Auld Lang Syne
“Though the river's current never fails, the water passing moment by moment is never the same. Where the current pools, bubbles form on the surface, bursting and disappearing as others rise to replace them, none lasting long. In this world, people and their dwelling places are like that, always changing.”
– Kamo no Chōmei (Hōjōki)
“Auld Lang Syne / Hotaru no Hikari”
Play video below for music:
Suggested listening (continued):
(Be sure to read the great story in the video description at the link!)
Originally published on Instagram
January 1, 2023
It's an accident of timing. I hadn’t intended to make two Asia-themed posts in a row. But when I began thinking about doing something for New Year’s, I remembered these pocket watches that I acquired in Japan, and they seemed apt.
The characters on the watches depict the animals of the Chinese zodiac — which is also followed in Japan, but according to the Gregorian calendar rather than the Chinese lunisolar one. The tiger (zodiac animal for 2022) is at two o’clock; 2023 (Year of the Rabbit) is at 3:00.
If you’re wondering why I keep a smashed watch when I have an identical working one, it’s because I collect broken things and restore them. I just haven’t gotten around to this one yet. The wood behind the watches is the top of an antique chest that I rescued from the trash in Tokyo. Like many of my most treasured possessions — not to mention my beloved animal companions and a few good friends — it came into my life after being abandoned.
I scavenged a bunch of discarded musical equipment while in Japan too: a few guitars; an organ; a taishōgoto (a Japanese harp that looks like a cross between a zither and a typewriter); a 4-track recorder; a couple of amps. One day, to test it all, I made a recording of “Auld Lang Syne” — the Scottish folk song traditionally sung at midnight on January 1 in much of the English-speaking world. The glitchy, lo-fi result you’re hearing let me know what needed fixing. My musicianship was beyond repair, and neither the organ nor the 4-track survived surgery, but the amps, the harp and the guitars are golden.
As it happens, the melody of “Auld Lang Syne” is played every night in Japan, where a variation on the song is called “Hotaru no Hikari” (“Light of the Firefly”). It’s piped into shops, restaurants and bars to let customers know when it’s closing time. Online, there’s a video clip of a concert pianist performing the melody impromptu for a Japanese audience unable to quiet its enthusiasm after multiple encores. When the pianist begins, the audience gives a collective laugh — each member knowing that the show is finally over. (You can watch that here.)
Le tigre est mort, vive le lapin!
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