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This passage in Ichiyanagi Toshi’s 1963 piece “Contemporary Music and Performance” struck me as particularly interesting: “In contrast to performance conventions of the past, which allowed for emotion and sensitivity, the new music demanded performances founded on rigid logic. But, content with the style of the past, performers did not actively attempt to make this new music their own. They approached it with the reproductive spirit that was rooted in retrogressive classical and romantic music. Thus, performance succumbed to mannerism.” I am particularly fascinated by Ichiyanagi’s pejorative invocation of the term “mannerism” here. This word seems to crop up with increasing frequency in Japanese artistic discourse throughout the 1960s, used in a much broader way than its original art-history denotation would allow. Here, Ichiyanagi uses the term to describe the gap between compositional style and performance style: whereas today’s compositions “demanded performances founded on rigid logic,” performers were still functioning within the framework of an outmoded tradition of Romantic “reproductive music.” What results, according to Ichiyanagi, is little more than trivial ornament. And what is instead desired, he argues, is a “new type of performance” in which “performers are liberated from their subsidiary role of the past.”
Ichiyanagi thus places the blame squarely on the performers—not the composers—and finds fault with the tendency toward “mannerism” that the performers’ adherence to obsolescent performance styles effects. In other words, he is calling for greater unity between composer and performer, and for a heightened veracity in the performance itself—performance not merely as “reproduction” according to a script, but performance as a time and space for the performer to experiment and create on his or her own terms. This line of thought, and the ideology behind it that privileges authenticity and spontaneity over artifice, is interesting when seen through the lens of other artistic trends that would arise slightly later in the 1960s—namely a renewed interest in Mannerism and Rococo excess, in all manner of Grotesques and Arabesques, as it were, that culminated, I think, in a sort of “new 1960s Gothic” by the end of the decade. Shibusawa Tatsuhiko is a central figure here, but other literary figures like Kurahashi Yumiko, the critic Tanemura Suehiro, and even Mishima Yukio played a part in the cultivation of this pro-Mannerism aesthetic. Ōbayashi Nobuhiko’s film Emotion, in terms of both theme and compositional form, could be seen as fitting into this larger trend as well.
This leaves me with some questions: how do we reconcile these two aspects of 1960s artistic expression? Was the “rediscovery” of Mannerism by Shibusawa and others largely unrelated to experiments happening in avant-garde artistic circles, or was it a more direct response to the sort of aesthetic that Ichiyanagi and others affiliated with Sōgetsu worked to create?
This passage in Ichiyanagi Toshi’s 1963 piece “Contemporary Music and Performance” struck me as particularly interesting: “In contrast to performance conventions of the past, which allowed for emotion and sensitivity, the new music demanded...