‘The moon sets and birds cry / 月は落ち、鳥が鳴いて’ is an album of pieces and improvisations for piano and electronics by composer/musician Anna Murray.
Created and recorded in 2020-2021, while Murray was studying traditional Japanese Noh theatre at Tokyo University of the Arts, the tracks of the album reflect aspects of that experience, and of Noh. Recorded in a rehearsal space during the Covid-19 pandemic and fluctuating emergency restrictions, the album also conjures a sense of closeness, of interiority and reflection.
‘The moon sets and birds cry / 月は落ち、鳥が鳴いて’ is a quote from the Noh play Dōjō-ji, describing the moonlit scene at an expectant moment at a temple. The sounds and ideas of Noh are reflected in ways both direct and indirect throughout the album. Many of the tracks were recorded with microphones inside the lid of the closed piano, to pick up and amplify its mechanical properties – sympathetic resonances, the metallic hums of strings, wooden creaks of the piano frame reminiscent of the Noh stage and footstep-like knocks are woven into the texture. As with mugen (dreamlike) Noh, the worlds of reality and illusion are constantly shifted and blurred.
The album is bookended by two improvisations for piano and live processing, ‘Mirror Board 1&2’, named after the kagami-ita, the back panel of the Noh stage. The ‘mirror-board’ is always painted with the image of a pine tree, a ‘reflection’ of the Yōgō no Matsu pine from the Kasuga Taisha temple in Nara. Another pair of pieces, ‘Azuma-Asobi/東遊 (version 1&2)’ are based on the melodic structure of a section of one of the most famous Noh plays, Hagoromo, and were created using a hybrid noh/stave notation developed by the composer during her studies. One version uses a pitch-set close to that used in the Hosho school of Noh chant performance, the second uses the same structure with a new pitch-set, like two reflections in different colours.
At the centre of the album is another work, for piano and nohkan (flute) samples, whose title is borrowed from a Noh play; in this case, Yō Kihi, in reference to the old Chinese love story of Vega and Altair (shortened here to ‘In the sky, birds. On earth, trees’).
In the sky, we will be a pair of birds who always fly together in tandem.
On earth, we will be a pair of intertwined trees, our branches always touching.
It is followed by the first of two older works featured on the album, ‘At Mii-Dera’, (originally commissioned in 2017 by Kirkos Ensemble for Máire Carroll) which uses a graphic score based on the imagery of the moon, clouds and birds from the play Mii-dera.
The album ends with the second older work, ‘Water Iris’, with guest vocalist Michelle O’Rourke, which explores memory and longing through poetry from the play Kakitsubata, and poets Anna Akhmatova and Emily Dickinson, recorded remotely between Ireland and Japan.
Anna Murray is a mixed-media composer and artist from Ireland and currently based in Tokyo. She has a particular interest in language and text-based composition, as well as graphic and open scores combined with live electronics. Her current work revolves around an examination of music and meaning, particularly focussed on a study of Japanese Noh theatre. In 2019 she was awarded the Japanese Government MEXT Scholarship to attend Tokyo University of the Arts as a research student, where she studied Noh with Takeda Takashi until 2021.
Recent releases include City Shadows on Café OTO’s Takuroku label, the self-released Rndr II and These Are the First Words I’ve Spoken, and The Manhattan Syndrome’s Goodbye Iowa. Recent works include four major works created as part of her Noh research (to be performed soon), as well as Crosstalk, commissioned by Crash Ensemble and premiered as part of the Musictown 2021 festival.
With thanks to: 武田孝史, 田嵜甫, 武田伊佐, 石松イサク, 在アイルランド日本国大使館 (Embassy of Japan in Ireland), The Embassy of Ireland, Japan