“Time” insists on being felt whenever we take in a work of art, regardless of how much the artist tries to obscure it. Yet in Abandoned Time (2006) for electric guitar and ensemble Dai Fujikura approaches time by constructing a marvellous paradox: the notion of timelessness, or “time having been abandoned,” is expressed in a medium that has everything to do with time. After listening to the unrestrained frenzy of Abandoned Time it becomes tough not to wonder how much the title of a work of art impacts our experience as an audience. Sometimes ambiguous and contradictory titles frustrate us and tempt us to protest, “Why can’t an artist these days just be clear about what their work means!” But, as the music philosopher Gordon Epperson reminds us, “The symbol that is too explicit is wanting in power […] Real life is never settled, nor is great art.”
When it comes to art, time has a powerful and significant influence. The motions of dancers happen over time, brushstrokes focus on a single point in time, and tones find their meaning because they define time. Consequently, a title like Abandoned Time immediately evokes all sorts of questions, including those found in ICE’s CD liner notes: “Is the ‘abandoned time’ of the piece its yearning end? Or is it the inexorable build up to the climax, when all restraint is abandoned in the face of a wave of energy?” Obviously the questions raised by a work’s title are moot if the music cannot stand on its own. In the case of Abandoned Time, though, the friction between these two disparate elements – the temporal nature of music and the idea of “abandoned time” – neatly crowns the British-Japanese composer’s already complex and compelling soundscape.
Dai Fujikura adopts all sorts of time-warping techniques used by his self-proclaimed heroes Pierre Boulez and Toru Takemitsu. Abrupt tempo changes, mixed meters, and percussive polyrhythms draw on Boulez’s more cerebral style while occasional silences for the entire ensemble invoke the Japanese concept of “ma.” Slow, longing string lines coalesce with chilling clusters in the woodwinds, haunting pizzicatos engulf a tremolo played on woodblocks, and the dreamy sonority of a bowed vibraphone nearly stretches time to a halt. But Fujikura boldly departs from the familiar sound world of Boulez and Takemitsu by scoring for electric guitar with heavy distortion and marking in the score, “Heavy Rock sound like Les Paul going through Marshall valve amplifier!”
His orchestration does not merely mimic the abstruse impressions of Boulez or the serene calm found in Takemitsu’s garden-inspired music. Nor does it deign to imitate rock music on classical instruments. Instead, Fujikura integrates the rebellious sound of electric guitar with the other phantasmagoric tone-colors of his ensemble to add angst and unrest among the dreamy semblances of Abandoned Time. Perhaps, in a similar way, the work’s title fixes an urgent sense of mystery in the back of our minds as we listen to Fujikura’s music and contemplate the enigma that is time.
Listening notes: Following the sudden, cacophonous eruption of Abandoned Time‘s opening gesture Dai Fujikura’s music dissolves into a portentous ambience that is embellished by the throbbing distortion of electric guitar (an effect achieved by rhythmically pitching the instrument’s volume knob back and forth). Glistening tone clusters for piano and vibraphone vacillate with glassy utterances from the strings, only to be interrupted by electric guitar feedback and a flutter-tonguing flute. At 2:42 a delicate duet between the electric guitar and cello eerily portends the work’s mysterious closing section. Ligeti-esque polyrhythms mock clock-time at 3:20, and then the rushing momentum comes to a standstill by 3:55. Here the pure timbre of harmonics and vibraphone evoke “ma” by occasionally falling silent until at 5:25 Abandoned Time is thrust into its “inexorable build up to the climax.”
Image: Notes From Salalah (Note I), Cy Twombly