth in China. In the meantime, the ongoing domestic root-seeking program also motivated youth to consider renovating the cultural tradition. Chinese youth adopted folk songs from the Northwestern province and synthesized them with the Western rock to present a type of rock sonority that was replete with Chinese characteristics. This music received global attention when Cui Jian performed his Northwestern Wind rock song Nothing to My Name at the 1989 Tiananmen Domestic Incident. After that, the image of Cui Jian and his rock signified Chinese youth rebellion, which has been frequently studied. <2>  Among the authors who have addressed this phenomenon, de Kloet used “rock mythology”, which includes a list of assumptions about the rebellious spirit of rock in China and elsewhere, to argue that many of these studies proliferated rock’s public intimacy from the West to China. <3> They transformed the Northwestern Wind rock into a collective global memory of Chinese youth rebellion. 




Cui Jian, Nothing to My Name (released in 1989).


Whereas global memory could conflict with local memory (Huyssen 2003), Chinese songwriters stayed tied to the local cultural environment. They claimed that sociopolitical rebellions were not their concern (Cui Jian and Zhou Guoping 2012). Instead, it is the expressive quality from Northwestern folksongs that depicted their sentiments and motivated them to renovate this tradition. This renovation coincidentally connected them with the global pop trend through its cultural roots. Cultural insiders supported this statement and claimed to own the music’s authorship because their heritage of this folk tradition can be traced to centuries long ago (Brace 1991).


Audiences outside of China interpreted the sounds to be derived from global impacts or from Western pop cultures and presumed its raw expression to be from the spirit of Western rock. There is an apparent discrepancy within this interpretation. The examination of the structure of the Northwestern folksong and its social function can clarify the debate. Northwestern folksong often utilizes a two-part format, similar to verse and chorus. This music is distinct from folk music in other provinces in China. Partly, its motivic pattern is concise, and partly, its phrase structure is symmetrical. These features of Northwestern folksong resemble similar elements in the music of the West, which in turn suggests a musical connection between China and the West has existed in the folk tradition. Furthermore, Northwestern folksong had been the primary resource to produce communist Red songs and disseminate the Red ideologies during the wars between the Chinese Communist and Nationalist Parties before 1949 and before the importation of Western folk-rock into China. By transforming Northwestern folksong into rock in the 1980s, this music continued the propagandistic function to support the socialist social reform across the nation. This is evident when Cui Jian stated that his songs were devices to arouse reform, and this music is “the most comfortable musical language” for him to depict the socialist style of individualism. <4>


Likewise, folk-rock produced in Taiwan and Hong Kong from the 1970s was popular in China. Unlike the rock music made by the youth in mainland China, music from Taiwan and Hong Kong mimicked Western rock to build the Western-influenced youth culture. If “the discourse of mimicry is constructed around an ambivalence,” as Bhabha suggested, the mimicry signified a prototype that resulted in variation in the folk-rock of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China. <5> Young adults in China received the spirit of rock from Taiwan and Hong Kong, but they adjusted the musical language by adopting the authentic folksong to describe their cultural intimacy. The outcome expresses liberation from the Western influences because the applied musical language is from Chinese cultural tradition, which, coincidentally, is comparable with that of the West. The liberation reconfigured the colonial concept of mimicry from the Westernized Chinese societies of Taiwan and Hong Kong. It removed the notion of the spirit of Western rock, established China’s own youth characteristics in the Post-Mao era, and declared that any foreign production that wishes to be accepted by the Chinese people must connect with the Chinese cultural tradition and absorb the local socialist attitudes. 


The integration of Chinese tradition in popular music production can also be found in the 1930s Shanghai Jazz period in the first Chinese popular song—Drizzle. This song was written by Li Jinhui in 1927 and recorded in 1928 and 1934, respectively. Li adopted the verse form and Chinese pentatonic music to present the modern style of sounds that Chinese audiences referred to as a “familiar and simultaneously strange” listening experience. <6> For Li, the ambiguous listening experience indicated his strategies in songwriting. Li suggested that while most Chinese people only listened to Chinese theater music, he intended to create a fusion style of music that integrated Chinese tradition and music from modern societies such as America and Japan. By doing so, he implemented the concept of modernity to everyday listeners while retaining the Chinese characteristics to attract traditional Chinese theater goers (Li 1982). The music that indicated familiarity with Chinese cultural insiders resulted in the estrangement of cultural outsiders and vice versa. The quality of authenticity became vague as its delimitation depended on the listener’s cultural background.  



