Monday, 4 May 2020

Explore the Ma between and around things

Toru Takemitsu was always in demand as a film composer. Directors valued the way he made the atmosphere of a scene, particularly the feelings and tensions filling the silences within a scene, tangible.

As part of his preparation for writing a film score, Takemitsu would visit a film's location, walk around the sets, handle the props and mingle with the actors. He did this to "breath in the atmosphere" of the film and begin appreciating the director's intentions as they slowly manifested within the film's space and time.

His approach to creating film scores was highly effective: he wrote over ninety film scores and won numerous film music awards. He was particularly good at bringing out the atmosphere, tensions and emotions pervading a silent or quiet scene without adding a single note of music to it. Instead, he would write music immediately before and after the scene that would serve to highlight (through dramatic offsetting) the quality of a silence or quietness.

Takemitsu did the above because of his belief in the Japanese concept of Ma: the belief that the space between and around things is an emptiness full of possibilities, be this appreciating the silent breeze between trees, or reflecting upon the feelings, tensions, unspoken intentions and conflicts swirling within and around events.

For Takemitsu, creating film scores was about focusing upon the Ma of a scene (a scene's invisible atmosphere) and giving its possibilities a form that could be heard and appreciated. He did not seek to create something that, from his point of view, did not exist within the Ma of the scene: he sought to define what was unseen and unheard but possibly present.

Given the above, it is not surprising that Takemitsu's services as a film composer were much sought after by film directors.

The concept of Ma, the idea that the space between things is an emptiness full of possibilities, influenced not only Takemitsu's film music but also his many other works. As you listen to his music, you sense that its silence is at least as significant as its sound: sounds emerge from silence and seep and creep back into it; bright climaxes cast light upon following silence, revealing what is moving within it.  

And the concept of Ma influenced not only Takemitu's music but also his overall approach to life. When one reads his and others' descriptions of his life and experiences, it becomes clear that perceiving space as full of possibilities encouraged Takemitsu to do the following:
  • Collaborate rather than work individually. By working closely with others, he increased his ability to sense and define the Ma (the unspoken thoughts and unseen feelings and intentions) surrounding his collaborators' words and actions.
  • Seek to define what was unseen within a situation or space (e.g., the feel of a situation or the feelings permeating the space between and around a group of people) rather than fill a situation or space with his own preconceptions and ideas. By doing this, Takemitsu increased his ability to gain interesting and surprising insights both from his surroundings and from the people with whom he mixed and associated.
  • Wait for and then encourage something to emerge rather than force something to take a shape. By waiting for and noticing what might emerge and coaxing it into a recognisable form, Takemitsu again increased his ability to gain insights that others might miss. He also enhanced his ability to collaborate by giving himself the time to recognise and appreciate the emotions, understandings, assumptions, tensions and conflicts, etc., implicit within situations and between individuals.
  • Appreciate and accept the things he discovered (e.g., traditional music, local customs and practices, others' ideas and opinions, etc.) for what they were, on their own terms, rather than assimilate them into his existing thinking and approaches. By doing this, Takemitsu gained the ability to notice the entire nature of things: to see aspects essential to their uniqueness (e.g., their significance at a specific moment in time to people from a specific culture) that would otherwise be overlaid and obscured by his own experiences, expertise and preferences. This helped him internalise the often ephemeral, almost invisible, uniqueness of things and consequently perceive and adopt new ways of thinking and doing; he avoided merely integrating readily tangible and functional components of things (e.g., techniques, styles and forms) into his existing ways of thinking and doing.
  • Dialogue rather than debate. By seeking to explore and understand differing perspectives and ideas and holding them beside each other in his mind, Takemitsu allowed them to shed new light on each other: new light that revealed new shades of insight within the space between them; he had gained the ability to combine insights and form new and novel understandings and meanings.
Be like Takemitsu: collaborate with others and explore the feelings and intentions, etc., that surround words and actions; seek to define what is present but unseen within a situation; wait for and encourage things to emerge; appreciate and accept the things you discover for what they are, on their own terms; dialogue rather than debate.

Explore the Ma between and around things to discover new perspectives, insights and ideas.

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