Sunday, 18 July 2010

New Kakizakai Sensei CD

Well of course it's not new because it was released last year! But finally I am announcing it here: Koten Shakuhachi Honkyoku Volume 2 CD after eagerly awaiting its arrival from Tai Hei Shakuhachi online, also available from Mejiro

Daha 打波  (on 2.4.)
Sokkan 息観  (on 3.2)
Koden Sugomori 古伝巣籠  (on 1.6)
Reibo 霊慕  (on 2.7)
Sagariha 下り葉  (on 2.1)
Sanya (Mountain Valley) 山谷  (on 2.9)
Tsuru no Sugomori 鶴の巣籠り  (on1.8)

Honkyoku recorded at Chichibu Muse Park Music Hall (24 April, 2009).

This recording is remarkable not least for two reasons: firstly, it seems to have been recorded on a single day, all pieces with their distinctive character within the honkyoku genre, and; each piece is played on a  different shakuhachi, ranging from Sokkan on 3.2 to Koden Sugomori on 1.6, exhibiting Sensei's versatility and consistency - this is a kind of  'marathon' in shakuhachi preparedness. Despite the fact that Kakizakai Sensei likes to say that there is no differentiation or difficulty for him moving from one instrument to another, the breath required for long phrases on the 2.7, 2.9 and 3.2 (!) is utterly masterful. Listening to the whole CD gives a good picture of Kakizakai Sensei's aesthetic - long smooth phrases, jiari clarity of tone (rather than breathiness or especially 'bamboo'-y in flavour), very lyrical after the influence of his teacher, Yokoyama Katsuya Sensei, but at the same time quite different in the approach to ornamentation and vibrato (i.e. none). Above all, the sincerity and simplicity comes across belying the powerful technique that delivers via phrasing and minimalist elegance alone. There are no 'tricks', embellishments or indulgences. In this way, it could be construed as very Zen, very bare and humble. Reibo and Sanya sound to me the most inwardly calm.

Like so many of his students surely, I am very grateful (and in awe) that Sensei has finally compiled this record of his transmission, continuing the lineage of his great teacher, Yokoyama Sensei and the Kenshukan way. At the same time, I hope he will also record these pieces and some of those on Volume 1 again in a while: one of the attributes that is so interesting in listening to recordings of Yokoyama Katsuya or Watazumi-do, because there are quite many versions of different pieces, is to observe the ways in which the honkyoku are transformed in interpretation, spirit or delivery over a long period of time in the care of the player and sometimes also due to the choice of shakuhachi length or performance context.  This is a helpful reminder that there is no 'right' way and that the notated and aural records are not fixed. This recording set seems very representative of Kakizakai Sensei at this particular time in his life. His email alias, "longphrase" could not be more appropriate!

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Zen Yamato CD

1. 赤壁賦 "Sekiheki no Fu" composed by Nakanoshima Kinichi
2. 布袋 "Hotei" composed by Yamada Kengyo
3. 調子&秋風曲 "Choshi" & "Akikaze no Kyoku" Fudaiji Honkyoku & composed by Mitsuzaki Kengyo

Performers: 善養寺惠介 & 山登松和 Keisuke Zenyoji and Showa Yamato (shakuhachi, koto & voice)

Sekiheki no Fu is a Sokyoku piece maybe in the Meiji Shinkyoku style from the Yamada Ryu (school). This piece was composed for shakuhachi by Nakanoshima Kin'ichi in 1934 and for koto by Nakanoshima Kin'ichi. Nakanoshima, a contemporary virtuoso of the koto and shamisen and a talented composer of traditional Japanese music, created this work at the request of NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) in 1934. The text is a free translation into Japanese of an ode by Su Tung-p'o, a Chinese poet of the Sung dynasty (tenth century), translated by Tsuge Gen'ichi. The ode expresses the poet's deep emotions on visiting the ancient battlefield of Ch'ih-pi or Sekiheki ('Red Cliff') on the Yangtze River in Hupei province (information and poem available from Commencing reflectively, it quickly builds in impetus to a rhythmic section, variously heterophonic and homophonic in  texture, moving to a slower section focusing on the lyrical qualities of the dialogue between shakuhachi and koto player's voice, the latter unfolding the poem with extended episodes for voice and koto alone. The shakuhachi rejoins towards the end of the middle section, transitioning into a solo recitative featuring sensitive timbral and pitch bends in a slow, mellow voice. This is a very beautiful and tasteful lyrical moment that segues into the typically rapid, rhythmical and accelerating final (coda) section. There is clearly very tight ensemble playing here.