Li Jinhui, Drizzle (1927).


In effect, although Ramazani suggests a multi-purpose framework that revives the contents of cultural diffusion, my work on the Chinese fusion style of popular music suggests another dimension for consideration. Transcultural aspects are not the sole factor in the studies of local and foreign influences in content or form. Delimitation and authorship should be part of the discussion. If using the previous example of adaptable Chinese melodies, materials from the local aspect are subtly selected because they coincide with that of the global aspect. Chinese songwriters primarily adopted folksong that contained similar structures as Western popular music. If we study those Chinese popular songs, how can we delimit the local and global elements? In an intensively globalized world, when a sophisticated cultural understanding purposely aims to present multiple contextual meanings for any global citizen to feel related to the original source, who can claim the authorship or make a cultural delimitation? 





<1>. The special issue of intimacy in the Journal of Critical Inquiry, where Berlant specified that intimacy “involves an aspiration for a narrative about something shared” (1998): 281, has been an inspiration in this article.  Intimacy speaks the inner sentiment in the private realm which could turn into public sentiment when a shared feeling is discovered and expounded.

<2>. Jones 1992, Barmé 1999, de Kloet 2001, Baranovitch 2003, and Mittler 2016.

<3>. De Kloet 2001.

<4>. Cui and Zhao 2012: 41.

<5>. Bhabha 1994:122.

<6>. See CCTV The Last Century Pop Music of China.


Ya-Hui Cheng, a native of Taiwan, is Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the University of South Florida. Her current research focus is on the emergence of Chinese popular music including jazz, rock and hip hop and their impact on the capitalist and socialist societies of Taiwan and China. Other than popular music study, Dr. Cheng also works on Giacomo Puccini’s operas. She was the recipient of the National Opera Association Dissertation Competition Biennial prize for her Puccini research and is the author of book Puccini’s Women: Structuring the Role of Feminine in Puccini’s Opera.


Selected Bibliography:

Aaendt, Hannah. The Human Condition, 2nd edition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Baranovitch, Nimrod. China’s New Voices: Popular Music, Ethnicity, Gender, and Politics, 1978-1997. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. 

Berlant, Lauren. “Intimacy: A Special Issue,” in Critical Inquiry, Vol. 24, No. 2, Intimacy (Winter, 1998): 281-88.  

Barmé, Geremie R. In the Red: On Contemporary Chinese Culture. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. 

Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Brace, Tim. Popular Music in Contemporary Beijing: Modernism and Cultural Identity,” in Asian Music, Vol. 22, No, 2, Views of Music in China Today (Spring – Summer, 1991): 43-66.

Cui, Jian, and Zhou Guoping. Ziyou fengge (FreeStyle). Guangxi Normal Large, 2009.  

De Kloet, Jeroen. Red Sonic Trajectories: Popular Music and Youth in Urban China. Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam, 2001. 

Foucault, Michel. “What is an Author?” The Norton Anthology: Theory and Criticism. New York: Norton (2001):1622-36.

Huyssen, Andreas. Diaspora and Nation: Migration into Other Pasts. New German Critique, No. 88, Contemporary German Literature (Winter, 2003): 147-64. 

Jones, Andrew. Like a Knife: Ideology and Genre in Contemporary Chinese Popular 

    Music. New York: Cornell University Press, 1992. 

Lee, Gavin. “The Promise of Global Music Modernism.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Music Theory, Global Interculturalism and Musical Peripheries Interest Group, Columbus, OH, November 9th, 2019. 

Li Jinhui. Wo he mingyueshe (I and Brighten Moon Troup) vol. 1 / 2 in Wenhua Shi liao Congkan Vol. 3 (1982): 90-127. 

Mittler, Barbara. A Continuous Revolution: Making Sense of Cultural Revolution Culture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016. 

Ramazani, Jahan. “Form,” in Hayot, Eric and Rebecca L. Walkowitz, eds. A New Vocabulary for Global Modernism. New York: Columbia University Press (2016): 114-29. 

