Composer Kitaro gaining attention in US. Japan's leading New Age artist says music should `set one free'

At the first full moon in August each year, he goes to the foot of Mt. Fuji in his native Japan and performs a drum ceremony that lasts 11 hours. Though he's now known as a synthesist and composer, he was part of a high school band that played American rhythm-and-blues and tunes by the Beatles. Besides being a musician, he's also a licensed fireworks expert who is fascinated with the process of creating light. But he says he enjoys the ritual of preparing the explosives even more than the displays they produce.

His name is Kitaro, and he's Japan's leading proponent of ``New Age'' music. A slight man with waist-length hair and a flowing beard, Kitaro might appear to be a recluse or a mystic, rather than a popular recording artist.

Though he prefers living in the country north of Tokyo to the city itself, he's actually a world traveler who loves people and enjoys being on the road.

``I am happy wherever I am,'' Kitaro tells a Monitor interviewer on a recent stopover in New York. Speaking through a translator, he adds, ``I am very happy just being. It's like thanksgiving to God.''

Kitaro's music, with its mellow sounds built from repeating patterns and simple chords and melodies, resembles New Age music from the United States and Europe.

His recordings are already popular in Japan, and now they're attracting attention in the US. Kitaro feels that the kind of music he composes has become popular because it reflects the attitudes of people today and responds to their needs.

``Early in my career I came to the conclusion that music was something that should make people relax, put them in a peaceful state of mind,'' he says.

``My outlook on life has influenced my music. I study philosophy, and I feel a responsibility to create music which has a good influence on society.'' Regarding New Age music, he comments, ``I would hope this music would ... help people become one with their environment and have some relevance to what is going on around them.

``In everyday life, there are sounds which are disruptful, discordant, and a lot of music has those sounds. A composer should be aware of this when he is writing music. Music ought to be challenging, stimulating on many different levels, but it's not enough just to be those things. Music should help set one free.''

Kitaro has been composing in his current style for about 10 years. He says he builds each new composition from the foundations laid in the previous ones.

He likes to think his music can unite people, and one of his dreams is that others will take part in the drum ceremony he performs each year. Already some others are doing that in various parts of Japan.

``The drum ceremony means `thank you,''' he says.

Kitaro plans to make his first world tour this August.

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