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New York audiences had the opportunity to hear Akikazu Nakamura recently in a recital at Merkin Conert Hall. The first half of the program was devoted to honkyoku and the second half to contemporary music, some with koto. Aki is a tremendously creative and innovative shakuhachi player and listening to him brought some questions to mind. Circular breathing is a technique he has mastered and uses to great effect in contemporary music, but I had not heard it in honkyoku until the other night. Wonderfully dramatic and effective. The question that came to mind was, in the tradition of suizen, where breathing is at the core of the meditation practice and shakuhachi is the medium, when you eliminate the need to break the sound for breathing, does this obviate the meditation intent of the music? Or does it add a layer of depth heretofore unexplored? Clearly his is a musical choice but I was intrigued with the philosophical aspect it raises. I do know listening to his impossibly long notes and phrases, that when a breath does come it is very exciting.
I cannot do circular breathing and have never heard Akikazu Nakamura use the technique to play honkyoku, but my friends who play the didgeridoo where circular breathing is the norm find it to be a very meditative experience. It has been around for 40,000 years more or less...much longer than the shakuhachi.
How often would you say he takes a breath, compared to the way you play? I've always thought circular breathing was interesting, I just don't have the commitment for it yet. I'm also not sure I'd like it compared to playing Honkyoku without it, since the Ma seem to be so important to it, and integral part.
But I'd love to hear it someday.
Oh, I just read Ray Brooks book "Blowing Zen" and he learned that circular breathing technique from Akikazu Nakamura. I think it is different from the circular breathing used with didgeridoo, well that's what it sounded like from the book. That book is really good too. I'd love to hear that on the shakuhachi sometime. I think it is worth exploring as a facet of suizen. It gives another level of breath control not normally used with this practice.
I'm not sure where I read it but Nakamura has definately rocked the boat with his new technique. I've heard that it has caused a bit of disturbance in the shakuhachi community here in Japan, basicly because like you said the MA gets drastically affected. If I have some wrong information though someone please correct me.
I am just a neophyte at the shakuhachi, but it seems to me that whether you circular breathe or breathe in and out has nothing to do with suizen. I thought that suizen was simply being in the moment with your breath and channeling that breath through an instrument...any kind of instrument...vs just breathing. IMHO everything else is just technique.
For the record (sic):
Nakamura never uses circular breathing in Honkyoku; how, indeed, would it be Honkyoku if he did?
In addition to being a fine traditional player, he performs a lot of original and commissioned modern music. Very powerful musician...
I must beg to differ. All of his cd's in 'The World of Zen' series (Saji etc.) consist of honkyoku pieces. And he does very often use circular breathing in those pieces. Maybe I misinterpreted what you wrote Edosan. Were you implying on a philosophical level that Nakamura's honkyoku aren't 'real' honkyku?
My personal opinion is that circular breathing does break the flow and changes the piece too much, unless its used very judiciously. Watazumi used circular breathing in a very subtle way.
Nakamura is a very good player. However, I think he makes a gimmick of circular breathing.