Jōji Yuasa – Cosmos Haptic for piano (1957)

By Ron Squibbs

Jōji Yuasa (b. 1929) is one of the most important Japanese composers of the second half of the twentieth century and the early part of the twenty-first century. Along with his compatriot, Tōru Takemitsu (1930-96), Yuasa was a member of Jikken Kōbō (The Experimental Workshop), an interdisciplinary group of composers, artists, and writers that sought to define a characteristically Japanese avant-garde aesthetic in the 1950s. Musicologist Luciana Galliano has described the aim of Jikken Kōbō as follows: “The group’s intent was … to mediate Japanese sensibility with the tantalizing, unknown material of western contemporary music in order to achieve an original compositional expression which corresponded, in turn, to personal expressive desires.” <1> One of Jikken Kōbō’s activities was a series of concerts that featured music by Western modernist composers—among them Schoenberg and Messiaen—as well as new works by the group’s members. Yuasa’s Cosmos Haptic (1957) for piano, the opening measures of which are shown in Example 1, is a representative work from this period. (The score is available from Schott Music.)

Example 1: Jōji Yuasa, Cosmos Haptic for piano (1957), mm. 1-4. <2>

A recording of the work may be heard here.

One of Yuasa’s sources of aesthetic inspiration at this time was the traditional Japanese Nō theater. <3> Characteristic of Nō is the slow and stylized intonation of text in which the durations of individual syllables vary within an eight-beat pattern known as honji. “Differing from metric systems with four or eight beats such as are found in Western music, … honji is essentially based on a substructure of single beats. These are assumed to be even, as in a metronomic continuity, but, actually, each beat has its own ma [space] which shapes the substance of its continuity.” <4> Variations in the durations of the beats are known as mitsuji, which Yuasa has cited as an inspiration for the final movement of his Projection for Seven Players (1955-56), the work immediately prior to Cosmos Haptic. <5> A pattern of eight articulations of varying duration, likely also inspired by mitsuji, may be observed at the opening of Cosmos Haptic. Eight articulations are presented in the upper staff in Example 1, with the eighth-note rest in m. 3 dividing them into two groups of four. The first three articulations decrease in duration, with the duration increasing again from the third to the fourth articulations. The durations among the four articulations in the next group (in mm. 3-4) also first decrease, then increase.

Another source of inspiration for Yuasa was the harmonic language of modern Western composers, both twelve-tone and non-twelve-tone. Among twelve-tone composers Yuasa favored Webern, the temporal nature of whose music suggested an affinity with Eastern aesthetics. Describing his discoveries in the 1950s, Yuasa wrote, “I was the then finding that a commonality existed between the timespace of Nō and that of Webern’s music.” <6> Webern’s austere approach to twelve-tone composition provided a model for Projection for Seven Players (1955-56). For Cosmos Haptic, on the other hand, Yuasa turned to harmonic resources associated with Messiaen. <7> In his implementation of these harmonic resources—such as Messiaen’s modes of limited transposition—Yuasa preferred an austere style that he associated with the music of Varèse and Jolivet more than with that of Messiaen. <8>

The opening measures of Cosmos Haptic present two of Messiaen’s modes of limited transposition. The harmonic units articulated on the surface of the music are four-note groups, an initial group along with three of its transpositions: F♯-G♯-C-D in the upper staff, C♯-D♯-G-A in the middle staff, and A♭-B♭-D-E, and F-G-B-C♯ in the upper staff. When these four-note groups are combined in successive pairs, instances of two of Messiaen’s modes result: Mode 4, C-C♯-D-D♯-F♯-G-G♯-A, is presented in mm. 1-3 and Mode 2, C♯-D-E-F-G-A♭-B♭-B, in m. 4. <9> Additionally, the combination of these two eight-note modes results in the presentation of the aggregate of all twelve chromatic pitch-classes, which is completed by the final chord in the passage. Aggregate completion is a structural principle that is fundamental to twelve-tone composition but is observable in the music of some non-twelve-tone composers as well. <10>

