Sunday, 10 June 2007

Mejiro Shakuhachi shop & Chris Blasdel's concert

[Unborn shakuhachi foetuses. Bamboo rough-cut for flute-making, you can have it plain or smoked. More photos on flickr].

Yesterday afternoon, I visited Mejiro shakuhachi shop (at Mejiro on the JR line) to pick up Katsuya Yokoyama's video of Kokuu. As you enter this highly specialised little shop, one of just a few shakuhachi shops in Tokyo and in the world, the effusive smell of burned bamboo, smoked tubes lying ready for crafting into instruments, embodies your olfactory sense. Rows of benign-looking but penetrating-sounding ryuteki and shinobue sit innocently on a table and deep drawers of shakuhachi of all sizes lie waiting to be blown. They also have sheet music in the various different styles of traditional notation, CDs, videos, cleaning cloths, cases and other requisite paraphernalia for the aspiring shakuhachi player and if you're really committed, the authentic komuso outfit with a basket for your head!

Christopher Yohmei Blasdel's 'exTemporal' recital to commemorate 35 years of shakuhachi playing was held 90/06/07 at Tsuda Hall in Tokyo. This generous hall holds maybe 400 people, filled to capacity and with very sympathetic acoustics for shakuhachi and voice. Chris' concert revolved around the theme of extemporisation/improvisation in traditional Japanese music and contemporary, explored through dance, sculpture, voice shamisen, koto and shakuhachi with staging and lighting to complement the theatrical concept of mind/body/earth integration.

The sculpture of a human torso from anatomically accurately shaped wood cut off in shards at the limb-ends by Koji Ohno in a globe-shaped 'cage' formed the centrepiece for interactive dance by Hideo Arai with vocalist Mika Kimula (revolving around contemporary improvisation with traditional elements). Both dancer and singer vocalised a dynamic range of sounds and explored the mediation between media fused with chris' improvised shakuhachi in the piece, Sokoku Butai that concerned the "synthesis of audible and visual" through shakuhachi, dance, singing, sculpture, lighting, inspired by anatomist and morphologist Shigeo Miki (Dr/Sensei), influenced by the sensuality and spirituality embodied in the relationship between the word and the body and between the body and the natural forces of the earth. It seems reminiscent of the the philosophy of aikido. Both Kimula and Arai moved and both vocalised so the boundaries between art-forms were fused there too, interacting with the sculpture by Koji Ohno.

The first part o the programme explored a Kinko style honkyoku, and jiuta/song for shakuhachi with vocal parts by both koto and shamisen players, Yutaka Mikoya and Tohru Chiba. Chiba is a talented student of Mikoya sensei. A more contemporary improvisation originating from the myth of the giant Geruda bird was performed as a duet between shakuhachi and ryuteki, performed by Sukeyasu Shiba. Here the ryuteki is emulating the ancient mythical Garuda giant bird squealing and crying in duet with shakuhachi. The Garuda with its "intense stare and tempestuous visage" [Chris' notes] plays ryuteki - tones that pierce straight through the soul - and it does. Most personnel were connected through a long association with Chris since University days. The stage setting, lighting and projection dramatically influenced the unity and macabre shadow dance on the walls surrounding the stage, giving it a large, multi-dimensional quality that silhouetted different angles of the body and the dance.

More photos are in the flickr set.