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#1 2005-12-20 08:16:22

Tairaku 太楽
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From: Tasmania
Registered: 2005-10-07
Posts: 3222
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John Singer

Here is an article/interview I wrote about John Singer and his obsession with Edo period shakuhachi for the Hogaku Journal. I'm posting it here for those who haven't seen it there or on John's web site.


REGARDING EDO AND OTHER ANTIQUE SHAKUHACHI: AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN SINGER
BY BRIAN RITCHIE 11/2003

John Singer is a Bay Area shakuhachi player and
teacher. He has recently released a CD "Zen Music with
Ancient Shakuhachi" which features many different Edo
and early Meiji flutes performing Honkyoku. John asked
me to conduct an interview with him for his website
(http://zenflute.com/index.html) to draw out the
philosophy behind his use of these instruments.

John is also an avid collector of Edo shakuhachi and
other fine shakuhachi of later eras. Besides
collecting instruments for himself he brings
shakuhachi into this country for other players. That's
how I met John, and many of my favorite instruments
came from him. John also supports the work of a
handful of contemporary makers who are trying to make
flutes in the old style.

John is highly opinionated and there are few people
who will agree with everything he says here. But I
think some of his ideas are interesting and
provocative. This interview, which was conducted via
email, is a window into the activities of an unusual
person dedicated to his own vision of shakuhachi.

Check it out,

Brian Ritchie



Brian: Besides your musical credentials you are well known for your obsession with the flutes themselves. What difference does it make what kind of shakuhachi someone plays? Isn't a flute a flute?

John: I have a great passion regarding the different shakuhachi. I've found in my own experience that it is important to me what kind of flute I use, as each instrument has its own voice. This is also expressed usually in terms such as tone color and overall sound. And these qualities can be subdivided into numerous other qualities such as depth (fukami), brightness (akarusa), Darkness (kurasa), softness (yawarakasa), harshness (yakamashisa), hardness (katasa) etc. So, in terms of the overall sound produced, the flute makes a huge difference. In addition, the way each instrument vibrates and affects one's body differs not only between the flutes of different makers and periods, but also in those different instruments made by the same person. This quality is sometimes referred to as "Chikuin" but it goes much deeper than that. The concept of Chikuin is really too generalized. Now, after having said all this, the importance of one's own development in blowing shakuhachi cannot be over-emphasized. One must have a pure intention both when practicing and performing shakuhachi. Different people of course, have different intent regarding shakuhachi. I'm only concerned with and responsible for my own, and to a much lesser extent, with that of my students' intent. Mine is always to find out how each instrument wants to be played and to produce the purest sound I can. This is a process and a never-ending goal or focus. If one loves this process, then one loves shakuhachi. I have noticed that those who simply love the process of picking up the bamboo and blowing it are the ones whose intent is pure and these people never quit. And those who have other intentions such as showing off, fame, mastery, whatever, are those who, in my opinion, tend not to essentially love shakuhachi and are using it with some other agenda in mind.

Brian: Could you explain what you mean when you say pursuit of mastery is contrary to the love of shakuhachi?

John: In and of itself the desire to improve oneself on the Shakuhachi can be compatible with a true love of the process. Usually, however, I've found empirically (from my own 20 years of teaching experience) that the focus on "Mastery" has more to do with a person's fantasies and ego, and wanting to attain some status or power, and this can be counter-productive to shakuhachi practice and study. And, I believe it, is counter to the spirit of the instrument to have an obsession with a mastery of it. I often receive inquiries about shakuhachi study. If someone asks, "how long will it take to master it? " then I can be reasonably sure they have a motive which really has nothing to do with a love of shakuhachi and the process it involves, which, by the way, never ends. The term "Master" is mis-understood by most westerners to mean that one has complete control and dominion over something. Rather, in the context of shakuhachi it should mean a certain degree of competency. Someone who received their black-belt in a martial art
has not mastered it, but rather has achieved a certain level of training to the degree that they can begin to teach that discipline.

Brian: When did you develop an interest in Edo period flutes?

John: I developed an interest in the Edo period Shakuhachi from the time of my very first lesson with Yamaguchi Goro Sensei. He had a few Edo period Shakuhachi which were his father's, and he very generously repeatedly loaned them to me and let me try them. I noticed that many shakuhachi made by his father, Yamaguchi Shiro, had many (but not all) of the qualities of those Edo instruments. This was some 25 yrs ago and I was not to be introduced to Edo period instruments again to any meaningful degree until around 6 or 7 yrs ago when I met a very avid collector. At this time I often would bring different Edo period instruments to Yamaguchi Sensei to show him. He really enjoyed seeing and playing them and always encouraged me to pursue my passion regarding the ancient Shakuhachi. Then he passed away and I have continued to move in this direction, studying different historical shakuhachi and visiting collectors and antique dealers all over Japan. Inoue Shigeshi Sensei (the iemoto of the Kinpu Ryu) also in possession of the very special "Soke" ( most important Edo period Kinpu Ryu Shakuhachi to be possessed only by the iemoto) often let me play this instrument and encouraged me to learn as much as possible about the Edo and Meiji period Shakuhachi. I believe that both Yamaguchi Sensei and Inoue Sensei used their Edo period instruments privately for their own education and pleasure.

Brian: Do you teach with Edo period flutes? Why or why not?