A further characteristic that Yuasa’s Cosmos Haptic shares with the work of modern Western composers is the symmetrical disposition of its pitches around axis points within pitch space. <11> Each of the four-note groups in Example 1 is symmetrical around a different axis pitch. Within the first group, the pairs of pitches F♯5/G♯5 and C5/D6 are both symmetrically disposed around G5, which is not sounded but serves as a point of orientation around which the other pitches are situated. The axis pitches for the remaining groups are D4, A5, and F♯6. Overall, the roving axis pitches indicate motion in the treble range that moves higher as the excerpt progresses. Stepping back from the level of local details to take in longer spans of music, analysis according to axis pitches suggests the slow unfolding of a deliberate process. The eight-note group in mm. 1-3, for example, is symmetrical around a pair of axis pitches, A♯4/B4, which precisely fill in the space between the A4 at the top of the lower four-note group and the C5 at the bottom of the upper four-note group. The eight-note group in m. 4 is symmetrical around the pair of axis pitches, C♯6/D6. One member of this pair, D6, appears on the downbeat of m. 4 as part of a three-note fragment, repeating part of the first four-note group. Rather than appearing to be a merely incidental detail, D6 may be interpreted as a link in pitch space between the first and second eight-note groups.

The structural role of symmetry becomes even more prominent in the dramatic conclusion to the first section of the work, a portion of which is shown in Example 2. In this passage, musical materials from the opening of the work are transformed and recontextualized. The first four-note group from mm. 1-3 in Example 1 reappears as the upper strand of the middle staff in m. 11 (the first measure of Example 2) in a rhythmically concentrated form. The lower strand of the middle staff of the same measure presents a new four-note group, a transposition up a major second from the four-note group that had appeared in the middle staff in mm. 2-4. As a result of this transposition, the combination of the two four-note groups in m. 11 does not produce an instance of Messiaen’s Mode 4, as it had done in mm. 1-3, but instead forms a new instance of Messiaen’s Mode 2: D-E♭-F-F♯-G♯-A-B-C. The transposition also causes the previous pitch axis of A♯4/B4 from mm. 1-3 to shift up a minor second to B4/C5 in m. 11. This new pitch axis is maintained in m. 12, where the notes of Mode 2 from m. 11 are revoiced in a way that highlights its dissonant intervals: two minor ninths in the outer staves surround two tritones in the middle staff.

Example 2: Yuasa, Cosmos Haptic, mm. 11-13. <12>

The transformation of previously heard materials continues at the beginning of m. 13, where the four-note group in the upper strand of the middle staff recalls the four-note group from m. 4. In m. 13, this four-note group combines with the four-note group that had been introduced in the lower strand in m. 11 to form a new instance of Messiaen’s Mode 4: D-E♭-F-F♯-G A-B-C. At this point, both the upper and lower four-note groups from mm. 1-3 have been transposed up by a whole step. Consequently, the pitch axis has shifted upward again, to C5/C♯5. This shift of axis creates a momentary disruption in the equilibrium of the passage, which is restored in the middle of m. 13, where the axis returns to B4/C5, where it had been in mm. 11-12. At this point the transposition of Mode 2 that had been introduced in mm. 11-12 returns in a new voicing: the minor ninths that appeared in the upper and lower staves in m. 12 have now been inverted to become major sevenths in m. 13.

Further transformations of materials in Cosmos Haptic include the reshaping of the eight-note mode from mm. 1-3 into an unaccompanied melody (not shown). This melody, whose range and contour suggest an affinity with the nōkan (Nō flute), forms the basis for an extended middle section. <13> Musical gestures related to the work’s opening recur intermittently during this middle section and return at its closing. The slow processes of transposition initiated at the start of the work continue throughout, so that its conclusion does not form a closed circle with its beginning, but rather suggests an opening out to an as-yet-undetermined future.

Cosmos Haptic is a pivotal work in Yuasa’s development as a composer. From this point forward, Yuasa has continued to forge a personal synthesis between harmonic resources typically associated with Western modernism and what he refers to as “traditional Japanese concepts of time.” <14> Among his later works are four more bearing the title Cosmos Haptic. This series includes solo, chamber, and orchestral works, the most distinctively Japanese among them being Cosmos Haptic III – Kokuh for twenty-string koto and shakuhachi. <15> In these works and many others, Yuasa has succeeded in generating an oeuvre that richly rewards repeated, attentive listening.

