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The Media, Obscurity and 'westerners'

 
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rileylee
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PostPosted: 2013-03-21, 07:52    Post subject: The Media, Obscurity and 'westerners' Reply with quote

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From another topic in Teahouse:
Brian Tairaku Ritchie wrote:
It is interesting how obscure the shakuhachi is in most parts of the west. In Australia it's different because Riley Lee has brought it into the mainstream. Many cultured people know what it is.

Then:
J. Danza wrote:
Probably even if it were more widespread in the media it would still remain quite challenging musically and aesthetically for most "westerners", and therefore obscure. Riley is a master, but most of his recordings are in the "New Age" category, which is great as an introduction to a larger public, but still, I bet a lot of people who may enjoy his recordings would have little appreciation for Yokoyama, let alone Watazumi...

I disagree with much in the latter quote.

1) More airplay really does equal more popularity.

In Australia we are fortunate to have the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC - like BBC in Great Britain). One reason the shakuhachi is relatively well-known here is because of the wide demography of the ABC's relatively large audience and because ABC radio has been very generous over the years with their programming of shakuhachi music.

In other words, compared with the situation in the USA or Europe or even Japan, in Australia more people listen to more shakuhachi music more often. Widespread media = less obscurity.

2) The shakuhachi may well be obscure in the West, but certainly NOT because "most westerners" find it challenging musically or aesthetically. On the other hand, it's challenging to "westerners' and non-westerners alike if it's not played well. Even I find extremely challenging and aesthetically unappealing, shakuhachi music played tentatively, out of tune, with little dynamic range or unattractive tone colour. Well-played shakuhachi music isn't any more challenging to 'westerners" (what are they, anyway?) than say, Gustav Mahler's symphonic works, or John Coltraine's bebop or the dulcet tones of the Violent Femmes. Some people like these types of music and some don't, just as not everyone likes shakuhachi music.

In other words, different people like different types of music. Shakuhachi music is no more challenging to 'westerners' than it is to Africans or Asians.
BTW, the overwhelming majority of music performed, listened to and broadcast in Japan is 'western'. So, in terms of music, are Japanese 'westerners', or non-westerners?

3) In my limited experience, people who have never heard shakuhachi before do appreciate Yokoyama's playing. When he and Tsuruta (biwa) premiered Takemitsu's piece, November Steps with the New York Philharmonic, it was so well received that it started a run of orchestras worldwide wanting to include the piece in their programming. I was told that Yokoyama ultimately performed this piece, in which there is a substantial shakuhachi/biwa only duet, over 200 times world wide. I am sure that the overwhelming majority of the audience in these 200+ performances had never heard shakuhachi before. Give an audience a good composition being performed by competent musicians and they will tend to accept even the challenging pieces.

Watazumi's music is another matter. I don't tend to listen to his recordings much these days.... :-)

4) From my own experience, the relative popularity of the shakuhachi here in Australia has very little to do with the availability of any of my albums classified as "New Age". Interestingly, of all of my recordings still manufactured and sold by Australian record labels today are six traditional honkyoku CDs, one CD of 'modern classical' music, composed by Japanese and Australian composers, and only two that could be called "New Age".

IMO, the thing that most makes shakuhachi musically and aesthetically challenging to 'westerners' and non-westerners alike, is lousy playing by people who should practice more.
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Daniel Ryudo
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PostPosted: 2013-03-29, 16:50    Post subject: The Media, Obscurity and 'westerners' Reply with quote

Nice riposte. You're lucky to have that kind of airplay down in Oz. Just from my experience at the last international festival with Russian and Chinese players citing the influence of Yokoyama on their playing -- I think they must have listened to recordings -- and having attended Yokoyama concerts in both the United and Japan and experienced the enthusiasm and appreciation of audiences at his performances even in his later years of playing I would also tend to agree with Riley. Of course attending a live performance and listening to recordings is quite different; for me, shakuhachi is usually a better experience when witnessing a live performance but there are exceptions and as Riley noted it's really a matter of people having quite varied tastes in music. And that 's a result of what they've been exposed to. More exposure to good playing would definitely have an effect but on the other hand I haven't really heard much lousy shakuhachi playing on the air either. Occasionally catch good shakuhachi on NHK radio (national radio).

