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What is "depth" in shakuhachi tone?
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x moran
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PostPosted: 2011-07-25, 21:39    Post subject: What is "depth" in shakuhachi tone? Reply with quote

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I'm curious to hear from makers and users about what gives a shakuhachi the added interest in tone often referred to as "depth".
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Michael Komatsuzen
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PostPosted: 2011-07-26, 22:18    Post subject: What is "depth" in shakuhachi tone? Reply with quote

Hi X,

For me, as a player, the issue is on of embouchure-flute connection. Filling the flute with sound/breath creates the depth that you might be speaking of.

M
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Jim Thompson
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PostPosted: 2011-07-27, 01:51    Post subject: What is "depth" in shakuhachi tone? Reply with quote

Xris,
This is probably a nearly perfect question to demonstrate the inadequacy of words. I started to answer your post and found myself floundering.
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Jeff Cairns
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PostPosted: 2011-07-27, 03:57    Post subject: What is "depth" in shakuhachi tone? Reply with quote

x moran wrote:
I'm curious to hear from makers and users about what gives a shakuhachi the added interest in tone often referred to as "depth".


At this point, I'm more curious to know what exactly you mean by "depth" of tone, X. It seems to me that perspective is the metaphoric cue here. Could you elaborate a little. Idea
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Brian Tairaku Ritchie
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PostPosted: 2011-07-27, 06:13    Post subject: What is "depth" in shakuhachi tone? Reply with quote

To me it means a combination of accentuated lower harmonics coupled with a complex buzzing kind of tone.

The lower harmonics alone without a nice tone can be considered "dull".

I also think of depth of tone as being a flute that you don't mind playing for a long time, and doesn't fatigue your ears.

All of this of course is almost meaningless and shows how definitions don't describe music well.
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J. Danza
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PostPosted: 2011-07-27, 07:55    Post subject: What is "depth" in shakuhachi tone? Reply with quote

I think the depth comes from the player, but it's true too that as far as potential for expressing depth, the Shakuhachi and the Ney are unequalled... but then there's the Kaval, the Bansuri, the Duduk, the Native Flute, and countless others. A master musician with a deep soul can express depth through just about anything that can produce sound.
I measure the depth of the music by the trail of Silence it leaves behind...
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Jeff Cairns
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PostPosted: 2011-07-27, 15:03    Post subject: What is "depth" in shakuhachi tone? Reply with quote

J., are you suggesting then that level of spiritual attainment (whatever that is) dictates tonal quality in a shakuhachi? Or are you talking about a completely different kettle of fish? And if so, what of X's original question?
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CharlesKoeppen
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PostPosted: 2011-07-27, 16:30    Post subject: What is "depth" in shakuhachi tone? Reply with quote

In photography "depth of field" is the range of distance that appears in focus. Extrapolating that definition to tone quality, depth could refer to the dynamic range (ie., loudness and softness) that a shakuhachi will play clearly. I don't know if that's what Chris was talking about, but it seems like a good use of the word depth as related to tone quality.
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Jon Palombi
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PostPosted: 2011-07-27, 18:10    Post subject: What is "depth" in shakuhachi tone? Reply with quote

Hey guys,

I am as of yet, unable to speak about the shakuhachi with anything other than the relative inexperience of a beginner. So I try and find the tonal depth, while playing a shakuhachi, by applying everything I have learned about playing the flute over the last 35 years. On some levels, all flutes have universal characteristics... on another level altogether, the shakuhachi is most unique. In other words, I no nothing and I am taking my first fledgling steps in the journey of a lifetime. Wink

Like Shunryu Suzuki Roshi said so poignantly, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few."

My favorite quote from him is this, "When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself."

From what I gather about what Pepe is inferring... is that the experience and understanding of the player himself/herself , is what infuses the music being played, as well as the instrument in-hand, with such tonal depth and bright spirit. When I am in the groove, I find the depth forms by the fusion and symbiosis of the breath or "the wind" passing through me, the quality of the flute being blown and the intent/feeling expressed by the harmony of all of these things in a seamless union.

In all honesty, I am just finding my way with the shakuhachi and this harmony comes and goes when I practice. Sometimes I feel that I am the biggest barrier to the desired depth of sound I am searching for, other times I know for a fact that I am blocking the depth by sheer ignorance alone!!! Still, other times I blame the instrument and wish I had more $$$ for a finer set of flutes. Usually this is when I am clinging most to my previous experiences with the realm of playing the transverse flute. After all, I am the proverbial village idiot who cannot grasp this mysterious flow, most of the time. Even so, I have my moments of Zen transparency... Embarassed

So, I guess I wholeheartedly stand beside Jeff Cairn's inquisitive stance... how do we interpret this "depth" and how do we accurately define and measure it? Is it the quality of the shakuhachi being played (the nature of the physical instrument itself) or the skill, training and experience of the player? Is it the friction between the elements involved, the interrelationship or the fusion/morphing of these characteristics? It it reasonable to quantify this very degree of tonal depth, as the gradual saturation born of the looooooong process of study and reflection required to play traditional shakuhachi music?

Can this same depth be experienced without a qualified teacher and the long standing traditional path? Essentially, is this depth developed through our rationale or our inspiration? Is this depth a technical issue or a spiritual issue. Or both intertwined? What criteria does Xris suggest by using the word "depth" in the tone of our blowing?

