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Album Review

This work is a type of opera based on the great Noh play Izutsu, written by Zeami in the late 14th century. Ayuo has employed the use of hurdy-gurdy, Celtic harp, something he calls "sitar-guitar," Dharma-vina, and traditional gagaku instruments that come from the royal court music of Japan and Korea. But it is the vocals of Makiko Sakurai that pull these disparate elements into a whole so haunting and beautiful that it feels otherworldly at times. Sakurai hovers and swoops, weeps and cries, and philosophically intones over the proceedings. It doesn't matter that it's in Japanese (there are some translations); the emotions inherent in these pieces are shot through with sincerity and empathy. Each utterance is a vibration against eternal silence while acknowledging its eternal presence. There are places of musical and vocal interplay, such as on the opening chant, which lasts a bit over 12 minutes, or the shimmering, sadly beautiful "Izutsu 4," where double-tracked vocals and a Celtic harp pine to each other in sorrow. It feels more like a prayer than an aria with accompanying chorus, and perhaps it is. Ayuo has written a masterpiece of modern music that, while rooted in a Japan he admits he has never seen but only imagined, is its own country, a territory that unites the mind and the heart in sound, thought, and word. It is absolutely stunning; a classic of new music. (A note to store owners and record buyers: never mind where to classify it, just play it in store and it will sell itself.)


Born: October 19, 1960

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Ayuo is a New York-born Japanese composer. His name, literally translated, means "fish life." With the play as his muse — he has a lifelong obsession with it — Ayuo creates a terrain that doesn't cross all borders so much as create a new terrain upon which the concept of a "borderline" is alien. In his mini-opera Izutsu, traditional folk musics and instruments are given over equally...
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Izutsu, Ayuo
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