Niles Rudd on Hiroshige’s Composition

Meet Brooklyn Museum Composer-in-Residence Niles Luther and learn about his project in response to Utakawa Hiroshige One hundred famous sights of Edo.

Niles Luther, composer-in-residence at the Brooklyn Museum, learned while training as a classical cellist that technique is in the service of story. Ideally, it tells many stories, including the story of the music, its cultural context, the ensemble that gave life to the music, and the story of the composers whose music rang out.

This concept now informs Rudd’s practice of creating “art music”—music that responds to the work of visual artists. This approach is rooted in his work with Kehinde Wiley, including a major performance at the Brooklyn Museum.

To coincide with our new exhibition Hiroshige’s 100 Views of Edo (Takashi Murakami)Luther wrote the piece in response to three prints by Japanese artist Utagawa Hiroshige: Chiyoike, Meguro District; Kinryuzanji Temple, Asakusa; and On New Year’s Eve, the fox fire changes in the Prince’s tree. The recordings feature an ensemble of musicians playing violin, viola, koto, shakuhachi and traditional Japanese percussion, with Luther playing cello.

To listen to these works, download the free Bloomberg Connects app and navigate to the Brooklyn Museum’s digital guide. Come to the museum and enjoy the music while viewing the prints with your own eyes. Hiroshige’s 100 Views of Edo (Takashi Murakami) It will be on display from April 5 to August 4, 2024.

Below, hear Luther describe his creative process and view snapshots documenting the creation of the piece, including recording sessions at Elmwood Road Studios in South Salem, New York.


My name is Niles Rudd, and I’m the Brooklyn Museum’s Composer-in-Residence.

I’ve been a cellist all my life and it always started out very classically – learning the technique, learning the importance of technique, learning the rules of how to physically touch the instrument and then express something with it.

My first teacher, his name was Ole Akahoshi, he was a cello professor at the Yale School of Music, and I studied privately. His approach, unlike most, always revolved around the idea of ​​expressive technique – the notion that the technique of the instrument should serve the expression, and that if you had nothing to say, the bow should never touch the strings. .

In my sessions with him, there was always a focus on the fact that there is something in your mind, deep in your heart, that you long to express. If you don’t have that feeling of longing and desperation, and you don’t have an inner voice, then you shouldn’t say anything. So from a very early age, I was already focused on how to share a story, how to share a voice. What is my voice? What is my identity? How can I integrate them into my music so that they can never be separated – my voice, and my music, always connected?

If I could try to translate the medium I see in front of me into music, how would that add to the conversation?

This is what permeated my thinking and background as I was growing up. Then one day I was called to do a show. That was 2015, when I was 17 years old. I’d never really done a big show in New York. I was living in Connecticut at the time. But a music contractor in the city called me and he told me, “Oh, Niles, we have this extraordinary show. It’s at the Brooklyn Museum. It’s the opening of a retrospective.” new republic”.

At that time, I had no idea who Kehinde Wiley was, and I knew nothing about art, especially contemporary art. But I grew up visiting museums and was always drawn to the visual representation of my creativity in trying to express myself. I just haven’t been exposed to anything on that level yet. So, when I got to this opening, I saw what was going on, I saw the people walking through the Brooklyn Museum, I saw the works hanging on the walls, I was overwhelmed in the best way. I said to myself, “This is the environment I want to spend the rest of my life in.” The people there, the work Kehinde was creating, I felt represented part of my inner voice, which was what my teacher Ole told me in The sound you need to develop before you string your bow. This really opened my eyes.

Fast forward a few years. Now in 2019, Kehinde is exploring the art film genre. I recorded his previous film score and casually mentioned, “I don’t think the music you’re writing accurately translates your visual aesthetic into music. I think there’s an opportunity here to capture the narrative you’re developing and put it to music.” ization. That offhand comment became, “Niles, you’re going to score my next movie. ”

Really, when I started shooting the film and scoring it, I realized that this is where I wanted to express myself. It was a platform that I could use, create, find a way to not only express myself, my personal attempt to revive the classics, but to find and identify my own voice through the process of revival.