Ultimately, a good player should be able to find this depth by blowing on an empty beer bottle, right? So, I must admit that I am absolutely guilty as charged (by myself) about the responsibility for the manifestation of this depth. I have to unlearn everything I know about playing the transverse classical flute and Indian bansuri and freshly embrace the emptiness of the moment, therefore attuning my playing to another whole field of musical expression.

In this light, I second J. Danza's poetic assessment... the silence which follows the sound is equally important to this "tone often referred to as depth" as a companion and even a byproduct of the sonics. The emptiness becomes the source of the fullness and the power comes from surrendering to this immeasurable void, without losing one's capacity and functional ability to translate some of the quintessence of this great formlessness. Since decades of Zazen alone cannot gift such expertise or give voice to said depth of tone... perhaps this exquisite tonal depth necessitates a holistic blending of intensive training, spiritual inspiration and practice, practice, practice, ad infinitum???

So yeah, ideally... when all the aspects of playing the shakuhachi gel, there ought to be a profound transformation in state of mind occurring to both, the player and those listening to the playing being clearly expressed. I hear something mysterious and indefinable in the music of the shakuhachi. Something which embodies the concept of depth, more than just about anything I can think of. Or many it's better not to think at all about it, just feel it? I gather that such a natural center of balance is what shakuhachi music is all about? Not just technical excellence in action.

Without some presence of soul... can the music which was initially born from the Komuso giving breathe to their sincere prayers be created? I think not. Said depth of tone is obviously about a state of total balance between the acquired technique and the living spirit rushing through the breath of the player, transformed by the genius of the bamboo flute maker and the resulting shakuhachi itself.

I think this is what initially brought me to seek out the path of the shakuhachi. I hear this tonal depth, this flowing force, in the playing of traditional shakuhachi music, as well as some of the cutting-edge experimental music, which uses the shakuhachi for it's voice. Idea
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Last edited by Jon Palombi on 2011-07-29, 15:38; edited 2 times in total
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J. Danza
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PostPosted: 2011-07-27, 20:32    Post subject: What is "depth" in shakuhachi tone? Reply with quote

Hello Jeff
For me the answer has two sides:
a) the Shakuhachi has an undefinable quality in itself that is profound and mysterious and literally changed my life upon first hearing. However, at this point in this thread we can already see that X's original question cannot be answered rationally or scientifically. You know it when you hear it, and good luck explaining it. I think it may have to do with the simplicity and the material, although we have already had endless talks about material!
b) The "whatever that is" of the player definitely dictates the tonal quality. The same instrument will sound completely different with different players, and a good player can make a "bad" instrument sound great... But then again... the "whatever that is" can't be defined in words either!
I love to exchange ideas and views through this medium, but we quickly enter into the realm of
"the Tao that can be expressed in words is not the eternal Tao"
My sensei's answer to any of these questions was: shut up and play your flute...
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PostPosted: 2011-07-27, 22:17    Post subject: What is "depth" in shakuhachi tone? Reply with quote

J. Danza wrote:
I love to exchange ideas and views through this medium, but we quickly enter into the realm of
"The Tao that can be expressed in words is not the eternal Tao"
My sensei's answer to any of these questions was: "Shut up and play your flute..."


Sage council, Sensei has a valid point. Reminds me of a couple of things the great Satchmo once said.

Louis Armstrong wrote:
If you have to ask what Jazz is, you'll never know.


Louis Armstrong wrote:
What we play is life... you blows who you is.

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Jeff Cairns
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PostPosted: 2011-07-28, 07:29    Post subject: What is "depth" in shakuhachi tone? Reply with quote

When considering tonal quality of instruments, one must have and accept a common denominator as a matter of course, which is the player. If the player is not constant between instruments, then as Pepe said, the same instrument can sound quite different each time played. Let's not forget that the bamboo tube is only half of the instrument. Therefore, with the constant being the player, we can remove that constant from consideration of tone quality which also removes the more esoteric considerations of that player's spiritual/inner development. And what we are left with is what we can ascribe to tonal quality which has nothing to do with depth of human being, but rather depth of bamboo being. And from that point we can talk about terms like breadth and presence of harmonic palette, stability of pitch, dynamic capability, tuning and intonation and descriptions of timbre such as woodiness, silvery clarity, unfocused, buzziness and so on. The playground gate is open.
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J. Danza
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PostPosted: 2011-07-28, 08:04    Post subject: What is "depth" in shakuhachi tone? Reply with quote

Nothing like simplicity to get to the essence, Jeff Smile ... but let me throw a curve ball... the very same flute played by the very same me does actually sound quite different at different times...
What is constant in this everchanging crazy world? Rolling Eyes

(ps... the above is just a lighthearted comment... otherwise how could we possibly choose a flute... still... the definition of "depth" remains ever elusive)
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PostPosted: 2011-07-28, 08:41    Post subject: What is "depth" in shakuhachi tone? Reply with quote

Absolutely! The word 'constant' or course includes all of the variables, irregularities and inconsistencies that one can possess and still be recognized as the same person.
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Dean Del Béne
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PostPosted: 2011-07-28, 12:55    Post subject: What is "depth" in shakuhachi tone? Reply with quote

Depth? A fullness, range and complexity with ongoing surprises; as the person changes, the environment changes, and the bamboo changes, new tonal subtleties are heard.

Jeff, on playing the solid old gold 1.9 from your windwheel.com (that I recommended to co-player Ken for Taizan lessons), everyone was struck with the spirit and history in the sound-- so bold it shook the radiator covers and my innards—depth, and then some more depth in its mesmerizing timbre. Very special, thanks for offering that; the revelatory deep sounds from two centuries hence.
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