Donate to the Grapevine

Express your thanks by leaving the pirate a tip!

March 21, 2011

Japanese Masterpieces of the Shakuhachi

Now we enter the void.

Shakuhachi music is some of the most deeply affecting musics I have ever heard. It is suffused with presence. It requires diligence, and awareness, and a sharp will on the part of both the musician and the listener. It cannot be background music. This music is not for soothing you whilst you relax in a spa and pretend to meditate. This music is true meditation. It is a slap in the face, a breath of fresh air, and the nimble light of beauty dancing through the world. Its association with Zen Buddhist monks probably explains the funny basket-hat, or at least I hope so, because I'm at a loss…

Anyway, all I'm saying is, this music has the brash hunger of an empty shark, the shifting eternity of an unhurried cloud, and the solipsism of a lone swan on a still lake.

The Shakuhachi
The shakuhachi is believed to have evolved from flutes that first appeared in ancient Egypt and arrived in Japan via China about 1,400 years ago. It has a long association Zen and is said to have a meditative quality because its sound is so closely linked with human breath. With no valves or reed it is deceptively simple instrument made of a piece of bamboo with holes. It produces a rich, mellow sound that it intimately related to the bamboo from which it is made. Its name come from its length in Japanese measurements (equaling 58 centimeters). One shaku is equal to 7.25 centimeters. Hachi is “eight.”
Patterson Clark, an American who studied the shakuchi in Japan, told the Washington Post, the shakuhachi is “notoriously difficult to play...It forces a face-to-face confrontation with expectation, self-criticism, disappointment, frustration, and impatience—all in a single breath. Exhaling through all these impediments and releasing one’s attachments to them can dissolve the ego so that one experiences only the sound—and become the sound.” 

 The shakuhachi is played very softly. Master musician Yoshio Kurabashi told the Washington Post, “The loudest tone is at the start of the first note of the phrase. As the breath continues, the sound grows softer until it fades into silence.” Notes can be flattened, bent, overblown and played with different fingering. By one count 64 sounds can be made in each octave.

 A bamboo shakuhachi flute from the 8th century found in Nara is 43.7 centimeters long and 2.3 centimeters in diameter and engraved with images of four women picking flowers and playing the biwa lute along with images of flowers, butterflies and birds. 

Japanese Masterpieces of the Shakuhachi

played by the Masters Meian-ryu, Kimpu-ryu, Tozan-ryu, Ikuta-ryu, Kikusue-ryu

Year: 1991
Label: Lyrichord
Time: 53:22

This famous bamboo flute, historically the instrument of the Samurai, is here played by the Masters of Meian-ryu, Kimpu-ryu, Tozan-ryu and Kikusui-ryu, at Darumaden of Nanzenji, and Meianji, Kyoto.
Selected as one of CD Review Magazine's 50 Definitive World Music Recordings! (June 1990)

AMG Review by Adam Greenberg
One of a long series of albums put out by Lyrichord dealing with traditional musics from around the world, Japanese Masterpieces of the Shakuhachi reprises the major schools of playing for the traditional Japanese bamboo flute. The liner notes, though leaving the performers uncredited, are quite detailed on the history of the flute and of the playing styles used. As many "world music" aficionados know, the shakuhachi lends itself well to making beautiful, earthy tones that Coleman Hawkins could only have dreamed about. The album starts with "Koku," a 12th century piece written by a priest for relaxation. "Sekihiki No Fu" is an accompaniment for a sung Chinese poem. "Matsukaze" represents a pine tree, which itself represents man; the work makes use of komibuki, a panting technique, used here to symbolize the wild breath of a samurai. "Ajikan" is a beautiful meditation on nothingness, and "Oshusanaya" is a pastoral piece. "Sagariha" uses a choppy rhythm that implies waves, though the translation is "drooping leaves." Finally, "Kyushi Reibo" is a piece written in memoriam of the Buddha's death by a pilgrim who was impressed by the strong spirit (reibo) of the Buddha on the island of Kyushu. Throughout, the album shows some noteworthy playing by the musicians of this mysterious sounding flute, and beauty in all aspects of the playing. The sound is perfect for tranquil relaxation, regardless of the century or the continent.

Japanese Masterpieces for the Shakuhachi is one of those rare discs that takes over the mind and body, filling the room with an unearthly mist of sound. The timbre of the bamboo flute on this release can be shrill and penetrating in the upper registers, mellow and breathy in the middle, thick and dark in the lowest reaches. The use of quivering tremolos at climactic moments and well-paced dissonance's that add a foreboding sense of mystery are fully exploited by the indigenous masters of this Buddhist-inspired music. The performances are so convincing that you get the feeling these artists aren't just musicians symbolizing the unknown, but actually calling it forth. An obvious hiss may summon you back to earth once in a while, but the instruments still come across with vitality. - Linda Kohanov, 4/90

Rhythm Music Magazine
The shakuhachi (vertical bamboo flute) was sometimes used in Gagaku, but the music on LYRCD 7176 is associated with the four or five schools of largely solo styles of the Fuke sect of samurai. The starkness of the melodies is decorated by microtonal ornamentation and changing timbres, which can quickly move from shrill overblowing to breathy worbling to mellow sustained tones; when two or more shakuhachis combine, beats created by deliberately "out of tune" unisons add further variety. Small details such as these are the main focus of the music, which amply repays repeated listenings. -Steve Holtje, 3/94

1 Kokh   9:08
2 Sekihiki No Fu   13:48
3 Matsukaze   6:43
4 Ajikan   6:31
5 Oshusanaya   7:11
6 Sagariha   6:00
7 Kyushi Reibo   4:36

the wind blows lonely through distant pine trees. or alternate link
mp3 >224kbps vbr | w/o cover | 86.1mb

liner notes here

1 comment:

beetor said...

Beautiful. Thank you.