John: Only in recent times have I begun to teach my more advanced students using Edo period Ji-nashi instruments when I teach honkyoku. This has developed naturally as I no longer like using the more modern shakuhachi for honkyoku and neither do my more advanced students, though I sometimes use my shakuhachi made by Yamaguchi Shiro for Kinko Ryu honkyoku . I've been able to acquire some very fine Edo and Meiji Ji-nashi shakuhachi for some of my students and others who want to use these special instruments which were made for the specific purpose of playing honkyoku by great Kinko & Myoan players (some of whom were Komuso as well).

Brian: You underwent extensive training in the Kinko Ryu and also studied Kinpu, Myoan and Tozan. To what extent do the Edo period flutes relate to these different styles?

John: I've had extensive training in Kinko and Kinpu styles. To a lesser degree I have learned Myoan and Tozan pieces but not in large number and very carefully so as to not just collect a large volume of work. I'm more interested in trying to catch the essence of the Myoan Shimpo and Myoan Taizan styles or spirit and the Tozan spirit as well. To me, quality has ALWAYS been more important regarding the music, practice (in terms of practice time I believe it is always better to put everything you have into a shorter focused practice than to just practice half-heartedly for hours & hours), and the instruments I use. The Edo period instruments are the precursors of all later shakuhachi. It is interesting that nobody can duplicate the qualities of the Edo period instruments. Edo refers to a period of time between 1600 and 1868 ad before the introduction of western culture into Japan. The purity of tone color of the Edo shakuhachi reflects this time period when Komuso priests actually roamed Japan and shakuhachi was practiced for the most part as a form of Zen practice (Sui-Zen), where the shakuhachi was used for different Buddhist functions (The shakuhachi was also secretly used as accompaniment with the Shamisen and Koto as early as the late 1700's (probably even earlier) as depicted in many Ukiyo-e prints by Kiyomitsu, Kiyonaga, Koryusai, Harunobu and others as well as other Japanese historical works of art).

Brian: Obviously the term "Edo" refers to a historical period, not an aesthetic approach. Nevertheless flute construction changed quite a bit in the years immediately following the Edo period. How would you describe the differences between Edo period shakuhachi and those of later eras? Besides the time period in which it was made, what makes an Edo shakuhachi unique?

John: In words it would be an injustice to try and describe completely the real differences between fine Edo shakuhachi (there were poor ones just as there were poor later shakuhachi made by every maker no matter how famous). They must be compared carefully by being played and heard. Only, I believe, in this way can the differences be fully understood. In a way it's fortunate for me that most Japanese and foreign shakuhachi players haven't had a chance to do this (these instruments are extremely rare) as I'm sure those who are of the same intention as I would be shocked at how much more responsive and pure the fine Edo instruments are. To me performing honkyoku on a fine Edo Shakuhachi is like coming home!

There are also fine Meiji and later instruments. To make it simple for others (though not complete) I make a distinction between Edo and early Meiji shakuhachi made primarily for honkyoku and fine concert shakuhachi (most of which began with Araki Chikuo who lived thru the late Edo and Meiji periods. There are finer differences of Edo and Meiji instruments of different time periods within Edo and Meiji times and instruments from the different areas of Japan, later of different shakuhachi of different schools and different time periods within each respective school. To know these differences takes a great deal of study and exposure to hundreds of these shakuhachi which I fortunately have had. This, I believe, can only be learned experientially.


Brian: Your new CD is a double, with one CD of Kinko pieces and the other of Myoan and Kinpu Ryu. Presumably you learned the Kinko repertoire on the more standard ji-ari shakuhachi which are commonly used in teaching. You have performed and recorded many of the Kinko pieces on ji-ari concert shakuhachi. What adjustments did you have to make to interpret those pieces on your Edo period flutes?

John: My performance of Honkyoku changed when I began using ji-nashi historical shakuhachi. I believe with these flutes the performance must be more precise and delicate with less emphasis on volume and power.

Regarding the recording, "Zen Music with Ancient Shakuhachi", I did this because nobody else was willing or able to do it (with the exception of Mr. Satoshi Shimura who recorded only 4 pieces using two instruments on cd as an attachment to his fine book on Kokan (ancient) shakuhachi). It was a great learning experience for me to use 11 different great Edo and early Meiji shakuhachi to perform 16 honkyoku of four different styles. This type of recording needed to be done, I feel, in order to expose the wonderful sound of the ancient shakuhachi. This concept has been employed in western classical music and needed, I think, to be carried out with the shakuhachi. The photos and liner notes make it possible for the listener to see and find out about the specific flute as they are hearing the piece. The Edo and early Meiji Ji-nashi shakuhachi, if you are receptive, will communicate to you how it wants to be played. If you exert your will too much, the instrument will not respond well. So for me the adjustment is always to be receptive to the flute. This is also the case, by the way, with shakuhachi of later times but to a lesser degree.

Brian: Are Edo period flutes in tune with modern shakuhachi, in tune with themselves, in tune with the tuning systems of a bygone age, or just plain out of tune? What would you say to a modern player who tries one of your flutes or hears your CD and says, "That's out of tune!"? Are you sacrificing musical accuracy for tone in any instances?

John: If I'm sacrificing musical accuracy in pitch for tone quality it is, in my opinion, well worth it, as a good player can make any necessary pitch adjustments. However, I have Edo shakuhachi tuned at D440MHZ and others pitched differently. Hisamatsu Fuyo and Araki Chikuo definitely worked toward a more uniform tuning. The great shakuhachi are of course always in tune with themselves more or less but one must remember, even with the most modern of shakuhachi, tuning in part always depends on the player. One must be careful in judging shakuhachi according to pitch. Almost always, adjustments in performance must be made. Sometimes each note must be played differently and this takes receptivity and skill, which few seem to have. This is less so with shakuhachi made with cement in the bore but still so nevertheless. To play the early ji-nashi instruments well the player must be extremely flexible and open to change in addition to being very skillful.

