Friday, October 4, 2013

Stomu Yamash'ta: Henze/Takemitsu/Davies - Prison Song/Seasons/Turris Campanarum Sonantium (Éditions de l'Oiseau-Lyre, 1972

Stomu Yamash'ta is a Japanese composer, percussionist and keyboardist. He is best known for his acrobatic and innovative playing techniques and for combining world music with pop and jazz in his fusion super group Go which featured notable musicians such as Steve Winwood, Al Di Meola and Klaus Schulze. Before all that though, Yamash'ta was known in classical circles as a percussion virtuoso. He had been the tympanist to the Kyoto and Osaka Philharmonic Orchestras at only fourteen years of age and made his concert debut in 1969 at only sixteen. Six years later, Yamash'ta attained worldwide recognition after receiving a standing ovation for his performance with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Seiji Ozawa in Hewell Tircuit's Concerto for Solo Percussionist and Orchestra. He is heard on this album performing Hans Werner Henze's Prison Song, Toru Takemitsu's Seasons, and Peter Maxwell Davies' Turris Campanarum Sonantium. Henze wrote Prison Song specifically for Yamash'ta. The piece incorporates prerecorded tape that represents sounds heard outside a prison cell. The player (Yamash'ta) represents the prisoner who is conjuring sounds from anything found inside his cell to match it to those heard beyond. Takemitsu wrote two different versions of Seasons, one for four performers and one for a solo performer. The instruments heard here were crafted by gifted instrument sculptors Francois and Bernard Baschet. All are made of metal save for the "trombone" which is made of glass. The solo performer responds to sounds on a tape prerecorded by Takemitsu himself which represents ones reaction to the subtle changes of the seasons in Japan. Taken from the inner notes:

          "Turris Campanarum Sonantium (Bell-Tower) was written for S. Yamash'ta in December 1970 and is played entirely on bells and metal surfaces. The performer enters the playing area very slowly, sounding a tiny Indian bell, or a set of jingles. Section I: He moves, again very slowly, along a "course" of eight large handbells placed in his path, sounding these in the traditional manner as he moves towards the playing position for Section II (Incipit Stedman Doubles). The player faces a set permutation of five numbers, each number representing a pitch, which should be sounded over a "drone". This is played on six cup-shaped Japanese temple gongs (kim), the largest of which is sounded throughout by rubbing around the rim with a leather-covered mallet. The gongs are placed on pedal tympani, which, when the pedals are worked varies the pitch level sounding. The tempo is lento, the dynamic, piano. Section III (Incipit Double Bob) for eight handbells, suspended, to be struck with two beaters. This touch starts at a low speed and dynamic; gradually a climax is reached by adding other metal surfaces (gongs, cymbals, etc.). The "drone" here, chosen by Yamash'ta, consists of a tape of Japanese Buddhist monks, chanting. Section IV uses the "set" tempo and dynamic of Section II, but now played on steel (Trinidad) drums and resonating cylinders. At the conclusion, the player leaves the playing area again sounding the small bell of jingles with which he entered."

This is one of my personal favorite percussion records. I hope you enjoy it.


  1. Yes, a wonderful date from a highly productive period of the career of the now-largely-forgotten Yamash'ta, an early instance of cross-over internationalist trans-avant-gardism whilst Bill Laswell was still on the potty. Listening to the Maxwell-Davies piece in a quiet holiday cottage, with its muttered chants amid the sonorous glass beatings, is a memory I treasure.

  2. Yes, he is something else. When i was a teenager I istened a lot to his record "wind words", then I was captired by "", which is a masterpiece both lyrically and musically. I was in Japan, i would like to meet the guy. He is a Buddhist priest. Makes interesting music with Lava stones