Sounds & Clouds: Like Everything and Nothing Else

How to describe music that is so personal, so deeply reflective and rooted in Buddhist contemplation that only listening to the music itself, without distraction, will suffice? Such is the conundrum that, hopefully, will lead you from this page to Channel Classics' hybrid SACD, Sounds & Clouds: Works by Hosokawa & Vivaldi.

I first learned of the music of Hiroshima-born Toshio Hosokawa (b. 1955) from an overview of his oeuvre in Gramophone. Intrigued, I was delighted to discover that one of the discs recommended in the article—one that is also available as a hi-rez DSD download—had been sitting on my shelves for two years, quietly waiting its turn in a very long queue. How that SACD migrated from the overwhelming number of CD piles in my office to a prominent place in my music room is a mystery that perhaps only a Buddhist master can unravel.

"Silence is perhaps more important than sound in this concept," writes program note annotator Albert Edelman of Hosokawa's music. Hosokawa discovered the power of silence when, after an upbringing in a traditional Japanese family, he headed to Germany to study "international" music. Initially drawn to the European avant-garde, he first opened to his own musical heritage after attending a recital of traditional Asian music. Suddenly, he realized that Japanese court music, including Buddhist chants, had for over a millennium explored the "expressive possibilities of new sounds." Awakening to his past, he returned to Japan for six months to immerse himself in the music of Zen Buddhism.

Hosokawa's goal was to create new music from traditional forms (and, in the case of this recording, instruments.) Thus does "Vorspiel. Nacht", the first movement of his Singing Garden in Venice (2011), begin with the little taps and clicks of stones against stones—the very stones one often sees in carefully designed Buddhist meditation gardens. These are the sounds of mystery—the indefinable corollary to the sound of one hand clapping—that begin a work intentionally constructed around the very different sound world of four of Antonio Vivaldi's early concertos for baroque instruments.

The link between styles, forms, composers, and centuries springs from the commissioner, recorder player Jeremias Schwarzer. In this meet-up with the musicians of Holland Baroque, Schwarzer draws upon his dual immersion in early and contemporary music. With over 70 premiere performances to his credit, he first performed Sounds & Clouds in 2015 and '16, and recorded it around the same time.

While Hosokawa's exquisite sounds are as expressive as Vivaldi's, they represent a very different aesthetic. Vivaldi is more literal in his imitations of nature, and constructs clear rhythmic and harmonic patters. Hosokawa is about something else.

As quotes in Albert Edelman's liner notes, Hosokawa says, "Early western and Japanese music seek the same tonal qualities, mild and strong, light and dark, and so it was not difficult to take this step [of intertwining Vivaldi with my own music]. What was clear was that I had to go further than mere arrangement, which, by the way, I enjoy doing, for I learn much from original music. I could not touch Vivaldi's notes, however. And so I entwined elements from his pieces in my prelude, intermezzos and postlude. I dreamed of a spot where the flowers (Vivaldi's concertos) could blossom at their very finest. My work was that of a gardener, the creation of that musical background, as an exercise in ikebana."

Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging, was practiced by Hosokawa's grandfather. As East meets West, the past and present come together in Hosokawa's music.

tonykaz's picture

Somehow, I'd not heard of the Channel Label.

This Album is peacefully stunning, the first 10 seconds going-in sets-up the haunting experience.

This is a "Find"

Now, I'm hunting the entire Channel Catalog.

Thank you,

It's music like this that makes having a nice sound system worthwhile.

Tony in Michigan

ps. they even use AKG 1000 headphones, phew

Glotz's picture

Thanks for the input to further verify SQ and material.

dalethorn's picture

Whatever the recording technique, I like it. It's spacious, yet not distant or overly reverberant. The flutes (recorders?) sound especially alive, with lots of 'air' around them.