Kishoutenketsu Parallels in Music

I’ve written before about the close relationship between kishoutenketsu and music, and wanted to share this video of the amazingly talented Jacob Collier explaining the concept of harmony to five different people, each time in an increasing level of complexity.

(Side note 1: Jacob does a wonderful job explaining in not only this video, but other interviews as well, by giving context, finding common ground and expanding the concept/answer in a new way – perhaps kishoutenketsu is something he’s studied as well, or at least come to him through music?)

In the video, which I recommend in its entirety, Jacob even uses the word “narrative” at 2:25:

My job as a “harmonizer” is to find that narrative and make it make sense

(Side note 2: Isn’t “harmonizer” an intriguing title for a musician? I feel like that could easily be used by writers as well.)

The context of the above quote is a demonstration of injecting surprise, which felt like how “ten” functions in kishoutenketsu. At 1:58 in the video, Jacob plays “Amazing Grace” and adds a chord that seems to come out of nowhere. “My job,” he explains, “is to get back home but [also] to make this chord make sense.” This is probably one of the best explanations of “ten” I’ve heard – ironic that it’s not even in a literary sense!

Though the video is about music, the whole video is relevant to writing – in fact, the video itself can be seen as an example of kishoutenketsu:

  • Ki: The video begins with Jacob explaining harmony in a simple way to the child
  • Shou: Jacob continues expanding on harmony and melody, and also the idea of adding notes with the teenager and college student
  • Ten: Everything suddenly gets turned around with the professional pianist. Here, Jacob calls out the idea of “adding notes” and turns it around by introducing the idea of “rearranging” (note that it wasn’t the opposite “subtraction”).
  • Ketsu: Jacob and Herbie expand things even further, seemingly more simple, as they talk about discarding rules, yet deeply complex

For me personally, I felt frustrated not being able to find a parallel writing concept to Jacob and Herbie’s discussion of a non-dominant chord functioning as a dominant chord – but I think that’s simply a sign that I still have much to learn in terms of being a “harmonizer” and “arranger” of words.

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