Wabi Sabi

I've been playing piano with the free improvisation group Impulse the past couple of Saturdays. I really love how it makes me listen and, as they put it, compose in real time with a group. We composers often get into composition because of the solitude, but it's been surprisingly refreshing to collaborate with other composers.

One of the pieces we played yesterday was called Wabi Sabi. It's based on the Japanese aesthetic, which according to Wikipedia,  is "centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection." This forms a large part of my own aesthetic though I had not thought of it in Buddhist terms (i.e. impermanence, suffering, and emptiness). Rather, I've thought of it in terms of the absence of symmetry in nature, Roland Barthes's idea of the "grain of the voice", and the Mormon view that all human beings are inherently imperfect though embedded with perfect destinies. In other words, we seem to be able to comprehend perfection, but it never manifests itself in nature (depends, of course, on one's definition of perfection, etc.).

Lately I've been summarizing my personal view on these imperfections as the variables in a piece of music. It's the differences among twenty violinists playing the same piece. Those little bits that make each player distinctive are the most interesting parts to me. I've really started appreciating cover versions of rock songs just because of the differences. It's not that I want to hear mistakes, but I want to work in a moderate level of flexibility into my scores so that each performance will have differences. It's limited indeterminacy, perhaps á la Lutosławski.

Looking forward to reading more about wabi sabi and seeing where it leads me.

©2017 Joshua Harris