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Reviewed by:
  • Island Dreams: Songs and Lullabies Carried on the Wind
  • Paul Humphreys (bio)
Island Dreams: Songs and Lullabies Carried on the Wind. Performed by Dragonfly. (Renton, WA: Koto World. 2004)

My expectation, upon having been invited to review this engaging CD, was that I would be challenged to remain awake and aware. The stated purpose of the music is, after all, to dispatch listeners to the Land of Nod. Indeed, it seems serendipitously fitting that the musical traditions that meet in this collaboration are of circum- Pacificorigin. Notwithstanding these indicators, the music offered provides ample interest and incentive to linger awake awhile before dreaming. As suggested by the title, four island cultures are represented: Okinawa, Japan (Honshu), Hawai'i, and Tahiti. Although most selections are attributed to a single cultural origin, the three members of Dragonfly—Aiko Shimada (vocals and guitars), Elizabeth Falconer ( koto), and Mako ( sanshin, rokushin, vocals, and ukelele)—create a kind of intercultural string band music with singing that effectively combines corresponding vocal repertoires.

Five of the CD's thirteen songs are of Okinawan provenance. "Tinsagu nu Hana" (track 1: "Balsam Flowers"), a traditional lullaby, is sung to the accompaniment of distinct melody and bass lines that provide a unifying accompaniment for alternation between Okinawan Japanese and English texts. The vocalists make effective use of falsetto and discretely voiced guttural inflections, the latter of which are a signature characteristic of folk song traditions in both Okinawa and Japan. In "Tsuki nu Kaisha" (track 5: "Ocean Moon"), the Okinawan sanshin(3-string lute) is prominent, emphasizing the sawarior drone string timbre and a characteristic rhythmic accompaniment. Koto harmonics—which sound particularly bell-like by virtue of sparse and irregular placement—and electronic processing of additional acoustic sources effectively evoke the soundscape of a moonlit sea. "Akata Sundunchi" (track 10: "My Heart, My Home") also makes effective use of sanshin-accompanied voice with kotoembellishments of the principal melodic line. A persistent four-tone melodic figure imparts a trancelike beauty to this song.

The work of two living composers is included as evidence of a vigorous contemporary music culture in Okinawa. In Kazuya Sahara's "Waragai Gami" (track 4: "Blessings from Heaven"), sanshinprovides a brief introduction, and then continues to trace the vocal line in a manner consistent with traditional performance practice. Kotoprovides yet another interpretation of the principal melody sounded in harmonics. Guitar plays a clearly distinct bass line but [End Page 145]avoids intruding upon the delicate filigree of upper voices by sounding a single chord throughout. Fukuhara Tsuneo's "Hatachi Miyarabi" (track 12: "Youthful Beauty") stands out in this collection for the prominence of traditional elements including the five-tone, hemi-tonic Okinawan scale, and unmetered solo voice. During the balance of the song—an unmistakable highlight of this collection—attractive embellishments on phrase-final pitches evidence the beauty and precision of Mako's singing.

Two items draw from Japanese min'yotraditions (this term dates from the Meiji era in which the notion of "folk music" was appropriated from Europe by Japanese scholars). "Tanabata no Uta" (track 6: "Song of the Star Festival") recalls the synthesis of European and Japanese music effected by Michio Miyagi in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (Compare, for example, his widely performed tone poem for kotoand shakuhachi, "Haru no Umi.") Kotois engagingly active here, first sounding a brief introduction that recalls European impressionism, and then alternately providing arpeggiated tertian chords or distinct countermelody in accompaniment of the voice. By contrast, "Kojo no Tsuki" (track 11: "Moonlit Castle Reflections") seems overburdened with textural and melodic detail.

In "Mahalo" (track 3: "Welcome"), the single song offered from Tahiti, the overdubbing of a single voice creates an inviting and heterophonically enriched vocal timbre. Also lovely is the subtle blending of ukelele and koto, the latter of which is barely noticeable but for spare melodic embellishments during the interlude. Three settings with prominent guitar accompaniment feature two traditional songs from Hawai'i and one by Hawai'ian composer and slack-key guitarist, Charles Brotman. These serve primarily as interludes that also contribute a pleasant variety to the collection. In "Dreaming" (track 13), Elizabeth Falconer is...


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