Brian: The difference between modern, fully lacquered shakuhachi and jinashi Edo period ones is fairly obvious. How would you describe the differences between Edo period jinashi flutes and jinashi flutes constructed by modern makers? Wouldn't it be possible to construct shakuhachi with the same methods today and get similar results?

John: The great shakuhachi makers of the early 20th century had some direct exposure to Edo and early Meiji shakuhachi from their teachers and others. The players and makers today, for the most part, have had no such experience. I believe, for them, this is a great handicap. The difference between modern and Edo and Meiji period Ji-nashi shakuhachi is in the quality of the tone color and overall character, which is lacking in the modern Ji-nashi instruments. When comparing instruments in general from both periods this both huge and subtle difference in quality is obvious to me but difficult to describe to the inexperienced. It is like trying to describe what it feels like to swim in the ocean to someone who has never been there. Remember, the bamboo & urushi is much different in quality to what is being used today to make Shakuhachi as is the mind-set and perception of the world of the Edo period shakuhachi maker/player. This, I believe, greatly affects all aspects of the sound and response of the instrument. To those who believe that the material makes no difference I say that they are ignorant and refuse to cultivate or lack the necessary receptivity to tell the difference. To those who can, it's quite obvious how important the material is.

Brian: Is the bamboo used in previous eras different in any way than the bamboo available today? If so, why? Do you think this affects the tone of an instrument?

John: The bamboo of previous eras was different in quality to that which is used today. There is no question to me that the earlier bamboo is of much higher quality. Even my teacher, Inoue Shigeshi (one of the great Kinko shakuhachi makers of the mid to late 20th century), had many ways that he graded the bamboo and this knowledge was passed down to him by his Father, Inoue Shigemi. The criterion used today by modern shakuhachi makers is much different, having more to do with coloration on the outside surface and shape so as to make it sellable as a goods for sale instead of a masterpiece of art.

Brian: Your CD has extensive liner notes describing the origins and makers of the shakuhachi. Why is this important to you?

John: It's important to me in that it helps me share the flutes and music more completely with the listener. The emphasis of the recording is the concept behind using the Ancient flutes to perform the Ancient Honkyoku, and not necessarily on John Singer.

Brian: When you play a flute made by a certain historical player how does this affect your performance? Is it something you think about?

Whenever I play a shakuhachi made by a certain player (if I know who that person was, all the better) it is valuable to me in that it reveals that makers understanding and perspective of shakuhachi at the time that particular flute was made. This adds another deeper dimension to my own practice and enriches my life immensely.

Playing a flute made by a certain historical player provides the opportunity to find out that persons intention and understanding of Shakuhachi. This is a great gift. And this is an example of another great gift of Japanese history being ignored by the modern Japanese just as Ukiyo-e prints were ignored by them and taken away by foreigners until the Japanese realized, after it was too late, just how much they lost in their ignorance. The term meaning to "ignore". It is lucky for me that this is the case as it has allowed me to collect some very fine historical shakuhachi.

Brian: You have played shakuhachi for close to thirty years, speak Japanese, know many people in the shakuhachi world in Japan and have the means and access to acquire Edo period shakuhachi. Most shakuhachi players, particularly in the West will never see or play these flutes. You can't just walk into a store and buy an Edo period flute, or order one on the internet. Do you ever think that you are involved in a pursuit that is overly esoteric or out of the shakuhachi mainstream? What would you say to people reading this who say, "Good for you John, but who cares? I couldn't follow this path even if I wanted to. I think I'll stick with what I'm doing"? Do you think playing Edo period shakuhachi has any relevance for modern players? What would they gain from it?

John: With regards to your last long set of questions, yes, I guess I could be considered to be out of the Shakuhachi mainstream. Regarding anyone who might say, "good for you, but who cares" of course the answer must be and is, "I do!" You see, anyone who knows me understands that I'm not involved with shakuhachi to please anyone but myself. If I can share and assist other serious people along the way, that's fine. I don't care if anyone "follows" this direction or not. That has nothing to do with me and is not my responsibility. In the natural course of things those who are meant to be drawn to this aspect of shakuhachi will be, and vice versa, which is as it should be. I believe there is great relevance for modern shakuhachi players to re-connect with the rich historical past even if, god forbid, it might take some great effort of their part. It is my feeling that most modern shakuhachi players are concerned with showing off technique or volume and trying to impress others (a complete waste of time from my point of view) and becoming famous. Most Shakuhachi makers are concerned with making a living and putting their kids thru college, sometimes at the expense of creating really fine shakuhachi.. You say that most shakuhachi players in the west may never see or play the Edo or Meiji flutes. My response is, "not if I can help it!". As you know, I've been and will continue to bring in for sale the quality antique shakuhachi I can find for others to enjoy and learn from. And I will continue in this direction of recording, teaching and performing with ancient shakuhachi, I hope, as long as I breathe.


'Progress means simplifying, not complicating' : Bruno Munari

http://www.myspace.com/tairakubrianritchie

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#2 2006-07-03 13:12:59

dstone
Member
From: Vancouver, Canada
Registered: 2006-01-11
Posts: 552
Website

Re: John Singer

Yes, very good interview.  Thanks. 