<1> Luciana Galliano, The Music of Jōji Yuasa, ed. Peter Burt (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012), 8. For more on Jikken Kōbō, see Galliano, The Music of Jōji Yuasa, 5-33, Peter Burt, The Music of Tōru Takemitsu (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 39-49, and Luciana Galliano, Yōgaku: Japanese Music in the Twentieth Century, trans. Martin Mayes (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2002), 150-66.
<2> Jōji Yuasa, Cosmos Haptic. Copyright © 1957 Schott Music Co. Ltd., Tokyo. Copyright © renewed. All rights reserved. Used by permission of European American Music Distributors Company, sole U.S. and Canadian agent for Schott Music Co. Ltd., Tokyo, publisher and copyright owner.
<3> Jōji Yuasa, “The World of Nō as I Perceive It, Concerning Some Problems in Music,” Perspectives of New Music 31, no. 2 (Summer 1993): 186-91.
<4> Jōji Yuasa, “Temporality and I: From the Composer’s Workshop,” Perspectives of New Music 31, no. 2 (Summer 1993): 220.
<5> Yuasa, “Temporality and I,” 220. Projection for Seven Players and Cosmos Haptic, the latter performed by Takahorio Sonada, its dedicatee and a member of Jikken Kōbō, are both included on the CD Music from Experimental Workshop, Fontec FOCD3417. An example of mitsuji in the context of Nō chant may be found here.
<6> Yuasa, “Temporality and I,” 218.
<7> Galliano, The Music of Jōji Yuasa, 26.
<8> Galliano, The Music of Jōji Yuasa, 21-25.
<9> On the modes of limited transposition, see Olivier Messiaen, The Technique of My Musical Language, trans. John Satterfield (Paris: Leduc, 1956), vol. 1, 58-62, vol. 2, 50-54.
<10> On aggregate completion in Varèse, see Robert Morris, “Equivalence and Similarity in Pitch and Their Interaction with PCSet Theory,” Journal of Music Theory 39, no. 2 (Autumn 1995): 207-43.
<11> On inversional symmetry and axis pitches, see Joseph Straus, Introduction to Post-Tonal Theory, 4th ed. (New York: Norton, 2016), 232-44. On the use of pitch space as a structural principle, see Jonathan Bernard, The Music of Edgard Varèse. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987). For an approach to Cosmos Haptic that makes use of pitch-space graphs similar to Bernard’s, see Ron Squibbs, “Structure of Time, Structure of Space: Eastern and Western Influences in Jōji Yuasa’s Cosmos Haptic” (paper presented at Music Theory Society of New York State Annual Meeting, Ithaca, NY, April 10, 1999).
<12> Jōji Yuasa, Cosmos Haptic. Copyright © 1957 Schott Music Co. Ltd., Tokyo. Copyright © renewed. All rights reserved. Used by permission of European American Music Distributors Company, sole U.S. and Canadian agent for Schott Music Co. Ltd., Tokyo, publisher and copyright owner.
<13> An example of nōkan performance may be found here.
<14> Yuasa, “Temporality and I,” 218.
<15> Recordings of all of the works in the Cosmos Haptic series may be found in the Discography.

On the Keyboard: Piano Works of Jōji Yuasa. Ronald Squibbs, piano. Aucourant Records AUREC-0501-1.
Music from Experimental Workshop. Various performers. Fontec FOCD3417.
Piano Transfiguration. Aki Takahashi, piano. Camerata CMCD-15145~6.
Nanae. Nanae Yoshimura, 20-string koto, Kifu Mitsuhashi, shakuhachi. Camerata 32CM-189.
Cello ~ Japanese Sounds. Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi, cello, Akira Wakabayashi, piano, Seizan Sakata, shakuhachi. Sony Records SRCR 2291.
TIME of Orchestral Time: Works by Jōji Yuasa. Various performers. Fontec FOCD9288.

Acknowledgement: Jōji Yuasa, Cosmos Haptic. Copyright © 1957 Schott Music Co. Ltd., Tokyo. Copyright © renewed. All rights reserved. Excerpts used by permission of European American Music Distributors Company, sole U.S. and Canadian agent for Schott Music Co. Ltd., Tokyo, publisher and copyright owner.


Ron Squibbs is Associate Professor of Music at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. He has published on the music of Iannis Xenakis and has presented on the music of Xenakis, Yuasa, Rudhyar, John Luther Adams, and others. He has recorded piano music by Yuasa and Rudhyar for Aucourant Records and by Peter Garland for Cold Blue Music (forthcoming). Further information on his research may be found at https://ronsquibbs.academia.edu/.