And I am trying to practice more...; when I think of how much I must have challenged people aesthetically...scary thought. Also in Japan shakuhachi is (was?) often a social thing; joining a group; developing a hobby after retirement. Those guys may practice a lot but maybe it's not really good practice. Shakuhachi takes time and effort to sound good. Most players at that age aren't going to take the shakuhachi to a new level. Japan needs more young players to fall in love with the instrument.

In terms of music the Japanese are definitely 'westerners' though there are the koten fanatics but here in this part of Japan their numbers are thinning out. I was with a group of seven shakuhachi players today; the youngest guy was myself (mid-50s) and the oldest fellow was 94. Yeah we gotta recruit some young blood they were all saying or the shakuhachi scene's gonna disappear, here in Kochi anyway. I don't actually listen much to Watazumi either these days but I did take up the art of the jo staff some years back because of his influence; then again, he actually practiced with a bo...a longer stick; sometimes that was his performance, the whoosh of the staff. And he was locked up in Paris after running through a park in his fundoshi with his bo staff ; they thought he was a madman (but released shortly thereafter as he was a guest of the French government or something to that effect...) Yokoyama would never have pulled a stunt like that. Watazumi would have been a very hard taskmaster, I believe... And Yokoyama was his student; think about that.

Was just perusing the new European Shakuhachi Society newsletter; it looks like the shakuhachi is really taking off in that part of the world; getting less obscure. Prague should be great in 2016. I saw one of Riley's recordings in the Melbourne airport the last time I was in Australia; it was one with modern compositions; I've never seen a shakuhachi recording in a Japanese airport, however, and I've been in a lot of Japanese airports. Living here in the inaka I don't know really what's happening in the world music scene living except that according to all the pop up ads on my computer, David Bowie's got a new album out, singing about Berlin back in the '70s. He's on the radio in Kochi but no shakuhachi; if he had a shakuhachi player in his band the shakuhachi would be less obscure. Either that or Brian should headline Glastonbury with one of those foghorn flutes... But that's the nature of the komuso, isn't it...obscurity.
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J. Danza
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PostPosted: 2013-03-29, 19:35    Post subject: The Media, Obscurity and 'westerners' Reply with quote

If lousy playing could kill a whole tradition Kenny G. would have killed jazz by now Smile
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Daniel Ryudo
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PostPosted: 2013-03-30, 03:26    Post subject: The Media, Obscurity and 'westerners' Reply with quote

It also depends on what kind of music the shakuhachi is playing as to whether it is 'challengiing.' Many (most?) people who have grown us listening to popular music won't immediately be grabbed by sankyoku even if played extremely well. The same for gamelan or bebop. Again often a matter of exposure and how familiar one has become with a particular style of music. Then again sometimes someone hears something for the first time and is attracted. Fewer and fewer Japanese are exposed to their own traditional music in the course of their daily lives so less of a chance to engage with it...perhaps with the exception of taiko.
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Brian Tairaku Ritchie
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PostPosted: 2013-03-30, 08:15    Post subject: The Media, Obscurity and 'westerners' Reply with quote

Instrumental music of any sort is challenging to most listeners. Embarassed
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rileylee
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PostPosted: 2013-03-31, 00:56    Post subject: The Media, Obscurity and 'westerners' Reply with quote

J. Danza wrote:
If lousy playing could kill a whole tradition Kenny G. would have killed jazz by now Smile


No.

You're confusing what is a value judgement with something quite measurable, the ability to manipulate an instrument to make certain sounds in certain ways, be it shakuhachi or saxophone. This ability comes primarily with lots of practice.

You may not like Kenny G's music, but a person with only a minimal amount of practice time (on a possibly homemade sax :-), could not sound like Kenny G. There is, to my ears, a great deal of 'lousy music' (my personal judgement) on the radio and internet, which is in no way lousy playing. I don't like what these musicians are playing, but they are playing it very skillfully.

Here's the test: the guys you might think are, in contrast to Kenny G, great jazz sax players, can all sound exactly like Kenny G if they wanted to do so. That's because they know how to use their instrument. How they CHOOSE to use their instrument is a personal choice.
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J. Danza
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PostPosted: 2013-03-31, 04:05    Post subject: The Media, Obscurity and 'westerners' Reply with quote

Of course you are right, Riley... that was a half joke... The half that was not joke and where we disagree is that I believe those who seek and appreciate music will certainly find the good players that deserve to be heard. In other words... good music will win the day when it comes to discerning ears.