Tairaku, quoting John Singer, wrote:

The purity of tone color of the Edo shakuhachi reflects this time period when Komuso priests actually roamed Japan and shakuhachi was practiced for the most part as a form of Zen practice (Sui-Zen), where the shakuhachi was used for different Buddhist functions ... The bamboo of previous eras was different in quality to that which is used today. There is no question to me that the earlier bamboo is of much higher quality.

I really like how John Singer sees the need for embracing spiritual blowing and not just playing for volume and audience.  I understand the Edo flutes have touched Singer forever (and that's a beautiful thing), but allow me to speculate for fun...  (I'm probably talking out of my ass, so no disrespect intended toward John Singer and his expert research and conclusions.)

What if Warring States period bamboo (or Muromachi or whatever came earlier) was of even "higher quality" quality than the lousy Edo bamboo that came later?  Fortunately, komuso still chose to use and practice with the inferior Edo bamboo, possibly even knowing that older bamboo would have been "better".  And that's what we do today, isn't it?  The ground offers up bamboo, we cut it, drill it, blow it, and practic true to ourselves and the bamboo.

I guess I struggle with how one piece of bamboo can be of "higher quality" than another when its function is spiritual practice?  Obviously, pleasing an audience with sweet sounds isn't the goal.  And if the degree of pleasure given to the meditating player himself through "better" tone color is the measure, then isn't that just an illusion or distraction from Zen practice also?

Then again, I've never heard or touched an Edo flute, so I realize my attitude could be simply sour grapes from ignorance.

-Darren.


When it is rainy, I am in the rain. When it is windy, I am in the wind.  - Mitsuo Aida

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#3 2006-07-03 17:20:05

Tairaku 太楽
Administrator/Performer
From: Tasmania
Registered: 2005-10-07
Posts: 3222
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Re: John Singer

dstone wrote:

I guess I struggle with how one piece of bamboo can be of "higher quality" than another when its function is spiritual practice?  Obviously, pleasing an audience with sweet sounds isn't the goal.  And if the degree of pleasure given to the meditating player himself through "better" tone color is the measure, then isn't that just an illusion or distraction from Zen practice also?

-Darren.

Because the quality of vibrations we ingest have an objective and involuntary impact beyond any of our philosophizing. A gorgeous nickle/silver gong produces different vibrations than someone banging on a trash can lid. Same thing with bamboo. The vibrations are different. Aren't they?


'Progress means simplifying, not complicating' : Bruno Munari

http://www.myspace.com/tairakubrianritchie

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#4 2006-07-03 20:29:44

dstone
Member
From: Vancouver, Canada
Registered: 2006-01-11
Posts: 552
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Re: John Singer

Tairaku wrote:

Because the quality of vibrations we ingest have an objective and involuntary impact beyond any of our philosophizing. A gorgeous nickle/silver gong produces different vibrations than someone banging on a trash can lid. Same thing with bamboo. The vibrations are different. Aren't they?

Sure, point taken.  Though I sort of see jinashi shakuhachi as a bit of a humble trash can lid in the spectrum of instruments, if not spiritual tools.  Perhaps my own bias is that I'm intrigued by tools that are very valuable for their function but nearly worthless as a possession or in a material sense.  I suppose it's just an unfortunate side effect that playable Edo flutes sell for so much money now.

Anyways, I'll reserve comment until I can hear and blow some Edo flutes.  Brian, your article has stirred me to more investigation, so thank you again for that.

-Darren.

Last edited by dstone (2006-07-03 20:36:51)


When it is rainy, I am in the rain. When it is windy, I am in the wind.  - Mitsuo Aida

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#5 2006-07-04 00:20:33

Tairaku 太楽
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From: Tasmania
Registered: 2005-10-07
Posts: 3222
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Re: John Singer

dstone wrote:

Tairaku wrote:

Because the quality of vibrations we ingest have an objective and involuntary impact beyond any of our philosophizing. A gorgeous nickle/silver gong produces different vibrations than someone banging on a trash can lid. Same thing with bamboo. The vibrations are different. Aren't they?

Sure, point taken.  Though I sort of see jinashi shakuhachi as a bit of a humble trash can lid in the spectrum of instruments, if not spiritual tools.  Perhaps my own bias is that I'm intrigued by tools that are very valuable for their function but nearly worthless as a possession or in a material sense.  I suppose it's just an unfortunate side effect that playable Edo flutes sell for so much money now.

Anyways, I'll reserve comment until I can hear and blow some Edo flutes.  Brian, your article has stirred me to more investigation, so thank you again for that.

-Darren.

The prices of shakuhachi seem ridiculous for a piece of a common material like bamboo. But that's because they are a part of the Japanese economy which is inflated. The best way to get around that is to learn to make your own. In the case of Edo flutes, it is logical to assume that some of the ones that have been preserved are of high quality or they wouldn't have made it this long. On the other hand I've played some Edo shakuhachi which are atrocious. Just because they are Edo doesn't mean they are good. To judge them you have to have experience with shakuhachi in general and Edo shakuhachi in particular.

Regarding jinashi shakuhachi being humble, maybe not. To make good ones requires a great deal of skill. There are many awful jinashi shakuhachi being bandied about and rationalized as "zen" or "hocchiku". The ratio of good to bad is small. Even the good makers succeed only some of the time. Other makers never make a good one, or if they do, they got lucky. Making is such an inexact science or art that the mysteries of it will never be known.