The Appeal of the Foreign in Toshio Hosokawa’s Opera Matsukaze

By Tomoko Deguchi

This blog post is the first of multiple posts related to the opera Matsukaze (2010) by the Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa (b. 1955).

During the summer of 2019, Gavin Lee, Ya-hui Cheng, and I led an online seminar in which we explored the concepts of “tradition,” “form,” and “copy” reconceptualized in global modernism that were discussed in the book A New Vocabulary for Global Modernism, edited by Eric Hayot and Rebecca Walkowitz.<1> As a case study, I apply the above three concepts to Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa’s opera Matsukaze.

Toshio Hosokawa is one of the most successful and influential composers whose works are performed in Europe, the United States, and Asia. He is a Darmstadt product who was trained in European modernism, however as Padraic Costello puts it in his thesis, “this compositional alignment with European modernism is molded in tandem with strong references to Japanese classical aesthetic and philosophical ideals.”<2> This is especially reflected in the philosophy of Zeami, who established the style of Noh Theatre that has not changed to this day, and also to the aesthetics of Noh Theatre. <3>

Matsukaze is an adaptation of a popular Noh play by the same title. The original Matsukaze is a Mugen Noh,” which translates as Noh play of dream and illusion, in which reality and dream intersect, and the protagonist is a spirit that lingers in this world.<4> The story follows a monk who encounters the spirits of two sisters, Matsukaze and Murasame, who were loved by a nobleman Yukihira. The sisters recount their memories with Yukihira, then love-stricken Matsukaze dances hysterically, and finally the monk calms them by offering a prayer and the sisters disappear into the other world. The libretto follows the original text faithfully, but is translated into German. The music is written for Western-trained voices and scored for traditional Western orchestra (with an array of percussion instruments including the small Japanese bell fūrin). However, the opera clearly attempts to preserve the aesthetics of Noh theater, especially the concept of yūgen, which is described as subtly profound grace.” Yūgen values the power to evoke rather than to state, and the principle of yūgenshows that real beauty exists through its suggestiveness.”<5> This is a Youtube video of the trailer of Matsukaze by the opera company La Monnaie based in Belgium.



Jacob Edmond, the author of the “Copy” chapter in A New Vocabulary for Global Modernism, examines “copy” as an integral phenomenon in modern globalism that becomes a cultural dominant, in which such techniques as pastiche, stylization, cut-and-paste, collage, montage, remediation, performance, translation, and appropriation become “an artistic strategy in a technological, economic, and geopolitical context.”<6> Edmond contrasts this strategy in the context of the preconceived notion of modernism – that “the product is original, foreign to preexisting, and idiolectic – the “make it new” rhetoric.” However, Edmond argues that “copy” is fundamentally different from “mimetic desire.” He cites Rey Chow who has termed a “mimetic desire” as responsive and oriented toward the West’s imposition of itself on the rest. This mimetic desire of non-Western, peripheral, or global modernism is “to speak in the other’s language in order to be recognized by the other” that is the West. However, the “copy” is different from the “mimetic desire” in that it does not privilege what has been copied. The focus on “copy” is to recognize that the replication acquires the power of the represented.<7>

Hosokawa’s Matsukaze copies from the original Noh play Matsukaze the archetype of “Mugen Noh,” the characters, certain expectations of the characters’ roles, plot development, and, to some extent, the chant-like singing style and the percussive sounds of Noh Theatre. However, the original Noh play is not privileged as the art form that was copied – they are simply two different art forms. Noh Theatre preserves traditional performance practice that has not changed since the 14th century.

How, I question, is the opera Matuskaze conceived through “mimetic desire” by a non-Westerner? Is the opera accepted and recognized by the European and American audience since “it speaks in other’s language that is the West?” Hosokawa was trained in a Japanese conservatory, and then in Germany, which at least in Japan, Germany is considered as the power of dispatch of information in the contemporary concert music world, that speaks of the dominance of the German tradition that is still pervasive. However, Japan went through more than 100 years of “mimetic desire” of the culture, musical styles, and techniques of the West, basically copying the European and American cultures and institutional structures into its own. I think it is no longer meaningful to talk in terms of “copy-er” and “copy-eed,” thus leaving the idea of “mimetic desire” futile. In Japan, it seems to me as if the notion of “foreign” has flipped; the traditional Japan has become “foreign” to the 21st century Japanese people and society.