One concept that really appealed to me was the idea of ​​ekphrasis. It has its roots in the Greek tradition of transliterating visual narratives into language. So, there is a poem about Mona Lisa This is an example of ekphrasis. The basic idea of ​​this genre I call “art music” is to replace language (written or spoken) with the language of music.

So musical phrases. So the question becomes, okay, if I could try to translate the media I see in front of me into something musical, how would that add to the conversation? I’m not just trying to be completely honest or true to the object as I see it, since I’m not the original creator of the artwork. Therefore, it is never possible to perfectly translate visuals into music. It’s more about reacting to the visual, trying to have a dialogue with the visual, using my personal experience and the tools that I have at my disposal, which is the cello and the classical music tradition, to start a new conversation and offer a new dialogue. Perhaps for the first time, different viewers can find their way into the artwork from different angles.

Niles Rudd is the Brooklyn Museum’s first composer-in-residence. (Photo: Kenneth Soucy)

When I first saw Utagawa Hiroshige’s prints and considered composing music for them, I felt uncomfortable. I felt a little scared because I don’t know much about Japanese culture. I was drawn to these prints from an aesthetic and narrative perspective, looking at the objects in isolation and seeing incredible masterpieces.

It’s very obvious, but what’s not obvious is how I’m going to relate to them. This is a gap in my knowledge that I think is worthy of further breakthrough and exploration. This tension keeps me energized and gets me interested in something if it’s outside of my comfort and ability.

So it became very obvious what I had to do, which was to invest heavily in educating myself about this tradition, this culture, the work of this period, and the musical traditions that were prevalent in Edo period Japan: the instruments, the timbres of the instruments , playing techniques, scales and modes, and general ways of approaching music. Because this was such an alien concept to me, that was what kept me going, like, how can I learn as much as I can about this practice and then incorporate it into my own practice in an honest way?

There are some philosophical elements related to Japanese tradition that help me. For example, this concept is called Well, which has to do with negative space in music and thought. Thus, in Buddhist temples, ma represents the space surrounding objects in the garden. And the subject should be surrounded by negative space so that the subject can be fully appreciated. I feel like this is in stark contrast to the Western tradition of nurturing a subject, which is to surround it with supportive elements to enhance it, rather than this concept of negative space as it translates to silence. For Westerners, themes often feel uncomfortable if they lack deep harmonic or rhythmic support.

So I already feel like it’s a challenge for me to reduce some of the elements in these pieces because then all the attention is focused on one line or one idea. Then the line or idea must contain all the nuance and depth it is trying to express. This is a major challenge.

On March 13, 2024, Yumi Kurosawa played the guzheng in the recording.

Also, learning how to write for the traditional instruments I want to play, such as the guzheng. Learn how many strings a koto has (from 13 all the way up to 25) and the use of a shakuhachi (which, unlike a piano, has a different weight for each note in the 12-note scale); as well as traditional Japanese percussion, taiko drums and wind chimes , a wind chime is a bell that sways in the wind, which you might find in a Buddhist temple. So it was a challenge to find a way to use these instruments in a Western representation, which inherently doesn’t support them.

My method of overcoming these challenges manifests itself in conducting workshops with musicians, talking to them, going to their apartments, going to their places, seeing these master players playing their instruments, and having conversations. What is possible? What is impossible? Okay, we’ve established what’s possible—now, what’s artistically good? How would you explain this? How do you improvise? [while] Looking at this print? They had to play violin, viola and cello. And my writing is very Western, obviously from the Western European classical tradition. Therefore, it was a challenge to find a way to combine these two seemingly opposing traditions. But I found that we were able to ask that question through dialogue, back and forth, and letting these traditional Japanese instrumentalists find their own path through the written piece and add their own interpretations to the score.

The program is performed by Corinne Au, violin; Yumi Oshima, viola; Niels Rudd, cello; Yumi Kurosawa, guzheng; Kojiro Umezaki, shakuhachi; Fumi Tanakadate, percussion; Corinne Siegel, Executive producer; Jarvis Benson, session producer; Wondersmith Entertainment, contractor; Silas Brown, audio engineer; and editorial engineer Ian Streidter.

Corinne Segal is a senior digital producer at the Brooklyn Museum.

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