Aaaa, iii, eee

From Kikkawa Eishi 吉川英史's "Katarimono" ni tsuite (<語りもの>について, "About 'katarimono'"), in Nihon ongaku no nagare (日本音楽の流れ, "The flow of Japanese music"), ed. Yamagawa Naoharu 山川直治), translation mine:

When "talking" (kataru), performers communicate events and circumstances in a way that the listener can understand. Their words, therefore, must be understood clearly. As a result, prolonging or freely raising and lowering the pitch of the sounds in the words tends to be avoided. If a performer does want to prolong a sound, they will prolong one that does not carry much meaning. For example, the last sound in a phrase, or particles or verb endings. [...]

The aim of "singing" (utau), on the other hand, is to express emotions, not events and circumstances. There need not necessarily be a listener, and it does not matter of the lyrics are not understood. As a result, words can be freely prolonged, advanced vocal techniques used to raise and lower their pitch, and rhythm of the words can be refashioned into a musical rhythm. This is why even though mikagura, saibara, and folk oiwake are sung in Japanese, they are completely incomprehensible, and sound like long vowel practice: "Aaaa, iiii, eeee."

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Music, poetry, song, and speech can get blurry in other cultures… According to Tim Ingold (citing Havelock's reading of Plato), the Greeks thought of music (mousikê) as primarily words, with melody and rhythm as secondary ornaments to words. So that Aristotle's pupil, Aristoxenus of Tarentumi, could brag of being the first philosopher to distinguish speech from song, as a matter of whether the pitch levels are sustained or not:

> We say that continuous movement is the movement of speech, for when we are conversing the voice moves with respect to place in such a way that it never seems to stand still. In the other form, which we call intervallic, its nature is to move in the opposite way; for it does seem to stand still, and everyone says that the person who appears to be doing this is no longer speaking, but singing.

The "vowel practice" reminded me of this quote :)

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