An Exploration into the World of Robin Williamson

Silk, Metal, Wood features a piece for solo koto called Letter from a Stranger’s Childhood by Robin Williamson, the legendary founder of The Incredible String Band. The work was composed for solo koto, the national instrument for Japan, but stands out from other koto works as it was written to be finger-plucked like a harp.  

Diving into the sound world of Robin Williamson reveals the kaleidoscope of influences behind The Incredible String Band, a popular psychedelic folk group from the 60s. Williamson has not only taken musical inspiration from folk, improvisation and jazz but also has identified the commonality between music and other art forms such as poetry and painting. 

“And it seemed to me, a wonderful place to start was that all human beings had a cultural thread that united them, which was music. That was common to everybody. And that it was a good idea to break down the barriers between performer and audience, and to break down the idea of a virtuoso: those who can play, those who can't play. Try and break away from that, by having a go at playing instruments that one couldn't play at all, to try and create a sort of naive music or an innocent music, like naive painting.” – Robin Williamson (from an interview with Richie Unterberger, April 2003)

Originating in Edinburgh, Scotland, The Incredible String Band combined traditional folk with Eastern musical ideas characteristic of the Woodstock scene. As Williamson evolved as an artist, he began composing for films, such as Summer Hours and A History of the Welsh. More recently, he returned to his roots of effervescent songwriting and folk storytelling with albums such as Wheel of Fortune and Songs of Love and Parting. Hand-picked by Satsuki Odamura, Letter from a Stranger’s Childhood for koto ebbs and flows much like Robin Williamson’s lyrical prose from the 60s. You can hear her perform it below or live this August at Silk, Metal, Wood