The Birdmachine & Michael Pestel
Tokyo’s bird population has declined drastically in the past 75 years. I’m told that’s due primarily to pollution and loss of traditional thatched roofs where many birds nested. Enter the crows, or kurasu, the world’s greatest synathropes, masters of what we do best: produce garbage. There are upwards of 150,000 of them terrorizing the populace with their brilliant antics and survival strategies. It's no wonder that one calls their flock a "murder" of crows. Enter the Birdmachine, a multiphonic, multi-timbrel musical instrument designed to attract and jam with birds, butoh dancers, and anyone else dedicated to avian sound and movement. That includes crows.
From March 17 to April 9, 2015, I'll be in Tokyo performing and jamming with avian butoh dancer, Taketeru Kudo, as well as with vocalist, Mika Kimura, and expatriate shakuhachi players, Yohmei Chris Blasdel and Bruce Huebner, among others. For his April 4th performance at the Tadao Ando Tokyo Art Museum in Sengawa, Chris has invited me and Mika to join him in an unusual acoustic concert space. The performance with Kudosan at Konno Hachimangu, Shibuya's oldest Shinto shrine, on March 22, is the event that set all this in motion. But mostly, I'll be busy exploring the urban soundscape by visiting places where birds used to sing, places where they still sing, and places whose bird names celebrate a particular species. As a kind of shamanic ornithologist bent on discovering the soul of Tokyo's bird life, I'll invoke an avian past of lost sounds in order to connect with the present. I know the crows will be listening!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Day 15, Tuesday, March 31 – At the Shakuhachi Shop

Spending time with Bruce Huebner, expatriate shakuhachi player and long-term resident of Japan, has been a real delight. I'd met him briefly in Boulder, Colorado at the World Shakuhachi Festival in 2000. But this time around, connecting was the result of Ralph giving me a shakuhachi to return to him. The day after I arrived, he came up to Nakano Sakaue to retrieve it and we got a bit more acquainted. I showed him the Birdmachine and bass flute. Turns out Bruce is an avid birder and naturalist with years of experience hiking in the Sierras and other places. He invited me to come down to Yokohama and do some birding and playing in the urban wilderness of a large park in his neighborhood.

But first things first -- a visit with Bruce to a well-know shakuhachi shop near Komae Station towards the west side of Tokyo, not far from Christopher. Bruce needed to retrieve an instrument which needed to be re-bored and lacquered. We'd been there for about 20 min when someone walked in who looked vaguely familiar. Bruce whispered, "OMG, it's Keisuke Zenyoji, one the best players in Japan. You might have seen him in Boulder at the World Shakuhachi Festival. He was there." Yes, that was it. I remembered a man with a honking glorious sound and some talk about how some players have a propensity for powerful honking, i.e., making the loudest, strongest sound possible as a show of shakuhachi manhood. Sure enough, Zenyojisan began trying out instruments in the showcase, one after another, popping out some impressively gutsy sounds.

The shakuhachi makers were very friendly. One of them had a Rudall Carte Okuraulo with a silver shakuhachi head joint. Unfortunately, it wasn't in the shop, but he did have a concert flute outfitted in the same way.

Shakuhachi makers need good quality madake bamboo.
This is what I call a storehouse.
Pure gold.


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