Hotei is one of the Shichi Fukujin, the seven Japanese Shinto-gods of luck. Hotei ('cloth bag') is the god of happiness and laughter and the wisdom. Yatsuhashi Kengyo during the seventeenth century,  (1614 – 1685), a blind musician from Kyoto learned koto in defiance of the rule that it could not be taught to blind people or women, and transformed the koto’s repertoire making it available to wider audiences. Ikuta Kengyo (1666-1716) (prominent koto players often took the name Kengyo) merged koto music with jijuta, a vocal tradition of the more popular and livelier shamisen (a lute-style instrument) in the Kyoto and Osaka area (information). The Ikuta school (Ikuta ryu) stresses koto and shamisen ensemble music. In Tokyo, Yamada Kengyo (1757 – 1817) adapted pieces composed for Edo-style shamisen to the koto, and established the Yamada school, i.e. before the time of well-known Michio Miyagi and Sawai Kazue. 

The third and longest piece on the CD is in fact the conflation of Choshi honkyoku for solo shakuhachi followed by Akikaze no Kyoku (Melody of the Autumn Wind). Choshi is often used as a settling or tuning piece before jijutaThe formal unit underlying these pieces is the dan (step, section). According to the number of dan the pieces are called "Rokudan no shirabe", or "Hachidan no shirabe", that is, pieces in six sections, pieces in eight sections, etc. Each dan is made up of 104 hyoshi, one hyoshi being the basic metrical unit. An extra four hyoshi, which constitute the initial motive of the first dan, are not counted in the 104. The tempo of a danmono is fixed. After a subdued beginning it is increased and reaches a climax which usually occurs towards the end of the last section, and then the piece is concluded quietly. Composed by Mitsuzaki Kengyo in the early 19th Century, he was eventually banned from the guild of blind musicians for composing a kumiuta (song-suite) to prevent further compositions in the form of Akikaze no Kyoku (Autumn Wind) (from examples of pre-war koto recordings).

Friday, 16 July 2010


Can you guess who belongs to which one? ... Trying to improve by observation.

Back again: San'ya

It has been a difficult couple of years for shakuhachi practice. I started a new job at the University of Technology, Sydney at the end of 2008, established a new degree in Sound and Music Design and in 2009, founded the Sense-Aware Research Lab at UTS. In early 2010 I finished a composition, Diamond Quills, performed by Charisma Ensemble (at Sydney Conservatorium and NIME2010), and recently co-chaired the 2010 New Interfaces for Musical Expression international conference (and edited the proceedings). This was a very interesting new musical event exploring novel interfaces, technology integration and electronic music through academic papers, concerts, installations and keynotes by Stelarc and Nic Collins (Hardware Hacking). These activities seemed to occupy 6-month temporal chunks at least. While these things were all very satisfying, it is with some relief that I am looking forward to the Situated Media Installation Studio in Spring semester (Max/MSP, physical computing and art/design installation responses to context) and 'normal' research work (papers, grants).

Finally I am making a humble re-entry on the practice scene with San'ya (Mountain Valley). I feel like this piece will keep me occupied for about 20 years which is a distinct part of its attraction. Right now I am wondering about the San'ya Mountain Valley vs. Three Valleys because the music distinguishes between using the Kanji (pictured) and 三谷  while many recordings do not seem to share this demarcation. The track on a Yokoyama Katsuya recording bearing the title San'ya Dokoyku is the 11-12 minute piece that is usually known as 山谷 Mountain Valley. Yet both this CD, Ishikawa Toshimitsu's recording (In Dead Ernest II) and the International Shakuhachi Society komuso web site in describing this piece, use the Kanji, 三谷  (i.e. different from the music notation written by Furuya Sensei in transcribing Yokoyama Sensei). Furthermore, the page on ISS mixes recordings of both pieces, so it is hard to know which one the programme notes refer to really, e.g. the Ramos and Riley recording on that page are 3 Valleys while the Ishikawa recording is Mountain Valley. Then, of course, within each lineage there are different interpretations and still more versions! Kakizakai Sensei's Volume 2 Koten Honkyoku CD has now arrived and it uses 山谷 the same as the notation.

