Undergraduate Research

Noah Kawaguchi '22

OUR Featured Researcher: Noah Kawaguchi '22
Noah Kawaguchi
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones 

Noah Kawaguchi (he/him/his) is an Oberlin College Research Fellow,  majoring in Jazz Studies (saxophone), and minoring in East Asian studies. He is conducting mentored research under Professors Jan Miyake and Courtney-Savali Andrews. His project is titled "An Autoethnographic Approach to Composing Japanese American Music".

Please describe your project: 

My project details the theory and practice of one possible process of composing Japanese American music within the larger context of culture is constructed to support Asian American political identity. I discuss possible approaches to “Asian American music” as well as the intentions behind three compositions I created within my current conception of it. While I do not claim that all Asian American music must be influenced by traditional Asian musical forms, the compositional process I created through this project draws on studies of the shakuhachi, the Japanese bamboo flute. The compositions are also influenced by autoethnographic reflections I wrote in response to the literature on Asian American music and classical Japanese music. I weave my autoethnographic musical compositions through theoretical prose, intending that this juxtaposition will enrich potential emotional connection with all experiencers of this work in a way that would not be possible with musical or academic work alone. 

A brief summary (the elevator speech) of your research project:

Drawing upon scholarship on Asian American music, scholarship on Japanese shakuhachi music, and autoethnography, I wrote and recorded three research-based musical compositions, which I wove through theoretical prose in a research paper. In addition to a more general discussion on definitions, purposes, and future directions of Asian American music, I performed “autoethnomusicology” on my compositions by using them to explain the theory and practice of one possible conception of Japanese American/Asian American music.

Why is your research important?

My research is important because I am furthering Asian American artistic expression by both creating research-based artistic work within my current conception of Asian American music and contributing to scholarship on the topic. I see the creation, dissemination, and study of distinctly Asian American art forms in contrast to orientalized stereotypes as an important aspect of the push to shift societal views and counter racist violence, especially with the recent rise in hate crimes. 

What does the process of doing your research look like?

I spent a lot of time reading sources and writing autoethnographic reflections in response. The sources and reflections provided the inspiration for when I then spent time composing and recording. Of course, I also spent a lot of time writing the paper itself, doing various assignments for OCRF, and learning new skills I needed for my project in areas such as hardware, software, and creativity.

What knowledge has your research contributed to your field?

While there is some existing research on Asian American music, my work is unique in that I am both the researcher and the researched in a lot of the content of my project. Even though I studied, drew upon, and discussed much outside scholarship, the centerpiece of my research is the way I use the process of research-based musical composition as a tool for synthesizing academic and experiential knowledge. 

In what ways have you showcased your research?

I wrote a paper, posted my composition recordings on YouTube, presented my research at the end of the eight weeks of OCRF, and will have another presentation with Shansi on Zoom on December 9, 2021, at 7 pm ET.

How did you get involved in research?

The first time I significantly got into doing work like this was the Winter Term project I did in January 2021, when I implemented a similar process of interdependent academic research and musical composition for the first time. That drove me to seek out OCRF for a more structured, guided, and extensive research process. 

What is your favorite aspect of the research process?

My favorite thing is that I feel that this type of work allows me to bring both academic and creative strengths into play in order to make the most significant contribution that I can to the facilitation of mutual understanding between people. In this research, I use music to more directly and clearly convey examples and emotions, while in this music, I use my research to be informed in the way I compose and to increase the effectiveness of the music’s reception.
How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project?

Both of my mentors helped immensely through both their experience in music research and their ideas on how I can best formulate my unique style of research. The biggest impact on me as a researcher is that I feel that I actually can be a researcher, which I was not so sure of before this project. 

How has the research you’ve conducted contributed to your professional or academic development?

Now that I have had this experience, I am much more confident and equipped to pursue similar and related paths in my career. If I had not had this opportunity, I am sure I would be planning my future much differently.

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?      

As a conservatory student, I was not even aware of conducting research as a possibility for much of my time at Oberlin, and I think it can be easy to have the misconception that you would not be able to keep up with arts and sciences students in a research environment. If you are a conservatory student with musical interests that could be augmented by a structured program of research, I would encourage you to talk to conservatory professors who do research and people at OUR/OCRF.