It is frequently said that to make a good shakuhachi you must be a good player and that the better player you are the better shakuhachi you can make. In my experience this is not true. It's an urban myth. Sure you have to be able to play, but some of the best makers out there now are not particularly good players. So how do they know how to make good shakuhachi? Other great players try to make shakuhachi but they are not successful in this endeavor.

Whether shakuhachi are jinashi or jiari, modern or ancient, good ones are hard to find!


'Progress means simplifying, not complicating' : Bruno Munari

http://www.myspace.com/tairakubrianritchie

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#6 2006-07-04 00:41:35

evan kubota
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Registered: 2006-04-10
Posts: 136

Re: John Singer

"It is frequently said that to make a good shakuhachi you must be a good player and that the better player you are the better shakuhachi you can make. In my experience this is not true. It's an urban myth. Sure you have to be able to play, but some of the best makers out there now are not particularly good players."

This is an interesting point. Not to compare apples and oranges, but even among jazz or classical guitarists most don't believe that the  luthier must be a master player. Some degree of technical proficiency is necessary, but you don't have to be Montgomery or Segovia to make a great instrument.

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#7 2006-07-04 16:53:09

rpowers
Member
From: San Francisco
Registered: 2005-10-09
Posts: 285

Re: John Singer

Tairaku wrote:

A gorgeous nickle/silver gong produces different vibrations than someone banging on a trash can lid. Same thing with bamboo. The vibrations are different. Aren't they?

The vibrations are so different that it's not the same thing with bamboo. The functions are also different.

This is the same mistake we make when we compare bamboo for shakuhachi with tonewoods for guitars.

In bells and gongs, the metal is the sounding material, and the tone depends on the way it vibrates; a finer material will indeed produce a finer tone.

In guitars, the strings are the sounding material; the soundboard and the box can color and amplify the tone, but they don't produce it themselves.

Then we come to the shakuhachi, where the sounding material is the column of air enclosed within the pipe. What we hear is not vibrations in the material the instrument is made of. Since we hear sounds by sensing vibrations in the air, the sound of shakuhachi is much less modulated by the instrument's material than bells or string instruments are.

To shift from physics to a more spiritual perspective, it isn't just "some air" that vibrates inside the pipe. It is the player's own breath, sounding as it is released from the body. I have heard Yamaguchi Goro quoted as telling his students that if their sound was not good, it was their spirit that needed improvement. I don't know whether he told them to go buy a new (or old) flute.


"Shut up 'n' play . . . " -- Frank Zappa
"Gonna blow some . . ." -- Junior Walker
"It's not the flute." -- Riley Lee

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#8 2006-07-04 19:01:33

Moran from Planet X
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From: Here to There
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Re: John Singer

rpowers wrote:

Then we come to the shakuhachi, where the sounding material is the column of air enclosed within the pipe. What we hear is not vibrations in the material the instrument is made of.

So identical inside/outside profile flutes made from different materials played by the same musician will have no discernable differnece in sound? A table of David Brown 1.8s in maple, redgum and ebony? Or a table full of Ralph Sweet transverse Irish D flutes in maple, walnut and rosewood? Fascinating.


"I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass...and I am all out of bubblegum." Rowdy Piper, They Live!

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#9 2006-07-04 20:43:23

Josh
PhD
From: Grand Island, NY/Nara, Japan
Registered: 2005-11-14
Posts: 305
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Re: John Singer

But there definately seems to be a difference between the sound produced by bamboo shakuhachi and wooden shakuhachi. Isn't this a direct result from the material used? Traditionally there is also the concept of a good flute having good chikuin. If you have a flute with good chikuin that vibrates well when played properly isn't this going to affect the sound produced? If not, what's the point of valuing chikuin? I don't know much about physics so can someone explain this.

Josh

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#10 2006-07-04 22:01:17

Tairaku 太楽
Administrator/Performer
From: Tasmania
Registered: 2005-10-07
Posts: 3222
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Re: John Singer

Chris Moran wrote:

rpowers wrote:

Then we come to the shakuhachi, where the sounding material is the column of air enclosed within the pipe. What we hear is not vibrations in the material the instrument is made of.

So identical inside/outside profile flutes made from different materials played by the same musician will have no discernable differnece in sound? A table of David Brown 1.8s in maple, redgum and ebony? Or a table full of Ralph Sweet transverse Irish D flutes in maple, walnut and rosewood? Fascinating.

Funny you should mention it, but David Brown is one of the people who say it's the empty space in the flute which makes the tone, not the material. However in reality I have owned several of his flutes and played more and which wood he uses has a big impact on the tone and volume of the particular flute.


'Progress means simplifying, not complicating' : Bruno Munari

http://www.myspace.com/tairakubrianritchie

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#11 2006-07-04 23:22:51

dstone
Member
From: Vancouver, Canada
Registered: 2006-01-11
Posts: 552
Website

Re: John Singer

Tairaku wrote:

Funny you should mention it, but David Brown is one of the people who say it's the empty space in the flute which makes the tone, not the material. However in reality I have owned several of his flutes and played more and which wood he uses has a big impact on the tone and volume of the particular flute.

Allowing both "camps" to contribute to a model that confirms their beliefs, yet still in a way consistent with the physics of materials and oscillations...

1. The "empty space camp" is correct in that the material of a flute is not creating sound by its own vibration, unlike a gong or string which can be easily damped by a finger to kill the sound and prove this difference.