Watazumi Do's Hocchiku 法竹 CD programme notes for San'ya Mountain Valley state:

    The piece Sanya expresses a state of contemplation, as symbolized by the serene flowing of a stream hidden deeply in the mountains. Contemplation is a part of Watazumi-Do's Way of Nature, and is centered around the secret breathing techniques whose purpose it is to train the breath and attain the unification of mind and body. Sanya began in Oshu, and, through sound, expresses the state of contemplation.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Tom Deaver

I must qualify by saying I hardly knew Tom Deaver: I don't have any of his instruments and met him only fleetingly at Bisei Shakuhachi Festival in 2007 but I remembered this picture of Tom in his workshop from Ben's Flickr stream. Ben used to visit Tom from time to time in Japan and once rode his bicycle up the incredible mountainous hills to get there. Tom Deaver passed away on 12 July 2010.

Photo by Ben Dixon, 2006.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Horacio Curti's new CD: ICHI

Horacio Curti's new CD Ichi is published by Musikeon Agharta Music D.L: B-28758-2009. The CD includes traditional Honkyoku pieces Shika no tone, Tamuke, Sagariha, Sokkan, Honshirabe, Tsuru no Sugomori and Shingetsu, mostly played on 2.4. Shika no tone is played in duet with Kakizakai Sensei (the two deer are still distinguishable despite the well-matched tone quality and approach - since Horacio has studied with Kakizakai) (on 1.8 as expected, as is Tsuru no Sugomori). For me, the most interesting pieces are actually the contemporary improvised compositions by Horacio that include Impro I, Impro II, and Kai named after his son and the remaining piece, Vent de l'Oest by Spanish composer Ramun Humet from Barcelona. Kai and Vent both explore a number of contemporary 'extended' techniques for shakuhachi such as a kind of barrel 'slap tongue' or 'tongue pizzicato' sound, glissandi and overblowing, as well as a slight departure from usual modal writing. Rhythmical double- and triple-tonguing effects and flutter-tonguing also add to the vibrant palette that continue the exploration of bamboo timbre, marrying expressive techniques with a strong melodic sense. It is important when new contributions are made to the repertoire that exhibit true understanding of the instrument.

I was chaffed to receive this CD from Horacio and I enjoy many other details such as the beautiful cover presentation, photos nostalgic of visits to Japan and the calligraphic honkyoku music printed inside the case. The calligraphy on the cover is by Megumi Kakizakai who is a shodo master. Horacio's commitment and sincerity shine through.

Currently I am composing a solo 2.4 piece based a Gansan Death Poem from the C19th for Horacio. It was the custom for monks and Zen practitioners nearing the transition to the next life to compose a poem in a particular metaphoric style, usually including qualities like the autumn to winter seasonal transition, fading colours, wintry breeze and exhaling breath (a nice connection to shakuhachi).

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Sydney visit by Koji Matsunobu

I first met Koji in Chichibu in 2007 when he and a group from British Columbia were visiting Japan on a 'Bamboo Roots' shakuhachi-playing and bamboo-gathering (in Nagano), jinashi flute-making expedition. This annual trip is usually led by Alcvin Ramos but on this occasion the group was touring without him.  The group from B.C., joined by the visiting Shakuhachi players from Tokyo and Chichibu, worked on Shingetsu and Yamagoe. At that time, Koji was studying his Ph.D at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in the USA in musicology looking at spirituality, bamboo and shakuhachi in Japanese music and music education. These days, Koji is Faculty at the University of Queensland Music Department.

