The Haiku

In the autumn of 2013 I had the opportunity to spend 8 weeks in Japan thanks to a scholarship from The Scholarship Foundation for Studies of Japanese Society. My purpose was to listen and learn as much as possible about the Japanese traditional music, of which I before the trip knew very little.

One idea that came during this trip was “Haiku music”. Haiku is a Japanese form of short poetry which has been spread across the world. Since my knowledge about the Japanese language is limited to a couple of greetings, ordering coffee, numbers and animals what I know about haiku comes from reading in English. There is a difference in how Haiku is structured in Japanese compared to the European languages so one could say that this is an adaptation of an adaptation.

From what I understand traditional haikus consist of 17 syllables in three phrases (5, 7, 5) and this is what caught my attention. A haiku usually contains a reference to a season (words like blossom, waterfall, cicada, cold) What attracted me about these poems is that they paint a very vivid picture using the minimal amount of words. One of the most famous Japanese haikus is Basho’s “Old pond”:

old pond . . .
a frog leaps in
water’s sound

However in the translation the structure of 5, 7, 5 is lost.

The idea behind translating the haiku structure into music was to experiment with doing very short melodic compositions that can be played just as they are or serve as a base for improvisation. My adaptation of the form is:

* Using 17 in three phrases (5 ,7, 5)
* Based on a single scale/mode.
* End on a chord (seasonal word)
* The starting note of a phrase can’t be the same as the ending note of the phrase before.