Wednesday, October 20, 2010

From Jurassic Park To Linkin Park: Enter The Shakuhachi

Breathing new life into the ancient shakuhachi. Via.
Ancient Japan: the glowing sun peeking from the top of Mt. Fuji, a farmer picking rice, a housewife preparing tea, a cricket resting on a leaf. All bask in the warmth rising above the mountain’s zenith.

Picture that scene. Is it possible you hear music?

Scenes of Japan that evoke tradition are often accompanied by ancient Japanese instruments, from the plucked and strummed twangs of the shamisen to a haunting flute sound with a sharp edge.

The latter is called the shakuhachi. The casual listener may recognize it from the music of romantic historical movies such as The Last Samurai, Memoirs of a Geisha or The Last Emperor. It was also used in the blockbusters Braveheart and Jurassic Park. The shakuhachi has also made appearances, both in electronic and natural forms, on many albums by contemporary recording artists such as Rush, Incubus, and Linkin Park. The sound famously served as the overture for Peter Gabriel’s hit "Sledgehammer" [full video here if you want to be whisked back to 1986] .

The shakuhachi came to Japan via Korea and has been traditionally played by the wandering monks of the Fuke sect of Zen Buddhism. During the Tokugawa era, the monks were one of few groups who the shogunate granted permission to travel without restrictions around Japan due to their religious duties involving playing the shakuhachi and begging for alms.

For those intrigued by this widespread yet relatively unknown instrument, Japan Society holds a shakuhachi master class and a separate workshop on the breathing technique employed by the Fuke monks during meditation called missoku (secret breathing).

Taking place Sunday, October 24, the master class and workshop are led by renowned instrumentalist Akikazu Nakamura, who studied shakuhachi and missoku for many years in Japan. recently caught up with Nakamura on the East Coast and captured this astounding performance:

There's plenty of opportunity in NYC this weekend to ride shakuhachi sound waves. The night before his master class and workshop, Nakamura performs live music for MoMA's premiere of the lost Japanese silent cinema masterpiece Kurutta Ippeiji [A Page of Madness], the centerpiece of the eighth annual To Save and Project festival of film preservation.


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