For some time since, I was following his blog Shakuhachi Stuff Writing 3 Minutes a Day. Koji records very interesting and important information, through his position as an 'insider'  and abilities to search out Japanese documentation and interview players and makers, he is in the process of recording some of the hidden facts about the instrument in his blog before they get lost. This is crucial because some of the kinds of traditional lineages, information and 'secrets' passed on from generation to generation are known only in Japan and known by a very select group of people yet comparatively little is known by people outside that circle. Because this information is orally transmitted knowledge, much of it is not written down anywhere. I find this approach that combines the player's perspective and musicologist's interest in cultural heritage very interesting. What might be called 'nose to tail' dining in cuisine could be understood as the bamboo grove to instrument to player chain, whether pursuing shakuhachi from a komuso or a musical perspective, and Koji is one of those people who is looking into the whole journey.

On the day Koji and his wife, Khin Yee, visited Sydney, we went to the Botanic Gardens where he played a very special shakuhachi made for him from old Japanese bamboo by a respected friend (in the bamboo grove), and thence to Blue's Point North Sydney, Balmoral Beach and we finished up at Sushi Studio. I am thankful that Koji and Khin Yee, also a(n) (ethno)musicologist and pedagogue, rekindled my enthusiasm for the music that motivated me to pursue shakuhachi in the first place: honkyoku and komuso roots. He also brought with him the fascinating new recording of Watazumi (former LP re-released as CD) with  Honshirabe, Shingetsu (2 versions), Tamuke, Shishi (Azuma), Tsuru no sugomori, Kyorei and Koku.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

CALL OF BAMBOO Blue Mountains concert after WSF'08

Japanese Masters of Shakuhachi & Koto in concert

TERUO FURUYA shakuhachi

Shika no Tone 鹿の遠音 traditional anonymous
Shun Sui 春吹 composed by Katsuya Yokoyama
Haru no Umi 春の海 composed by Michio Miyagi
Jogen no Kyoku 上弦の曲 composed by Tadao Sawai
Kaze no Uta 風の歌 composed by Tadao Sawai
Sanya (Mountain Valley) 山谷 traditional anonymous
Kikyo Gensoukyoku 桔梗幻想曲 composed by Rando Fukuda
Dai Yon Fudo 第四風動 composed by Seiho Kineya
Nezumi Guruma ねずみ車 composed by Rando Fukuda

10 JULY 2008 7PM
$25/20 47 Katoomba Street +61 2 4782 1111

more info + travel directions:

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Chika at the Performance Space, Carriageworks

After an afternoon of shakuhachi lessons with Bronwyn at David's house, the new 'shakidance' in Sydney, I attended the music performance piece Chika at the Performance Space in its new home at Carriageworks.

I was drawn by the appearance of Satsuki Odamura playing koto and Anne Norman playing shakuhachi in the score by Tom Fitzgerald. The music was amplified electronic and traditional instruments, accessible in style but an interesting blend of live and sampled with a dancer and video montage weaving together analogue and digital, 2D and 3D. Described as "a multi-layered production and contemporary story telling, crossing genres of journalism, visual and performing arts, incorporating original live music, dance and narration, documentary images, archival video and recorded interviews," it is the story of Chika Honda.

Chika is a real person, a Japanese woman who spent a decade in Australian jails for a crime she has always insisted she did not commit. She was one of a Japanese tour group who were arrested for importation of heroin in 1992. She was released on parole in November 2002 and is now living in Japan. It is a "Lost in Translation for a Decade" saga that may all have been avoidable with better interpretation of language during the trial. The story follows the human endeavour and overcoming adversity.

Artists: Mayu Kanamori, Yumi Umiumare, Tom Fitzgerald, Satsuki Odamura, Anne Norman, Toshinori Sakamoto, Andrei Shabunov, Nick Franklin, Malcolm Blaylock, Keith Tucker.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Idan Raichel Project Sydney Opera House

The Idan Raichel Project is a world music ensemble directed by Idan from Israel. Perhaps the most remarkable feature about the eclectic band singing in Hebrew is that its membership comprises people from the rich array of ethnic backgrounds represented in Israel, such as African Ethiopians, a Somalian, a Persian singer, Israelis and a wonderful South American percussionist. The gamut of instruments is equally exciting including a Georgian plucked instrument, South American cabassa, African gourd drums, electric bass, keyboard, kit percussion and hand drums such as bongos and a vast assortment of other skinned and wooden drums, water immersion.