2. The "materials camp" claims that even given the same empty space, materials make for different sound.  This would be consistent with proven properties of different materials attenuating/reflecting/absorbing different frequencies in complex ways.  Take this to a larger scale...  Do a frequency sweep and plot the response in identically shaped rooms with walls lined with steel, walnut, pine, bamboo, and PVC.  I've never done such a comparison, but I'd bet money the different materials would alter frequencies in the room in different ways.  Likewise for the bore walls coloring the vibrating air column, no?

-Darren.


When it is rainy, I am in the rain. When it is windy, I am in the wind.  - Mitsuo Aida

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#12 2006-07-05 00:16:12

Tairaku 太楽
Administrator/Performer
From: Tasmania
Registered: 2005-10-07
Posts: 3222
Website

Re: John Singer

Well thankfully (or not, in some cases) the biggest single factor in the tone coming out of a shakuhachi is still the player and the way he/she plays. Then all of the other factors discussed also play a role, from materials, lacquer, bore shape, hole shape and size, etc. It's interesting because shakuhachi is kind of a solitary and introverted art, and those differences are more apparent to the player than the listener.


'Progress means simplifying, not complicating' : Bruno Munari

http://www.myspace.com/tairakubrianritchie

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#13 2006-08-08 01:17:50

jb
Member
Registered: 2005-10-09
Posts: 24

Re: John Singer

There is a well known experiment in which an organ pipe is constructed with an outer sleeve.  As the pipe is sounded, water is poured into the space between the pipe and the sleeve.  Both timbre and pitch are affected by the water as it gradually fills the space around the pipe.  So the material in a pipe has an effect.

Probably in shakuhachi there is not the massive difference between one flute and another comparable created by the volume of water in the experiment above.  But mass and density of wood probably has some effect.

For whatever reason,  each shakuhachi sounds (and plays) uniquely.  At least that is my experience with the ones I have played.

John

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#14 2006-08-08 15:05:47

Karmajampa
Member
From: Aotearoa (NZ)
Registered: 2006-02-12
Posts: 574
Website

Re: John Singer

Regarding John Singer's comment that he is probably 'not mainstream'.
I find less sensitivity or imagination in 'mainstream'. I actually find the 'upstream ebb' very interesting.

Regarding different materials for flutemaking.
In my short experience with about seventy flutes, the timbre varies a lot. Both in using different bamboo and in my case, ceramic. I am presently making ceramic shakuhachi and the timbre difference through the 'leather-hard', 'room dry', bisque' and 'vitrified' states is quite different.
Also, I have a friend with whom I play together, he has a different body to my own, and the sound he gets from a particular flute, is not the same as what I get. I have considered rejecting a flute until he came and played it. It was a revelation to me just how differently we each blow the same instrument.
From this I think that what may be a 'superior' instrument to one person, may not work for another.

There are Tibetan 'singing bowls' that are made from five to nine different metals in alloy. One of the metals is 'meteoric iron'. Tibet, being of such altitude, gets a larger quantity of meteoric material reaching the ground without burning up.

Kel.


Kia Kaha !

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#15 2006-08-10 15:30:38

GONGTOPIA
Member
Registered: 2006-08-10
Posts: 3

Re: John Singer

As a non player, I was invited to check this forum out by Tairaku. I'm a percussionist, but have had the Shakuhachi cross my path a few times lately. So if I may, I'd like to add some thoughts to this thread.

Believe me, percussionsts can get extremely caught up in the metal alloys used to make various cymbals & Gongs, as well as "vintage vs modern." As a percussionist who plays mainly Gongs/cymbals/bells, I can say that there are many factors making up the sound of an instrument.

It would be safe to say that "not all bamboo is created equal" that is, it's an organic material that will have variances from piece to piece. This, to me, would yield different qualities/tonalities between different, yet identical Shakuhachi (orwood in violins, acoustic guitars, etc.). The same can be said for metal alloys: not all Gongs are created equal and no 2 sound "alike." This can again betraced to the variances in the materials, but more importantly (at least to me), to the variances in both the maker and the player.

While it may be valid to cite both the "empty space" & "materials" arguments, the hand of the maker and the hand of the player are really the final say. A master intrument maker makes the best instrument they can, and it is up to the player to discover that elusive "best" in the instrument. Even then, different players can find a different "best."

Thanks for the interview, it was very illuminating, And thanks for the space.

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#16 2006-08-11 10:01:18

Medit8b1
Member
From: N. Waterboro, ME
Registered: 2006-06-23
Posts: 19
Website

Re: John Singer

Just to add my two cents, As I mentioned in my member intro, I have been playing and collecting Native American style flutes long before I started taking lessons on the Shakuhachi. I currently have about 25 Native flutes, and I know of others who have from fifty to over a hundred. The reason for this (besides various impulsive disorders) are the myriad factors that affect the sound/tone, playability and "personality" of a Native flute. The two major factors in my experience (all though by no means the only) seem to be maker and wood. One can have two flutes in the same key made from the same wood by two different makers that sound completely different. Conversely you can have two flutes in the same key by the same maker made from two different woods that sound completely different. A common consensus (all though by no means completey agreed upon) is that softer woods, such as cedar, make for "mellow" sounding flutes, while hard woods, such as maple, make for a louder, brighter sounding flute.

Karmajampa said "Also, I have a friend with whom I play together, he has a different body to my own, and the sound he gets from a particular flute, is not the same as what I get. I have considered rejecting a flute until he came and played it. It was a revelation to me just how differently we each blow the same instrument."