Daniel Ryudo wrote:
on the other hand I haven't really heard much lousy shakuhachi playing on the air either.


I tend to agree with Daniel, which brings us to the point that you are making serious value judgements too, and while I feel very comfortable saying that Kenny G.'s music is shit to my ears, I wouldn't be comfortable putting down any fellow Shakuhachi players that take the time to record and release their music... Whether I appreciate their music or not, I don't doubt their sincerity and the fact that they are definitely not in it for the money Smile I have heard plenty of recordings that I don't care for, but I don't think any of them would make a listener refuse to listen to Shakuhachi music again (of course, YouTube is a different story altogether). We disagree also that good or bad Shakuhachi music is "quite measurable", as proven by this document that has surfaced from a Japanese musician saying that playing "music" on the Shakuhachi is abhorrent to begin with! Technique is quite measurable, but technique does not necessarily make good music.
I could go on and I look forward to more of this dialogue, but I better go practice Smile
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Lorka
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PostPosted: 2013-04-01, 15:26    Post subject: The Media, Obscurity and 'westerners' Reply with quote

I think Riley is saying that there are technical aspects to playing that can be measured critically and objectively. I think this is what he means by knowing how to "manipulate the instrument". When it comes to the technical side of a piece, there is, to some extent, a right and a wrong way to do things. Of course, if you know the right way to do something, but consciously choose to do something differently (such as Watazumi for instance), then that is a choice. If you fail to execute technical aspects of a piece because you are not good enough to do them yet, then that is something totally different.

If you think about it for a moment, the fact that you can look at a piece and measure it with a critical, objective ear, is actually a positive thing. The fact that I can be wrong and know what needs to be fixed, means that I can get better.

There are, of course, subjective elements. These are difficult to quantify areas such as tone colour, expressiveness, etc., wherein the objective, structural framework of a piece is animated with the identity and personal stamp of the player. Clearly, you need both. If you skimp on the objective side of things, then the subjective will suffer.

The answer, of course, is practice, followed by more practice. The more you practice, the better you become at detecting errors.
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Dean Del Béne
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PostPosted: 2013-04-02, 00:39    Post subject: The Media, Obscurity and 'westerners' Reply with quote

Spontaneity is the heart of the creative process. To achieve this, a shakuhachi player must first make technique become part of his body. He must then abandon self-consciousness and self-"expression" and let the creative impulses take over. By complete immersion in the act of doing, a state of creative freedom is achieved, unrestrained by conventional concepts of the beautiful or the ugly. One breath, one tone..., then absorb the techniques, tap the flow, forget the self, and repeat.

Watazumi and Sun Ra duet on another Plane
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Fiona Dawes
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PostPosted: 2013-04-07, 01:03    Post subject: The Media, Obscurity and 'westerners' Reply with quote

Lorka wrote:

If you think about it for a moment, the fact that you can look at a piece and measure it with a critical, objective ear, is actually a positive thing. The fact that I can be wrong and know what needs to be fixed, means that I can get better.


I had an opportunity to perform for Riley and a group of students at a student recital. When I engaged in a process of reflection on how I could improve my performance I discovered a significant bias in my appraisal.

Just prior to the recital I had mentioned the 'real' barriers to women performing in Japan and I alluded to the potential for 'unreal' barriers without much thought,

Rick wrote:

It seems that one performance related aspect of the suppression of women in Japan is the requirement that they sing in a low register in order to sound more like men. Oy.


Riley's post gave me pause, 'lousy' to me speaks of lack of generosity, perhaps in time spent practicing?

What stood out for my learning was the fact that in my efforts to perform a solo piece I neglected to practice the very simple Sakura melody for the group performance. It took a while for me to identify this as lack of generosity because I was quite pleased with the solo, and this is where my bias lies.

I was also looking for the audience to provide the 'applause', before the piece had ended Shocked These insights represent an understanding of the 'unreal' barrier to performance/practice for me.

I wanted to share this because the recital was awesome, I enjoyed being part of the group, it was 'goodly' and the Canberra celebrations fireworks that started just as the ensemble closed the finale was beautiful and totally unanticipated.

I can imagine approaching the next recital with a solo piece that may resemble Sakura, Sakura, Sakura.

....and more practice Wink
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PostPosted: Today at 19:18    Post subject: The Media, Obscurity and 'westerners'

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