Jablonski, Marek (Michael)

(iii) Functions of the music

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(iii) Functions of the music.

Offstage music, like film music, may give sound effects, set the mood, support stage actions or imply unspoken thoughts. Examples of sound effects are the use of Buddhist bells and perhaps a sung prayer to indicate that a scene is set near a big temple, or the use in a seashore scene of a pattern on the ōdaiko drum representing the sound of waves rolling in. Mood and location can be specified further by an offstage song, often sung before the curtain is pulled aside, which tells the audience that the scene is set in a geisha house, in a palace or on the Tōkaidō road between Kyoto and Edo. Certain shamisen interludes (aikata), when combined with the appropriate ōdaiko drumbeats, can imply such contexts as cold weather, rain or a dark summer night. A correctly beaten drum indicates approaching danger as ‘naturally’ as the tremolo diminished chord does in traditional Western drama. Dialogues and soliloquies may be underpinned by meriyasu (shamisen patterns), which are chosen for their correspondence to the text or the character. Unspoken thoughts can be expressed by meriyasu songs sung offstage while the actor broods, writes a farewell letter, or otherwise moves without speaking. More active stage events, such as fights (tachimawari) and formalized slow-motion fight dances, have specific instrumental accompaniment (dontappo).

There are over 150 geza songs and an equal number of shamisen interludes and percussion patterns. The musicians know which devices to use for each situation, and the names of such devices are found in performance books (tsukechō) provided for each production by the chief geza musician. The audience, like its Western counterpart, normally cannot name or describe the structure of a given signal but through familiarity with the genre can feel the sense of such musical events in relation to the drama.

Onstage music is generally direct narrative commentary or dance accompaniment. The narrative style (katarimono) is related to that of bunraku (see §II, 4(iii)(b) above), except that dialogue is spoken by the actors, not the narrator. The dance accompaniment is adapted to the choreographic needs of the performer and often requires special offstage effects to enhance the mood.

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