The author of theForm” chapter, Jahan Ramazani, poses a question: When forms that have originated from one part of the globe are transported to another part of the world, how can we understand the meanings and effects of this movement?<8> The author challenges the scheme of foreign form and local contents,” however, as Ya-hui argues, the main issue remains in that the boundary between foreign and local aspects is hard to delimit and easy to oversimplify or mistakenly dichotomized.”<9> In the case of Japan, if we limit the notion of local” as pre-import and pre-circulation of Western music, the local” is no longer local but insteadforeign” to the average Japanese population, and the original foreign” (the music from the Western) is no longer foreign. But did the foreign and local actually flip? The chant-like vocal style in Matsukaze, timbre-oriented orchestral writing, microtonal pitch bend that reminds me of the pitch bend of Japanese traditional instrument koto, the non-teleological temporal structure, and the operas sense of ma are distinctively Eastern-derived, which also distinguish many compositions by composers of Eastern origin. I do not characterize these attributes as the flipped foreign,” since consciously or unconsciously, these attributes are inherent in Eastern composers’ music. The multi-faceted reading of Matsukaze is a prime example of a trans-national product that is an amalgam of foreign” and local” whether in form or content. The complexity and ambiguity of the notions of foreign and local establish a new level of cultural hybridity and contribute to de-center the West.

I believe that Matsukaze’s success largely owes to this cultural hybridity that appealed to the audience in Europe and America, but it might be the “foreign-ness” of traditional Japan that appealed to the Japanese audience. I imagine that in Japan, a sense of cultural pride also contributed to Matsukaze’s success, acknowledging that the “foreign elements” (Japanese tradition) are distinctly originated in Japan’s rich cultural tradition. But, in Europe and America, does the popularity of the opera owe to the fact that it was written by a composer who comes from a peripheral global region in a Euro-centric perspective? Toru Takemitsu wrote about how Western music is transplantable, but in contrast, Eastern traditional music is not.<10> For instance, subtle inflection and the mixing of noise on pitch productions, and the use and understanding of ma in the temporal flow of music, are not easily notate-able, and thus not easily transferrable. Would it be possible to consider that in the case of Matsukaze, the “mimetic desire” towards the East (Noh Theatre and its associated aesthetics) by Hosokawa, who was trained in the West, has acquired the power of the non-West as the result of appropriation and creative adaptation of the form, style, and content of traditional Japan? (As reversal of the historic “mimetic desire” by Eastern composers “to speak in the other’s language in order to be recognized by the West.”)

In his writing in the website of the publisher of Matsukaze’s score, Hosokawa refers to the spatial meaning of the Noh stage, specifically the hashikagari, a physical passageway in Noh stage that signifies the bridge that connects the earthly and other worlds. On the Noh stage we are at the same time in this world and the hereafter, and inside the main characters, life and death are present at the same time. Hosokawa says Noh is a theater that plays in a dimension different from Western modern theater.<11> In the opera, the chorus takes the role of hashikagari, acting as a passageway of the spirits of the two protagonists, as their psyches shift from lingering in the earthly world to the state of hysteria, eventually attaining transcendence, disappearing to the other world. The form also seems to allude to the traditional Japanese tripartite form of jo-ha-kyū, which translates as “beginning, break, and rapid.” As the narrative unfolds, the music intensifies culminating with the instrumental ecstatic Dance movement with no more spoken words by the two women. In my second blog post on Matsukaze, I will focus on the chorus that takes the role of hashikagari. In the third blog post, I will focus on the form of jo-ha-kyū in Matsukaze.

Matsukaze poses many questions on global modernism concerning cultural hybridity, appropriation, transnational attributes, Western perspectives on Eastern aesthetics, among others, and the complex interaction of cultural identity complicates the intricacies. It is imperative to continue to cultivate vocabulary to truly captivate the nature of global modernism.


<1> This online seminar was one of the activities of Society for Music Theorys Global Interculturalism and Musical Peripheries Interest Group (formerly Global New Music Interest Group).

