Corporeal Musical Structure: A Gestural-Kinaesthetic Approach to Toru Takemitsu’s Rain Tree Sketch II

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Jocelyn Ho


The music of Toru Takemitsu’s Rain Tree Sketch II (1994) entails a procession of discrete gestures that are delineated by still moments. In its performance, each gesture and in-between stillness is embodied. The performer’s grasp of the piece lies in its physicality of movement: the efforts and directionalities are both heard and felt by the velocities, directions, and intentions of moving body parts. Drawing upon Carrie Noland’s concept of “vitality effects,” I take the performative gesture that encompasses both visually accessible movement and inwardly-felt kinaesthesia as starting point for the analysis of Rain Tree Sketch II. Concepts of “effort” and “shape” taken from Rudolf Laban’s dance theory provide a framework with which to create a methodology of analyzing pianistic gesture and kinaesthesia.


The analysis of Rain Tree Sketch II reveals the co-existence of opposite gestures in an expanded corporeal space, resonating with Takemitsu’s ideal of reconciling contradictory sounds, as noted in his collection of essays, Confronting Silence (1995). His essays also point towards a phenomenological interpretation of the transitory still moments between gestures, where a retentive prolongation and a protentive delaying are embodied in what Laban calls “effort states.” Through this new methodology centering on gestural and kinaesthetic details, the inner workings and structural processes of the piece are manifested in ways that exceed what a traditional score-based analytical approach alone could provide.

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