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Symmetry and Shiina Ringo

Page history last edited by Nick Robinson 14 years, 2 months ago

Shiina Ringo (or however you want to romanize it; 'Shéna Ringö' and 'Sheena Ringo' are both totally acceptable) is a Japanese musician. Any more specific descriptor than that risks pidgeonholing one of the most unique, unconventional (but massively popular) Japanese artists of all time.


Body of work


Her work has been categorized as, among other things, rock, punk rock, alternative rock, experimental rock, chamber music, chanson, jazz, big band, bossa nova, ムード歌謡 (meaning 'mood songs'),and 演歌 ('Enka', semi-traditional ballad-y music). And that's not an exhaustive list, either.


Here are some examples of her variety of sounds: Doppelganger (off "Kalk Samen Kuri no Hana") vs Torikoshikurou vs Shun (both off Superficial Gossip).


Shiina describes herself as "Shinjuku-Kei", a naming convention she probably gets from "Shibuya-Kei", an electronic/jazz-y subgenre that started as the "James Bond style music" mentioned here (article: Way, Way, Way Underground Music). There are elements of jazz and electronic music in what Shiina does (especially in her work with Tokyo Jihen), but the scope of her music varies so much that it's dangerous trying to nail it down to any category she didn't make up herself.


Shiina is a singer, but has been known to play guitar (electric and acoustic), piano, keyboards, bass guitar, drums, koto, shamisen, harmonica, melodica, harpsichord, accordion, and kazoo. Once again, that doesn't begin to cover all of it.


She worked solo from 1998 up until 2004, when she formed Tokyo Jihen (aka The Tokyo Incidents), a 5 member jazz rock band for whom she composed and wrote virtually all the music. Shiina resumed her solo career in 2007, at first to create the entire soundtrack to a movie, and releasing further albums from there.




Shiina Ringo's encounters and fascination with symmetry span literally her entire musical career (and life). When she was born, she had a hereditary esophagial problem that required immediate surgery to her back, leaving her with large scars on her shoulder blades that are said to give "the impression that an angel's wings had been removed". These asymmetrical cuts (including a massive one on her right shoulderblade) is said to have started her obsession with the symemetrical.


On the left is a still from the music video for her first ever single (Kōfukuron). The wings on her back are a reference to the scars. By the way, this song/video came out when she was 19. She is currently (as of February 2010) 31 years old.




Shōso Strip


Although Shoso Strip is her second album overall, it's her first album to predominantly feature symmetry. It's also the first to use her pattern of character symmetry in the song titles:


  1. 虚言症
  2. 浴室
  3. 弁解ドビュッシー
  4. ギブス
  5. 闇に降る雨
  6. アイデンティティ
  7. 罪と罰
  8. ストイシズム
  9. 月に負け犬
  10. サカナ
  11. 病床パブリック
  12. 本能
  13. 依存症 


This goes beyond visual symmetry, too: the phrases in the titles themselves are mirrored across the 7th track. For example, song 1's title (Kyogen-shou) translates to 'Compulsive Lying Disorder', while song 13's title (Izon-shou) translates to 'Substance Abuse Disorder'.


Also great: the length of this album is 55:55.



Kalk Samen Kuri no Hana (加爾基 精液 栗ノ花)


The title of this one is hard to translate because Shiina used obsolete Kanji to sound out some foreign words. The most requently agreed on translation is "Lime, Semen, Chestnut Flower" ('Kalk' being German for Lime, 'Samen' being the German word for 'seed' and a euphemism for semen, and 'Kuri no Hana' meaning Chestnut flower in Japanese).


This album is super-heavy on the symmetry:












The individual relationship between the songs is super strong on this album, too: Track 1 is Shuukyou and track 11 is Souretsu (meaning 'Religion' and 'Funeral Procession', respectively); both begin with 'S' and have strong religious meaning. The first song has numerous lyrical references to death, while the last song has numerous references to rebirth.


Tracks 2 and 10 (Doppelgänger and Poltergeist) are both about the supernatural. Both titles are words from the German language.


Tracks 3 and 9 (Meisai and Ishiki, 'Camouflage' and 'Consciousness') were both performed by a band Shiina formed temporarily called Himitsu Butai. Track 3, Meisai, contains the word "Ishiki", and Track 9, Ishiki, contains the word "camouflage" sung in Katakana English.


Tracks 4 and 8 (Take Care Of Yourself and As You Like It) both begin with the honorific 'O': "Odaiji ni" and "Okonomi de". Both are spelled in Hiragana. The same instruments are used in both songs.


Tracks 5 and 7 (Yattsuke Shigoto [A Half-Assed Job] and Torikoshi Kurou [Over-Anxiety]): Nobody is totally sure how these two songs relate. The names of both are spelled with four kana followed by two kanji, and they're both far and away the weirdest and most experimental songs on the album, but other than that, there's no obvious connection.


That leaves track 6, Kuki. This was the only single released off Kalk Samen Kuri no Hana and the first Shiina Ringo song to feature both English and Japanese in the lyrics.


Oh yeah, and also: the running time is 44:44.



Sanmon Gossip


"Superficial Gossip" is her most recent album under the name "Shiina Ringo" (the aforementioned movie soundtrack was a collaboration with another artist), and as such, there's a return to symmetrical form here.



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More Badass Pictures:












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