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The Music of Shakuhachi Is the Voice of Nature : quoted from the liner note

by Tomiko Kojima ( Professor emeritus of the National Museum of Japanese History )

Shakuhachi (Japanese vertical bamboo flute) is often called "Take" or "Otake" (both mean bamboo). Actually, Shakuhachi and Shinobue (another kind of flute) are made of the very bamboo itself. Shinobue is made through a simple process of boring six or seven holes for the mouthpiece and fingerholes in a piece of bamboo cut out of a narrower area of the trunk. Shakuhachi is made using the lower part of the trunk, which is thicker and stronger. The reason for this used to be explained as follows; most of the Komuso, mendicant Zen priests who played Shakuhachi, had formerly been lordless samurai; and they found it useful for the instrument to be strong enough to block sudden sword attacks. In truth, however, one of the reasons for using the lower part of the trunk is that it is suitable for a wider mouthpiece, which is formed by making a diagonal cut at the top. The wide mouthpiece enables a player to blow inside the instrument at various angles. Another is that it is easy to produce sounds as the cavity inside the bamboo is actually getting narrower, though the trunk is getting thicker, further down. Additionally, the instrument has only four fingerholes on the front and one at the back, so the variety of pitch and tone depend completely on the player's skill, not only on the notes being fingered. In this regard, Shakuhachi is far superior in the range of pitch and tone that can be produced to instruments used for Western classical music, such as the flute.

The ideal sound of Shakuhachi is said to be the sound of the wind blowing through a bamboo grove. That is to say, the sound of Shakuhachi is obviously part of nature itself, which we are supposed to protect. It is no exaggeration to say that the profound spirituality existing in the music symbolizes the voice of nature. Therefore, for expressing ideas dear to nature preservationists, such as the conservation of water, Shakuhachi is, without doubt, one of the worthiest instruments and its musical tradition closest to the deepest concerns of the movement.

In this sense, it seems to me that "…ing #1" and "Tosei," contained in this compact disc, lead to what is important in the movement; because, in both of them, the sound created is the very essence of Shakuhachi itself. In "Tosei," O-tsuzumi (also called Okawa) is an extremely interesting instrument, as well. As for Tsuzumi in the same "family," the oldest known specimen is believed to be still preserved in Shosoin, Nara. An important feature of the drums in this family is the three carved lines found on the narrowest part of the hourglass-shaped body. The family also contains San-No-Tsuzumi, one of the main instruments for Komagaku (music of Korea and Nothern Asia) which is itself contained in Gagaku (Japanese ceremonial court music), and Chango, which is still frequently used in North and South Korea. In the Heian period, maidens known as Miko (female shaman) beat Otsuzumi to receive divine messages. Eventually, some of them who became Shirabyoshi (entertainers) would use the instrument for accompaniment as well as for the rhythmic basis of their dance. Later they and their Otsuzumi were introduced and used in the performance of Noh plays. It is marvelous that, while Otsuzumi has been refined as a musical instrument for the accompaniment of Noh and Kabuki, it still preserves the sharpness and spirit of the sound of the instrument of Miko, which sound can be found in "Tosei."

Sound Contents

Moon Forest : composed by Motoi Yokoya
Max Ernst depicted the moon and a forest in one of his paintings. In it, the bright golden moon in totally dark tones is impressive. This dreamy, surreal painting gives me the impression that the moonlight, dark forest is protected by the gentle light while the daily life of tenderhearted creatures goes on in the depths of the forest. I wrote this composition, imagining such a scene as "a painting of sound." Is what is happening in the forest "lunacy" caused by the moon or is it the magical power of the forest itself ? It's a mystery.
Mizugiwa (The Water's Edge)
1. Utsurohi (Reflection) / 2. Nagare (Stream) ---for Koto and Shakuhachi--- : composed by Midori Ohkubo
There are subtle differences in the appearance of water depending on color and motion. I found something in common between my music and the abstract world of sound, the world I can sense with my ears, not my eyes. That's why I wrote this using the water's edge as my theme. There is no border or edge in the world of sound, which has the same subtle changes as water. Therefore, I expressed my sound, with no regard for genre or style, according to the sound quality of various Japanese musical instruments. This piece is composed of two contrastive parts, the slow "Utsurohi" and the fast "Nagare."
…ing#1 : composed by Motoi Yokoya
This composition "…ing" was composed impromptu during "…ing," a live performance project of the same name, in collaboration with Retsuzan Tanabe, a Japanese bamboo flute player, and Shuichiro Sakai, a performance artist, in November, 1999. I am fond of a creative atmosphere which is filled with expectations of something about to be newly created. I guess it is due to the pleasant feeling I have during the process of performing in which, by release from myself, my naked sensibility is transformed. Mysteriously, I heard the sound of wind inside this enclosed space while sharing the time with the other two performers. So I kept on writing this piece, feeling something in the tender air. "…ing" is a progressive verb form and here expresses continuing creation.
Mikumari-No-Mori : composed by Jun Kobayashi
Mikumari-No-Kami, the god in charge of distributing the proper amount of water among rivers, is deified in a great many headwaters areas. Here in this historic land, do we really have enough ability to express through music the bountiful blessings of beautiful nature including forests and headwaters? We have undermined and destroyed nature in spite of enjoying its blessings. Asking myself how much we can do in return, I wrote this music; however, I haven't found the answer yet. This is a one-movement composition without a break, whose introduction and finale have the same melody. The sound of the Koto (Japanese zither) in the middle of the tune symbolizes the lively growth of trees.
Toh-sei ( Sound of Waves) : composed by Shirotomo Aizawa
Water transforms itself in various ways. Melting, vapor and saturation. A Cloud will become rain and transformed it to mud. One drop will change to river and sea, and finally, to waves. Nothing else changes its appearance with such variety. The difference in appearance also depends on time and your own emotions. In this composition, some "scenes" are linked one after another, while sounds are also linked successively and change within each scene. Even the transition from one scene to another is wholly just a part of the chain. A water drop, in the depths of a tree-covered mountain, flows into a river, spreads over the sea and is transformed into waves at last. This composition is music that I use to replace the diverse aspects of water. My imagination was stimulated by the combination of a Shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) and Oo-tsuzuumi (Japanese traditional big drum), which is traditionally impossible to realize. Simultaneously, I felt as if I had been left with a compass in a virgin forest. I will leave it to the performers to chart my unexplored path and complete the "Map."
Kigi-No-Uta (Trees' Song) : composed by Midori Ohkubo
Where green and beautiful trees are growing, there are transparent lakes, fresh air, fertile land, and a variety of life forms. These remind us of the fact that beautiful forest scenery is impossible without all of them. I expressed something invisible and mysterious in addition to the beautiful forest scenery by means of composing. I hope that two Japanese zithers with slightly different musical intervals will be effective for what I have tried to express.
Legend : composed by Motoi Yokoya
When‚ham walking in a forest, I am often possessed with a mysterious sense. At times it seems to be warmth with which I feel as if I were wrapped, yet at other times it seems to be fear that we should not be trespassing. In the forest, there must be a flow of time isolated from the outside world. It seems as if the forest, which has been changing since ancient times, creates various legends within itself. I composed this, driven by my wish to express the sound of the powerful and tranquil world, not to mention my considerable reverence for the forest.
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