Finding healing and rebirth through music

kintsugi’s debut, life in death, was composed, played and produced by Stephan and Kessiah Gordon as a tribute to their mother, Ayako Yoshikawa, who recently passed away. The music is instrumental and unfolds like a suite, starting with “Let Me Show You,” a sweep of rippling guitars that suggests Japan and West Africa in its stirring rhythms. The following compositions are slower, more sorrowful pieces. They explore the geography of loss and grief, with open hearts and eyes focused on a more positive future.

“Our mother was an artist at her core,” Stephan said. “I think all people are creative, but the world inhibits our inner artist’s ability to flourish. Our creativity often gets pushed down into our deeper selves. My mother found ways to build a path that included artistic expression in all aspects of life, be it arranging flowers, making food or writing. She instilled in us the desire to delve into our musical and artistic impulses and use them to discover our internal and external landscape. Our parents celebrated our explorations of ourselves as young artists. That was the foundational building block that helped Kessiah and myself make sense of her passing. She gave us the tools, the language and the strength, to make sense of what doesn’t make sense—having to say goodbye to people we love.”

Stephan continued, “When our mother died, we used our musical calling and learned language to embark on a healing journey. In this experience of saying goodbye, we realized that death can be the soil. The possibilities of life and healing are the flowers that can be born out of it. They represent new ways of living that had not been available, particularly while immersed in the intensity of caregiving those who are ill—our mother in this case. Music can help us move through this next chapter and learn how to live without her physically present. The album describes the process of finding new life after her death.”

The arrangements on life in death examine the duo’s musical and emotional back story. “Good Grief” features intertwined melodic lines created by Stephan and Kessiah’s fingerpicking on acoustic and electric guitars. Subtle keyboard accents and multi-tracked strings by their friend Azzura Cox create a wide-open sonic space.

“Hanabi (Fireworks)” has a Baroque feel with delicate piano playing and a rhythmic track based on Japanese taiko drumming, while “Channels” has hints of American country music in the mix, with subtle dub effects and a concluding melody suggesting the guitar music of Mali.

Stephan said they decided to make an all-instrumental recording at the beginning of their creative process. “We went to the collaboration feeling an intuitive pull to listen to the language of music. I felt the music writing, playing and recording was a channel to understand, process, digest and make sense of life, through the language of non-verbal expression,” he said. “We’ve both been instrumentalists since we were five years old. It was our second language, or maybe third, since we also spoke limited Japanese growing up. We both have the capacity to write words, but what needed processing was more aligned to this unknown plane of existence—life without our mother.”

He added, “The most natural thing was to write instrumentally, using rhythm and melody as the language of expression, not words. The language of soundscapes, harmonies and texture, everything that comes from music without words, felt like the right language to use to move through this journey. Words can be open to interpretation. Non-lyrical music gives other listeners the space to find meaning in it, without being explicitly described by words.”

The duo chose kintsugi as the name of the band as a reference to the Japanese art of repairing broken pieces of pottery with liquid gold. “The word is our expression of the intention to come together in the midst of having been fragmented, disembodied and lost,” Stephan said. “I had heard about kintsugi as a ceramic process, symbolic of healing—celebrating our imperfections and finding beauty in them. I felt kintsugi was a beautiful metaphor for our music. It expresses the past, present and future.”

He continued, “We are the expressions of our past. Our music is a way to have the voices of our past through to the present and find a connection to a healing journey that will take us into the future. Kintsugi encapsulated what this experience meant to us and what we hope we can offer to others as well.”

life in death will be released on kintsugi’s website on July 14. The opening track, “Let Me Show You,” is available now. kintsugimoves.bandcamp.com/album/life-in-death


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