Noh and Noh Masks

What is Noh?

Noh is Japan's oldest theater form. It flourished in the 14th century, but its origins are rooted in ancient times. Whereas kabuki and bunraku were for the common people, Noh was for members of the warrior or samurai class.

Noh is a lyric dance-drama performed on a special stage to the accompaniment of music. Dramatic elements are few: the principal characters wear masks and the dance-movements are performed slowly. The Noh singing, called yokyoku, is also practiced as an independent art.
There exist about 250 Noh plays, which are grouped roughly into five elemental classifications according to subject matter. These five classifications are shin (God), nan (man), nyo (woman), kyo (madness), and ki (demon). The concepts of most of the plays show Buddhist influences.


What is a Noh mask?

The masks worn by the actors are not limited to any one specific role, but are used for various roles in different plays. Though lacking individual expression, the Noh masks' profoundness lies in its sublimation of reality. It combines the symbolic movements of the actor in Noh costumes with the monotonic music to display a unique artistic beauty that make for the profoundness of the Noh experience.

Masks are an integral part of the character's role in Noh drama. An outstanding feature of Noh masks is that they convey emotions. Feelings of joy and anger, humor and pathos, are expressed by a slight change in the angle of the mask when worn, by the reflection of light, utai (dramatic chant) and hayashi (the accompaniment of drums and flutes), and the subtle combination of all of there factors. The mask can relay sudden violent emotions, and at other times subtle ones. Although the Noh mask seems expressionless at first glance, it actually has great potential to convey a limitless number of facial expressions.
Today, there are more than 200 kinds of Noh masks, most of which are made of hinoki (Japanese cypress).


What does it have to do with a record label and Spaceship Eyes' music?

We don't Noh ;)

But seriously, Jimmy Possesion, Head of Music at Cambridge (UK) University Radio, thinks he does:
"Japanese Noh plays evolved out of Shinto rites around 600 years ago. They consist of an all-male cast divided into players (the principals) and the chorus who narrate and sometimes even chant the lines of the main characters while they're dancing.
Lecture over, but keep the division between major and minor characters in mind as it applies equally well to the music of Spaceship Eyes..."  (March 9, 1998)


What do the first five Noh masks on the left represent?

From the top:

kyogen (comical spirit)
nomen (evil spirit)
okina (wise old man)
alien dude (?)




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