<2> Padraic Costello, “Opera as Japanese Culture: Creativity, Modernity and Heterogeneous Social Expression in Japanese-Composed Opera” (Master’s thesis, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, 2016), 211.

<3> Noh Theatre is a classical stage art in Japan, which consists of literature, music, and dance with a mask, developed from a variety of sacred rituals and festival entertainments established during the medieval period (circa 1300 – 1400 AD).

<4> In general in Mugen Noh, there is one main character as the spirit that lingers in this world, who is referred to as the “shite (protagonist).” Matsukaze is unusual in a way that there are two characters who are identified as protagonists.

<5> In my opinion, the Urban Dictionary’s English definition of the Japanese term yūgen captures and summarizes the essence of the word the best. See Yugen,” Urban Dictionary, accessed August 3, 2020, https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=yugen. Yūgen is one of the important aesthetics in Noh Theatre that express the different kinds of beauty involved. Among the aesthetic terms in Noh, yūgen is the most difficult to define. John Wesley Harris writes, “It was originally used in poetry to describe transient but beautiful experiences… which are emotionally charged but which, of their very nature, last for only a few seconds. However, in Noh acting it is generally held to mean that certain sensitive types of mood or emotion can only be hinted at by the actor if they are to be effective.” See John Wesley Harris, The Traditional Theatre of Japan: Kyogen, Noh, Kabuki, and Puppetry (Lewiston, New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2006), 103-104.

<6> Jacob Edmond, Copy,” in A New Vocabulary for Global Modernism, eds. Eric Hayot and Rebecca Walkowitz (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016), 97.

<7> Ibid, 98.

<8> Jahan Ramazani, Form,” in A New Vocabulary for Global Modernism, eds. Eric Hayot and Rebecca Walkowitz (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016), 114.

<9> Ya-hui Cheng, Form,” accessed August 5, 2020, https://docs.google.com/document/d/1QfSJuIhzP3_GNiYn_e63l6iZgXZcYPdFsIQ7Iat_LHw/edit.

<10> Takemitsu writes about transportable and non-transportable music relating his experience with Aboriginesmusic and using Japanese traditional instruments shakuhachi and biwa in his orchestral piece November Steps. See Toru Takemitsu, Confronting Silence: Selected Writings. Translated and edited by Yoshiko Kakudo and Glenn Glasow (Berkeley, California: Fallen Leaf Press, 1995), 59-67.

<11> Toshio Hosokawa, “Über meine Oper Matsukaze,” accessed August 6, 2020, https://en.schott-music.com/shop/matsukaze-no275416.html.


Cheng, Ya-hui. Form.” Accessed August 5, 2020. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1QfSJuIhzP3_GNiYn_e63l6iZgXZcYPdFsIQ7Iat_LHw/edit.

Costello, Padraic. Opera as Japanese Culture: Creativity, Modernity and Heterogeneous Social Expression in Japanese-Composed Opera.” Masters thesis, University of Hawai’i‘ at Mānoa, 2016.

Harris, John Wesley. The Traditional Theatre of Japan: Kyogen, Noh, Kabuki, and Puppetry. Lewiston, New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2006.

Hayot, Eric and Rebecca Walkowitz, eds. A New Vocabulary for Global Modernism. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016.

Hosokawa, Toshio. Über meine Oper „Matsukaze.” Accessed August 6, 2020. https://en.schott-music.com/shop/matsukaze-no275416.html.

Takemitsu, Toru. Confronting Silence: Selected Writings. Translated and edited by Yoshiko Kakudo and Glenn Glasow. Berkeley, California: Fallen Leaf Press, 1995.

Urban Dictionary. Yugen.” Accessed August 3, 2020. https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=yugen.


Winthrop University: CVPA Faculty and Staff Profile - Deguchi, Tomoko

Tomoko Deguchi, a native of Kobe, Japan, is a professor of music theory at Winthrop University. She holds a Ph.D. in music theory from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Her research interests include the music of Toru Takemitsu and other Japanese composers, musical narrative, film music, and intersections between music theory and culture and aesthetics. Her articles appear in Indiana Theory Review, Journal of Film Music, Athens Journal of Arts and Humanities, Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy and currently she is working on a book on Toru Takemitsus music and its cultural identity. She also remains active as a pianist, specializing in contemporary music.