Thursday, March 31, 2011

Kashiwa Daisuke - Program Music I

Artist: Kashiwa Daisuke
Release: 2007
Label: MIDI creative / Noble
Genre: Ambient, Post-Rock, Neo-Classical, Classical, Jazz, Glitch, Electronic

1. Stella
2. Write Once, Run Melos!


Today I wish to introduce to you one of the most beautiful albums by one of the most interesting present-day modern composers.
When it comes to modern day composers, the most prominent ones out there are names like Brian Eno, Steve Reich, Toru Takemitsu, Varèse and a couple more. I don’t know, I’m just tossing out some names you might be familiar with, but when discussing these modern composers, the name ‘Kashiwa Daisuke’ is unlikely to be mentioned. The guy doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page for fuck’s sake. But he’s up there along with those ‘big’ names I just mentioned. Program music I is the very proof of this.

Program Music I is, as the name cleverly implies, program music. But what exactly is this?
On the opposite end of program music we have what we call “Absolute Music” or “Pure Music”. This is a kind of concept in music used for music which stands entirely on its own. It’s not about anything; you don’t need any imagery, words, dance or whatever to understand it: It makes complete sense without all of that. You can appreciate it being oblivious to the outside world.
Program music on the other hand will not make sense if you just listen to it. Wikipedia says:
“Program music or programme music is a type of art music that attempts to musically render an extra-musical narrative.”

Another definition says:
“Program music is instrumental music that may tell a story with explicit episodes, reveal facets of a character, place, or occasion, or imitate the sounds of the world.”

In other words: there’s more than meets the eye. Or ear. It can’t be understood simply listening to it without any reference to the outside world. The term was supposedly devised by Franz Liszt. He saw that program music added an external program to the music which unfolds what the music is actually about and proceeded to give the child a name. This isn’t to say that program music didn’t exist before that of course. There are pieces dating from the Renaissance which we can without doubt consider program music. Another example everyone is familiar with is Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, which conveys to you the feelings and sounds and imagery of spring, summer, autumn and winter. I suppose it’s best compared to the more common term “soundscape” (albeit not quite the same).

Now, your gut might be telling you something is off here. And there is. It is still a very active discussion as to what program music really is and more importantly what it isn’t. There are people who say that all music is program music. People who are saying it should be strictly limited to stories and not feelings or sounds (which would exclude Vivaldi’s Four Seasons). And then you’ve got people saying vocal music should be included as well and so on… It’s something I’m not going to go into. What matters for us today is the fact that Program Music I by Kashiwa Daisuke is definitely and without doubt program music.

Moving on to the album: it consists of only two songs. The first one, Stella, spanning nearly 36 minutes and the second, Write Once, Run Melos, spanning over 25 minutes amounting for a total of a full hour with just 2 songs.

The first song “Stella” is based on a Japanese novel called “Night on the Galactic Railroad” by Kenji Miyazawa. It was released in 1934 and is now considered a classic in Japanese literature. It tells the story of Giovanni and Campanella who catch a train which takes off into fucking space. They meet a bunch of people and see a lot of stuff. Anyway, it’s a story often presented as a children’s story, but it really isn’t. There’s a whole bunch of underlying themes and philosophical undertones about happiness, life and the afterlife and self-sacrifice. Kashiwa Daisuke takes all that and molds it into Stella.
The second song “Write Once, Run Melos” is based on a short story by Osamu Dazai called “Hashire Melos!” or in English “Run Melos!”. It’s about a man, Melos, who, after getting arrested for assassinating the king, runs back to his hometown to witness the marriage of his sister and then back to the king for his execution in under three days while his friend takes his place in jail.
Again, Kashiwa Daisuke tries to translate this into his music. You hear him run. You hear her get married. You hear the threatening air when shit goes down.

The music without the context is already great. I didn’t know all this when I listened to it the first time and I loved it. But when you know this and have read the books it adds a new dimension to the music. It’s a really fun exercise to read the books and try to place everything in the music. I really recommend doing that, to train your active listening skills or whatever. This is really isn't music you should discard as background music while you have dinner. I could go as far as to say that it's art if that should motivate you to listen to it properly. Anyway, The books have both got decent English translations, but for those who do not like reading: Both books received anime adaptations.

“Night on the Galactic Railroad” was adapted into an anime film in 1985 under the same name. I think this is a great adaption. It’s slow, stays true to the story and has this constant air of discomfort.

“Run, Melos!” was adapted 3 times into anime. The first was an OVA (for future reference: OVA is an Original Video Animation, meaning it was directly released on video or DVD and did not receive an initial TV airing) in 1981. The second was a full length anime film released in 1992. The third adaptation is a recent one, dating from 2009. It was adapted in the series Aoi Bungaku in episodes 9 and 10.

I personally recommend the 1992 adaptation. Even though it alters the beginning slightly and dramatizes it all quite a bit, it’s still very decent adaptation and enough to understand the music.

I’m not going to go into the details of the music like other reviews might do. There’s no point in that anyway really. No sense in rambling about the jazz piano in “Write Once, Run Melos”, the instrumentation, the glitchy drums. No sense in trying to put into a box either. His music is so wide and complex, drawing influences most notably from post-rock and neo-classical music, but there is so much more as well. You’ll just hear all this stuff anyway. Suffice to say, I love this album and think it really has contributed something to electronic music so sit down and listen and don’t do anything else. Just listen.


  1. I appreciate this post. Makes the album easier to get into for a musical neophyte like me. :)

  2. Thank you!
    I love your taste in music.

  3. Thanks, i was looking for it