I have also found that the player can make a huge difference in the sound of a flute. A well known native flute maker in my neck of the woods makes flutes that myself and allot of my fellow flutists have a hard time making a sound on, let alone play well. However, when the flute maker in question plays them, he makes them sound like some of the best flutes I've ever heard.

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#17 2006-08-11 12:24:56

nyokai
shihan
From: Portland, ME
Registered: 2005-10-09
Posts: 613
Website

Re: John Singer

Like many things, it all comes down to money.
It is easier to own twenty very high quality native flutes than one Edo-period shakuhachi.

John S says "I believe there is great relevance for modern shakuhachi players to re-connect with the rich historical past even if, god forbid, it might take some great effort of their part." Alas, it's not great effort that it takes. Getting a stellar antique shakuhachi, at least in America, requires a) being incredibly lucky, or b) being independently wealthy, or c) having a source of income that's probably not related to shakuhachi playing or teaching. This means that most of the people who spend the most time with shakuhachi will never play instruments of that caliber.

This is why I applaud those who are making very good inexpensive shakuhachi these days: it keeps the art from becoming hopelessly elitest while still assuring a baseline of quality. Students should keep reminding themselves that how you practice is the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR in how you sound, way more important than the instrument you have. Every moment fantasizing about a great antique shakuhachi is a moment you could have been ro-ing on a perfectly good flute. Certainly we'd all rather hear Ornette Coleman on his plastic sax than Kenny G on gold, or Watazumi on a crude stick than many a technically proficient but musically uninteresting player on a great Edo shakuhachi.

This is not to say that I do not see the value in great antique instruments -- I certainly do, and I have loved the few I've gotten to play on. In fact, I wish that some of those who collect antique instruments would lend them out to qualified teachers and performers on a rotating basis -- this would enable many more students and audiences to get inspired by the tradition and "re-connect with the rich historical past."

But until that happens, there's lots of GREAT music to be made on GOOD modern instruments.

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#18 2006-08-11 13:23:26

Tairaku 太楽
Administrator/Performer
From: Tasmania
Registered: 2005-10-07
Posts: 3222
Website

Re: John Singer

nyokai wrote:

Like many things, it all comes down to money.
It is easier to own twenty very high quality native flutes than one Edo-period shakuhachi.

Yes that's true and imagine how many top quality jaw harps or kazoos one could have!

nyokai wrote:

John S says "I believe there is great relevance for modern shakuhachi players to re-connect with the rich historical past even if, god forbid, it might take some great effort of their part." Alas, it's not great effort that it takes. Getting a stellar antique shakuhachi, at least in America, requires a) being incredibly lucky, or b) being independently wealthy, or c) having a source of income that's probably not related to shakuhachi playing or teaching. This means that most of the people who spend the most time with shakuhachi will never play instruments of that caliber.

I don't know about this. I've played, owned and sold plenty of nice vintage shakuhachi in the $2000-5000 range. This is expensive compared to a guitar, for example, but it's sure a lot cheaper than even a crummy car. It's a matter of priorities. It is an obvious statement that everybody or almost everybody on this forum owns a computer, or they wouldn't be posting. Computers are not cheap. I would guess most people own a car. Some people have bicycles that cost $100 and I know for a fact that some of us have bicycles that cost $2000. It's all up to what you want to spend your money on. We live in a materialistic culture, and people do not mind spending money on "necessities" like cars or computers but hesitate to spend money on "luxuries" like musical instruments. Or even lessons. How many times have you heard people say they "can't afford" lessons? Lessons are cheap. But they still have their computer. A lot of people also spend $2 or 3000 on a mediocre modern flute when they could get a superior vintage flute for the same price. Last week Peter Hill told me about a student who showed him his (famous modern maker) flute and Peter showed his Yamazaki Chikuin (which he got from me) which cost about the same and the dude almost started crying. Actually Peter is a good source for excellent vintage flutes reasonably priced.

nyokai wrote:

This is why I applaud those who are making very good inexpensive shakuhachi these days: it keeps the art from becoming hopelessly elitest while still assuring a baseline of quality.

I agree wholeheartedly with this. People like Perry Yung and Ken LaCosse, among others, are making fine flutes in a price range most people can afford. David Sawyer had some Bonchiku flutes at the NYC festival which were in the $800-1200 range which were really good. And of course there's the YUU which is a musically reputable flute for about $100.

nyokai wrote:

Students should keep reminding themselves that how you practice is the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR in how you sound, way more important than the instrument you have. Every moment fantasizing about a great antique shakuhachi is a moment you could have been ro-ing on a perfectly good flute. Certainly we'd all rather hear Ornette Coleman on his plastic sax than Kenny G on gold, or Watazumi on a crude stick than many a technically proficient but musically uninteresting player on a great Edo shakuhachi.

Once again true. Another important factor is that until you are an advanced player having an instrument with great tone and historical gravitas is much less important than having one that plays easily and helps you in your studies. A beginner is much better off with a good inexpensive modern flute than a more demanding vintage one.

nyokai wrote:

This is not to say that I do not see the value in great antique instruments -- I certainly do, and I have loved the few I've gotten to play on. In fact, I wish that some of those who collect antique instruments would lend them out to qualified teachers and performers on a rotating basis -- this would enable many more students and audiences to get inspired by the tradition and "re-connect with the rich historical past."

Ha! OK I'll loan you one next time I see you!

nyokai wrote:

But until that happens, there's lots of GREAT music to be made on GOOD modern instruments.

