The album was reissued in CD format in the 1990s, which I obtained through BMG Music Service. Some may not miss the old mail order record clubs, but the choice of free CDs compelled me to sample genres of music I would otherwise likely never be exposed to.
I originally uploaded this album on YouTube in 2014 as background music for Views of the Planet Earth Captured by the Crew of STS-75 where it barely gets a mention; however, as one of my favorite recordings, it has been long overdue to be featured on its own accord. Here, Shakuhachi — The Japanese Flute and images of a slowly rotating Earth blend to form a sort of mandala, creating — almost literally — a contemplative space.
Listen to the album on the YouTube video above or each track by clicking on the links below.
1. Honshirabe (3:50)
2. Sanya (6:17)
3. Tsuru No Sugomori (6:08)
4. Shika No Tōne (7:32)
5. Akita Sugagaki (9:30)
Art Direction, Design – Doyle Partners
Coordinator – Teresa Sterne
Engineer – Larry Mericka
Liner Notes – David Loeb
Mastered By – Robert C. Ludwig
Photography – René Burri / Magnum
Producer, Engineer – David Lewiston
Shakuhachi – Kōhachiro Miyata
Following are the liner notes for Shakuhachi — The Japanese Flute, by David Loeb, and transcribed retaining the original spelling, punctuation, and italicization.
1. Honshirabe. This short piece corresponds to a prelude or overture, and today is often used at the beginning of a program. The term “shirabe,” which appears frequently in titles of Japanese instrumental compositions, means “investigation,” specifically with respect to the instrument’s tuning. The written character for “hon” means “central” or “primary,” and with stringed instruments it alludes to the most frequently employed tunings.
5. Akita Sugagaki. Akita is region near the northern end of the main island of Japan; in ancient times it was largely unsettled wilderness. Since there is no certainty that any of the melodic ideas come from this province, it seems likely that the location was used in the title simply to suggest the remote and in accessible. Sugagaki is a term that occurs in a number of titles of 17th-century Japanese and Okinawan koto pieces in variation form; unlike most solo shakuhachi works, Akita Sugagaki is a loosely constructed series of variations. It is played here on the standard-sized instrument.
The name shakuhachi means 1.8 shaku (1 shaku = .994 feet). That length of bamboo tube has long been regarded as standard, with the D above middle C as the fundamental tone. However, the size of the instrument ultimately depends on the size of the bamboo joint, so that different sizes (graduated in tenths of shaku) exist, the most common sizes after the standard 1.8 being 1.6 (E), 2.1 (B), and 2.4 (A). The smaller instruments produce a clearer, more brilliant and penetrating sound, while the larger ones have a warmer and fuller tone (rather like the flute, recorder, or clarinet families of Western instruments). The larger shakuhachi are able to play so softly as to become almost inaudible without any change of color. All sizes of the instruments possess considerable dynamic range in all registers.
During the Edo period (early-17th to mid-19th centuries), the shakuhachi was used primarily in chamber ensembles (with koto and shamisen), but in recent years there has been a revival of the ancient solo literature. Many of the solo pieces are conceived as aids for meditation, both for the listener and player, the tempos are predominately slow, with variety provided by shorter notes that reflect tome-painting are not uncommon; many shakuhachi compositions also draw on distinctive ancient melodies in a way that preserves their unique regional character without undue emphasis on folkloric aspects.