Gagaku Culture Critical Intervention Lab

Gagaku (the ceremonial music of the imperial court and the main temples and shrines of Japan) has long being ignored in scholarship on the cultural and intellectual history of Japan. Its archaic nature, together with its association with the imperial court, have contributed to the modern creation of an image of Gagaku as something minor and unrelated to the Japanese people at large and their historical and intellectual developments. However, in the past couple of decades, the number of people (in Japan and abroad) learning Gagaku music and Bugaku dance has grown significantly. Importantly, new scholarship has moved away from traditional musicology (mainly concerned with organology and music theory) toward cultural and intellectual history.

This shift has promoted the study of heretofore ignored materials and has yielded new discoveries. We now begin to see the existence of vast networks of Gagaku performers throughout the Edo period, centered on professional musicians (gakunin) from Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara, connecting the imperial court with the Bakufu, samurai in numerous feudal domains, hundreds of temples and shrines, and even amateur performers in big cities. In the second half of the Edo period, Gagaku became a philosophical and political issue, when intellectuals began to discuss the metaphysical principles of Gagaku music as a key connecting the cosmic order with the political ordering of society. In addition, the imperial court and other agents leveraged Gagaku as “cultural capital” that resulted in increased influence and authority. The cultural capital of Gagaku was based on its special status as “cultural heritage” from a distant past, something that was re-elaborated in the modern era in relation to new discourses about Japanese cultural identity. More recently, composers and performers, in Japan and abroad, have used Gagaku as a source of inspiration for the creation of new music.

This Critical Interventions Lab gathers international scholars and performers engaged in cutting-edge research on the cultural history of Gagaku, with special focus on the Edo period and the modern era. Languages of the presentations and discussions are English and Japanese.

The global pandemic has prevented us from having an in-person event. Instead, we have decided to create an online platform that includes video presentations, texts, videos of performances, and live workshops and discussions, in the hope that this material will become an educational resource to learn about Gagaku in its various aspects. Everyone is invited to join us.

We plan to publish selected papers from the conference in a collective volume edited by Fabio Rambelli.