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The recent Soundscapes of Japan performance at Lone Tree Arts Center featured a rare performance by Kakizakai Kaoru, who is a master of the shakuhachi — a wooden flute that dates back to the seventh century. Back then, Zen priests used the instrument as a path to enlightenment. For the evening, Brazilian shakuhachi disciple Matheus Ferreira played host and gave context to the songs, whether the more traditional pieces referred to by the term “honkyoku” or pieces composed by Fukuda Rando in the 1920s and 1930s. As a student of Grand Master Yokoyama Katsuya, Kaoru had plenty of opportunity to explore a craft that practitioners like to think of as the perfection of imperfection, a concept that is near the opposite of Western classical music.
Rather than control the rhythm using the tongue, shakuhachi players use the back of the throat, making Kaoru's tonal acrobatics all the more impressive. Kaoru mostly played solo, with koto/piano player Shigeta Junko for a couple of songs and a duo with Ferreira toward the end. For the latter, Ferreira stood on stage while Kaoru changed his positions on the edges of the room in a counterclockwise pattern, as one might imagine Zen priests might do in some sort of consciousness-altering ceremony.
As entrancing and as powerful as the music really was in the way that only sounds imitating birds and the flow of wind can be, the sky seen through the windows behind the performers gave a different kind of show that shifted subtly yet dramatically, as though accompanying the music. In the beginning, the grey-green clouds of tornado weather dominated the sky, with flashes of lightning striking seemingly horizontally and the following sound of distant thunder.
Tornado weather gave way to dark cloud formations one would expect from an afternoon rainstorm, with ragged wedges of blue peeking through clouds. A solid sheet of pale gray seemed to snap into focus as though someone had changed a television channel until wisps of sky could be discerned on the edge of vision. By the end a fiery orange whorl of clouds reflecting the sunset came into being outside as though a painting that manifested itself. Although Kaoru gently joked with the audience when explaining the intricacies and tricks involved in playing the shakuhachi, it just seemed as though he and the weather had to have been in collusion with one another to make what could have been an entirely meditative show a visual as well as a musical and spiritual feast.
Bias: Having grown up for a bit in Okinawa I have a certain affection for Japanese classical music.
Random Detail: Found out about this show from the guys in Animal / object.
By the Way: Kakizakai Kaoru has several albums out including many in a more contemporary style of music.
If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.