Kintsugi


“Kintsugi” is the Japanese practice of repairing broken porcelain and ceramics with gold. It is often referred to as “the art of precious scars,” and it literally means “to repair with gold.” This comes as no surprise since Japanese aesthetic values marks of wear on used objects. For the Japanese, these marks become a part of both the object’s past and present, turning the practice of kintsugi into a statement of acceptance and non-attachment to the past; it is a gesture of adaptation to change. Such repair practices are related to the philosophy of “wabi-sabi” which embraces the flawed or imperfect. Indeed, kintsugi highlights the cracks and repairs with gold, turning them into beautiful events in the object’s life. In other words, kitsugi is a projection of human resilience on the material world. The object can continue serving its purpose, beautifully and bravely redefined after damage or breakage.

In my work, the fragmented musical “object” is J.S. Bach’s famous Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor BWV 582 for organ, which has been arranged for orchestra by a number of great conductors, choreographed by Roland Petit (“Le Jeune Homme et La Mort”) and was even used in the dark baptism sequence of the Godfather (1972). The piece begins with the Passacaglia ostinato theme, which, however, sounds somewhat “broken” and “glued” back together. In particular, the lower saxophones are just microtones apart, which results in beatings that sound like dissonant interruptions between pitches that are almost in unison (due to the closeness of frequencies). Just like baroque passacaglias, my work is in a triple meter, the low ostinato is present throughout the whole piece, and a number of variations unfold above it. I have also borrowed a number of melodic lines from the original Passacaglia molded into an environment of new harmonies and contemporary rhythms, expressive effects, extended playing techniques, and more, thus creating a new, “re-composed” musical entity, which embraces many parts of the older piece.

Kintsugi pivots from the unfamiliar to the familiar, and invites the listener to hear the tormenting process of incorporating existing musical fragments into the new. Catharsis comes in the end, when the efforts of redefining and “gluing” the musical object back together culminate in the familiar sound of the Bach Passacaglia opening passage. Nevertheless, the piece is bound to never sound the same again, as the listener will have experienced the challenging process of change.