Noh as Intermedia Interactive Multi-Scale, Multimedia Analyses of Full-Length Noh Theater Performances

1. Abstract

The Noh as Intermedia project uses web-based technologies for interactive annotation and visualization of performing arts materials to investigate and present how Japanese Noh theater exemplifies intermedia. “Intermedia” here is defined as a way of forming expression that draws on relationships between art forms (literature, vocal and instrumental music, stage movement, dance, masks, costumes, and props, in the case of Noh) and their cumulative impact.

To untangle some of the unique “coming together” of artistic media in Noh, the project site builds a multi-scale, “thick” analysis around high-resolution video recordings of live performances of two exemplary and contrasting Noh plays, Hashitomi and Kokaji, which were both likely written in the late 14th century CE. The examination moves from high-level essays describing the genre and history of Noh and the two plays to a middle-level set of interactive catalogs, descriptions, and image, video and audio examples presenting the varied and often highly systematized media elements that comprise a Noh performance. These include theatrical and dramatic forms at the macro and meso scales, poetic modes of declamation and singing, dance patterns and other gestures, instruments, rhythmic and melodic modes and musical forms, as well as costumes, masks, stage positioning and props.

Fig. 1: A faceted catalog of sh?dan (formal sections of a play)

At the most finely detailed level, the project provides a novel playback and annotation environment that is synchronized at subsecond-level granularity with the streaming video playback, combining plot synopses, visualizations of formal sections, and synchronized libretto translations with a multilayered, multimedia score that encodes every sung or spoken word, musical element, and stage action. This score thus represents, for a specific performance, even the components of a play that are not traditionally notated, such as elements of the musical accompaniment. In an analogous manner, this entire mode of presentation has the effect of exposing, in an immediately engaging and comprehensible way, the myriad subtle details of a Noh performance whose interplay across media types lends the performances their extraordinary richness, yet which would otherwise likely go unremarked by those who are not already experts in the genre.

Fig. 2: The interactive playback environment, with synchronized score, text, formal map and description

The site also engages with the tensions between providing interactive, multimedia visualization and annotation features that are highly tailored to a specific performance genre (Noh, in this case) versus having the flexibility to accommodate other genres and art forms within the same framework. In our project, we found that favoring the specific over the general provided the greatest degree of interpretive insight, but it consequently required a greater effort to integrate other genres, particularly if these other forms are to be presented at equivalent levels of coherence and clarity.


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Takanori Fujita (, Kyoto City University of Arts, Japan, Jaroslaw Kapuscinski (, Stanford University, United States of America, François Rose (, Stanford University, United States of America, Scott Bailey (, Stanford University, United States of America, Peter Broadwell , Stanford University, United States of America, Simon Wiles , Stanford University, United States of America and Glen Worthey , Stanford University, United States of America

Theme: Lux by Bootswatch.