Most shakuhachi players don't need a great vintage flute any more than I need a Maserati. As Nyokai says, the most important thing is PRACTICE and STUDY.


'Progress means simplifying, not complicating' : Bruno Munari

http://www.myspace.com/tairakubrianritchie

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#19 2006-08-11 23:56:33

edosan
Edomologist
From: Salt Lake City
Registered: 2005-10-09
Posts: 2185

Re: John Singer

I could see you in a Maserati, but that's just me...



eB


Zen is not easy.
It takes effort to attain nothingness.
And then what do you have?
Bupkes.

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#20 2009-03-27 11:28:40

SteveCrandall
Member
Registered: 2008-03-04
Posts: 6

Re: John Singer

Hello to all!
I enjoy John Singer's "Zen Shakuhachi" CD, but I cannot
tell what length of flute he is using on each track.  That
information is not listed in the insert on the copy I have.
If someone knows, could that information be posted here?
Thanks so much,
Steve

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#21 2009-03-27 12:17:34

edosan
Edomologist
From: Salt Lake City
Registered: 2005-10-09
Posts: 2185

Re: John Singer

SteveCrandall wrote:

Hello to all!
I enjoy John Singer's "Zen Shakuhachi" CD, but I cannot
tell what length of flute he is using on each track.  That
information is not listed in the insert on the copy I have.
If someone knows, could that information be posted here?
Thanks so much,
Steve

Steve,

Here is a direct download link to a PDF which will explain how you can determine the flute lengths used on a recording using a 1.8 shakuhachi:

     http://img26.imageshack.us/img26/4003/f … length.pdf

Most of 'em are 1.8s on that recording (assuming you're talking about the one with the Kinko duets), with one flute always a 1.8, and the second flute being a 2.0 on a couple of the tracks. It's instructive to sit down with a 1.8 and do some hunting. Have you tried that?


Zen is not easy.
It takes effort to attain nothingness.
And then what do you have?
Bupkes.

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#22 2009-03-27 13:48:24

SteveCrandall
Member
Registered: 2008-03-04
Posts: 6

Re: John Singer

Hello, Edosan!
That is a great file ... thanks!!
For instance, Shirabe is either played on a 2.0 or the 1.8 goes to Ro no O meri quite a lot.
Thanks,
Steve

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#23 2009-03-27 18:35:09

edosan
Edomologist
From: Salt Lake City
Registered: 2005-10-09
Posts: 2185

Re: John Singer

SteveCrandall wrote:

Hello, Edosan!
That is a great file ... thanks!!
For instance, Shirabe is either played on a 2.0 or the 1.8 goes to Ro no O meri quite a lot.
Thanks,
Steve

Hmmm...ain't no Shirabe on the album I've got. The track list is:

Zen Shakuhachi Duets (John Singer &  Mizuno Kohmei)

Akebono Sugagaki
Shika no Tone
Meguro Jishi
Azuma no Kyoku
Koku Reibo
Kumoi Jishi
Sanya Sugagaki
Sokaku Reibo

Sure we're talking about the same recording? At any rate, that little tutorial will work on any recording, as long
as you've got an in-tune 1.8 on hand.


Zen is not easy.
It takes effort to attain nothingness.
And then what do you have?
Bupkes.

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#24 2009-03-27 20:00:48

Tairaku 太楽
Administrator/Performer
From: Tasmania
Registered: 2005-10-07
Posts: 3222
Website

Re: John Singer

Probably talking about the "Zen Music on Ancient Shakuhachi" CD John put out recently. Interesting how John has so many CD's called "Zen" this or that. He is such a Zen dude! wink

If it's that album they're mostly on 1.8 BUT because they are vintage 1.8s most of them are pitched between D and C#.

Other than that "Kyorei" is on an Edo 2.6 which is pitched between Ab and G.

And I think there may be 1 or 2 on an Edo 2.2 which is pitched around Bb.

If anyone attended the lecture John, Simura Sensei and I did in Sydney those two long flutes were demonstrated.

There might be an Edo or Meiji 2.0 on the CD but I don't remember. I think John mentions the flutes in his liner notes.

Every serious shakuhachi player should get a 1.8 pitched like that (between C# and D) IF they want to know what the music would have sounded like in the old days. Having a reference point of A=440 or higher has screwed up the world of 1.8 because it forces the makers to make the bore thinner and tone suffers (or at least changes) as a result.

EDIT:

I just looked at John's website and besides the "Zen duets" and Zen on Vintage blah blah" he also has one called "Shakuhachi Zen" which is all Kinpu ryu. If it's that CD everything is done on a (Miura Kindo) 2.0. According to John's Nezasaha teacher Inoue Shigeshi all Nezasaha should be played on 2.0.

There are two different standards of 2.0 pitch. There is the actual length 2.0 which usually yields a flute that plays a bit sharp of C for ro. And the other one is pitched on C (ri on 1.8 equals ro on 2.0, for duet purposes) but the actual length is 2.03 or so. I think the one John used on this album was an actual 2.0 but I never played that flute or saw it.

I will have a word with John about not confusing the forum members with any more CD's called Zen something or other.


'Progress means simplifying, not complicating' : Bruno Munari

http://www.myspace.com/tairakubrianritchie

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#25 2009-03-27 20:20:04

madoherty
Moderator
Registered: 2008-03-15
Posts: 366

Re: John Singer

Once you figure out the length of flute, consider adding the pieces to the "Shakuhachi Recording Index"!

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