I remember my first visit to see Kodo. Their performance was full of energy and beauty, and executed meticulously, even down to the group’s entry onto the stage. All the while, the seriousness of their art and musical abilities was offset by theatrical, often comical, moments that provided the show with a sense of balance.

While composing 100 Demons, I kept this performance by Kodo in mind: recalling the sense of theatre and spectacle, which, rather than detracting from the music, created a holistic experience. To give theatrical movement to my own work and to play up to the satire of its subject, I created an abstraction of traditional Kyogen (comic) theatre and a narrative for the composition, which was routed in folkloric source material.

I based the narrative of the work upon two events from Japanese folklore: the Night Parade of 100 Demons (Hyakki Yagyo, from where my composition takes its name) and the manifestation of Tsukumogami (artefact ghosts). During the performance, we watch an instrument, a cello, spirited away from inanimateness and encouraged into spectral being by the beckoning of a demonic procession, which is formed of fellow artefact ghosts (violins and a viola) and distorted, otherworldly sounds.

  • Hyakki Yagyo: a procession of ghosts and phantoms across Japan that would kill anyone in their path. The parade would kill anyone in their path who did not protect themselves with a magical chant.
  • Tsukumogami: a century-old tool, instrument or inanimate object that has obtained a spirit. Owners would often discard belongings that would soon turn 100 years old in order to prevent the object from becoming enchanted. Objects at 99 years of age would often transfigure themselves early to avoid being thrown away and become angered at their owners, causing mayhem throughout the household.

The distorted sounds of the parade were created from the phonemes of an ancient text that was said to protect anyone unlucky enough to be discovered by the Night Parade. I approached different linguists, both academic and non-academic, with the text, yet no one was able to provide a definitive translation due to the ancient language involved. However, an approximate explanation of the text is that by reading it aloud, one presents oneself as a fellow demon, who is late to the parade due to being too drunk to show up on time. This single statement is a wonderful example of the comical nature that underpins much of the traditional folklore I researched: often implementing comic or satirical gestures to create a sense of balance in works of darker, more malevolent nature.

I recorded the phonemes of the ancient text, both whispered and chanted aloud, at LSO St Luke’s with Manchester Collective. Each member of the string trio had a close microphone in order to capture as little room ambience as possible, ensuring that, when the pre-recorded material was used in concert, the tape had a sense of clarity by not containing additional acoustic information. With this catalogue of recorded phonemes, I was able to create an interplay between the pre-recorded voices and the voices of the live string quartet — blurring or emphasising the distinction between live and pre-recorded sound; between reality and the “other”.

Tickets for the premiere performance of 100 Demons are available from Manchester Collective.

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