The Idan Raichel Project erupted onto the music scene in 2002 as a new face of Israeli pop music advocating tolerance and joy. Idan Raichel, is a 29-year old keyboardist, producer and composer from Kfar Saba. Idan was born in 1977 to a family with Eastern European roots and honed his skills at improvisation and working with other musicians in Israeli military service in the Army rock band. While counselling in a school for Ethiopian Jews, he listened to recordings of songs from artists like Mahmoud Ahmed, Aster Aweke, Gigi and others. These and gypsy and Latin and reggae influences are all audible in the repertoire of the Idan Raichel Project.

"Idan had long been fascinated with the diversity of Israel and sought to celebrate his appreciation and respect for different cultures through his music. Because of its open door to immigrants from Jewish communities around the globe, Israel is home to a stew of cultures and traditions, including people of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Latin American and Eastern European roots. Yemenite Jews offer traditions that reflect thousands of years of living in the country of Yemen on the southern edges of the Arabian Peninsula. Israel's Sephardic community consists of people who had incorporated the traditions of Spain, North Africa and the Mediterranean region where they had lived for centuries. The largest immigrant population in Israel consists of Ashkenazi Jews, who had come mostly from Russia and Eastern Europe". The 3rd photograph is by Barzi Goldblat.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Farewell Party with the Kakizakai family

(1) Kakizakai Sensei's mother, Emi, Megumi, Sensei [wickedly holding up the last challenge in Japanese culinary delights - a deliberate test I am sure], Haruka, Takashi (2) Kirsty, Megumi, Emi, Takashi, Kakizakai Sensei's mother, Haruka, Kakizakai Sensei.

Naturally, it was tinged with some regret that I had to pack up, clean out the caravan and organise to return to Australia but the Kakizakai family helped me feel very appreciative of the nice time I have had in Japan in the beautiful 'city' of Chichibu where I have made some deep friendships and had plenty of time to think, compose, practice. Their family has helped me and always made me feel very welcome and integrated. Megumi and I perhaps share an adventurous, independent spirit and enjoyed very much our excursions together and Kakizakai Sensei is so much more than my shakuhachi teacher. Many times they welcomed me to their dinner table and shared knowledge and friendship. I am glad Sensei is coming soon to Australia and wonder how next I can escape to Japan. Haruka, Emi and Takashi - Kakizakai Sensei's three hyperkinetic children - are also really cool with the stream of International visitors permeating their household. I hope they will maintain their eagerness to speak English and travel. On our final evening, Megumi prepared wonderful shabu shabu ingredients for us to collaboratively cook in a huge gas-fired urn at the table, accompanied by salads and other idiomatic dishes. Their hospitality extended to a final Shika no tone lesson on the morning of my departure, lunch and a book of photo memories summarising our time together.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Tokyo Shakuhachi students' New Year Party

One of the brilliant winter joys of crisp freezing air is the the wonderful visibility of unsullied, snow-covered Fuji-san on way to Saturday Higashiyamato lessons, across the tea plantations and incongruous buildings in the western suburbs of Tokyo.

Here is (Toyomi) Takahashi-san's photo of my shakuhachi elder brothers. We went to a delicious sushi and nabe restaurant in Tachikawa, organised by Mr. Nakamura-san, explored many dishes and many kinds of Japanese liquor to see in the New Year (some what belatedly)! It was very nice to hear a little more from my friends and learn about their lives outside the shakuhachi lessons. All of them have been playing shakuhachi more than ten years, some many more than that.

From left around table: Dr. Dr. Takahashi-san, Mr. Fujita-san, Mr. Nakamura-san, Kakizakai Sensei, Kirsty desu, Mr. Okamoto-san.