Shakuhachi: Kinya Sogawa Take wo Fuku - Playing Bamboo
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An Introduction to Kinya Sogawa's Playing Bamboo by Ned Rothenberg
In my 30 year odyssey with the shakuhachi I've sometimes struggled with a certain disconnect in the community of its practitioners. The music and philosophy of the instrument flows from an ideal of ego-less exploration of the breath. However, by adorning themselves with purchased titles, weighty 'names', and assorted rankings a la the martial arts the shakuhachi scene can be a highly hyped, ego-driven, competitive place. Ambition may become a major reason players gain public exposure, rather than the musical depth of their art. Of course I am describing something that happens to some extent in all the arts, but the contrast to the underlying philosophy of the instrument makes it somehow more troubling.
This preamble is a way of stating why I was so pleased to produce this cd by Kinya Sogawa. I've known Kinya-San for over 20 years since first meeting him as a fellow student of the late,great Katsuya Yokoyama. Right from the beginning I found him fascinating and different. He was not 'hustling' to gain notoriety but working very hard with a much more interior focus. He had the calm demeanor of a true master blended with a childlike curiosity about musical and practical elements of life. Like the players of old he not only played but also built the instrument, searching for the unique sound within each piece of bamboo. (In fact I have been playing a flute of his for many years now and it has become a deep and faithful friend.)
While always eager to learn from his teachers there is in Kinya an honest and centered independence of spirit that gives his playing a unique sound quality and an almost effortless weight. Today, one can hear a musician, who for all his training and technique, still approaches each time he blows into the flute as a kind of exploration, not merely executing a known set of sounds but joining the heart, ear and breath into a unified expression.
From Kinya's notes to the cd:
By taking a length of bamboo, removing the partitions of the joints, making an oblique cut for the mouthpiece and opening five fingerholes, you can make a simple musical instrument that can be played in an infinite number of ways.
Especially with the Classical Honkyoku repertoire (solo pieces played by wandering monks), the simplicity of the instrument becomes the matrix for truly wonderful fingering and breathing techniques.
Choshi The simple structure of the piece lets one absorb oneself in sound. (Played on 2.2) Suzuru What sounds like “korokoro” is called “korokoro.” (1.8) Sanya A simple yet wild piece. (2.5) Nagori Ned Rothenberg wrote this piece for Kinya. In Ned’s words: “A note is so much more than the
pitch”…it undergoes a transformation as “ the sonic image turns into its trace.” (2.7) San’an The melody is beautiful, full of musical turns so suited to classical shakuhachi. (2.1) Shingetsu Time passes quietly. (2.5) Reibo A piece full of changes between stillness and dynamism, difficult to control. (2.1) Kudari-ba Belongs to the category of lighter, playful pieces known as gikyoku. Sometimes
playing in a lighter mood feels good. (1.0) Kokyo Composed in 1970 by Miki Minoru for Yokoyama Katsuya. In Miki’s own words:
“Kokyo means the uneasy heart of the musician and his cry of prayer.” (2.5) Isle Royale In Elizabeth Brown's mysterious duet, unexpected, inventive techniques evoke the
haunting cry of loons. (1.8 x 2) Koku Striving for a sound that flies perfectly straight and endlessly far. (2.5)
See video of the recording session of Koku below! (sound is from iphone, the CD is vastly superior!)
KINYA SOGAWA is one of the most outstanding shakuhachi performers in Japan today, and is also one of Japan's finest shakuhachi makers. As both a brilliant musician and craftsman, he is a rare gem within the shakuhachi world. In the years before World War II, the best shakuhachi players were also the best shakuhachi makers, but since the latter 20th century these roles diverged as the demands required for each increased. In this sense, Kinya Sogawa represents a renaissance of the true spirit of the master shakuhachi artist.
As a performing artist, Mr. Sogawa is active in an extraordinarily wide range of traditional and contemporary music. While his core focus remains the solo repertoire of traditional pieces passed down by the komuso wandering monks of the Edo Period, he is also one of Japan's prominent performers of contemporary music. In the 1990s he was a leading member of the acclaimed ensemble Pro Musica Nipponia where he received an award for technical excellence. Since 1993 he has been a member of the acclaimed Orchestra Asia and is a soloist for the orchestra’s Japan Team. With both of these ensembles he has toured frequently in Europe and Asia. In addition, he is one of Japan's foremost shakuhachi performance and recording artists for the popular singing style known as enka. He also frequently performs and records for theater, television dramas, and commercials. His music for the opening sequence inYasunori Mitsuda's computer game, "Chrono Cross", was designated "best video game music of all time" by America’s Hardcore Gaming 101 in 2011.
Born in Kobe, Mr. Sogawa studied the shakuhachi with Katsuya Yokoyama, one of the 20th century giants of music in Japan, and he was apprenticed to master shakuhachi craftsman Chikusen Tamai. In addition to his professional performance and instrument making activities, he has been deeply engaged with the development of a curriculum in traditional music for the Japanese public school system.