Regan specializes in writing music for traditional Japanese instruments for his series, Selected Works for Japanese Instruments. Of the variety of Japanese instruments Regan writes for, perhaps the most prominent voice is that of the koto, a Japanese zither that dates all the way back to the eighth century.
As a string player, an avid music fanatic, and an occasionally picky listener, it’s a constant aspiration of mine to seek out experimental, outside-the-box, less-than-traditional styles, techniques, and timbres of stringed instruments from all around the globe.
But the concept of ‘tradition’ itself is relative to the people who practice it. Music that we consider to be traditional in the United States couldn’t be further from what other cultures call traditional. This isn’t news to Texas composer Marty Regan, who studied at the Tokyo College of Music from 2000 to 2002.
My first exposure to the family of Eastern stringed instruments was through a concert by the group Gorillaz, the cartoon fronted indie hip hop outfit conceived in the early 2000’s by Blur’s Damon Albarn. The first encore of the set was a tune called “Hong Kong”, which featured a Chinese zither called a guzheng. I had never heard anything like it, and I was fascinated by its unique sound.
Seven years later, my initial wonder and curiosity over this Eastern zither came rushing back when I first heard Marty Regan’s Selected Works albums. These pieces were written for a number of different Japanese instruments, including the koto – an ancestor to, but certainly not to be confused with, the Chinese guzheng. Both share similar (but not identical) construction and playing techniques. Sonically, however, the guzheng has a bright, metallic, harp-like sound, while the koto has a more earthy, nylon-string guitar timbre (then of course, there’s the fact that they’re from entirely different countries).
This Tuesday, February 25th, SCATTERING LIGHT, SCATTERING FLOWERS, will be released on PARMA’s Navona label. This third installment of Regan’s Selected Works for Japanese Instruments collection features music written for koto, female voice, shakuhachi, (a type of Japanese flute), and more.