Exploring the rhythm of the poem.

This little sketch was a play with the tanka’s hidden rhythm: five phrases of 5-7-5-7-7 beats. Although in tanka, read in Japanese, the rhythm is difficult to detect by ear (mostly due to the language’s absence of stress) it is clearer in writing and therefore I have decided to bring that element forward and see what it would possibly add to the musical piece and the poem itself. As if in Indian raga or Spanish flamenco music, where the groove is a primal element I have tried to catch the drive that would appear from the gentle steady pulse and possibly use it in one of the poem’s interpretations to come. This short example of voice and clapping is a result of that experimentation.


Tanka rhythm; voice and clapping





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Tingsha bells- Tibetan stringed bells; single bel strokes, two bells at once




Irish Bodhran frame drum

Recording those instruments brings us closer to the sounds of Buddhist and Shinto7.11 ceremonies. The bowls used have different sizes, and thus different pitches and lengths of sustain. The strokes are performed in varying intensity.

The bells were added to the percussive sound arsenal. Their traditional use is, as mentioned above, in a religious context. Usually played at the end of the chanted sentences they measure the parts of the prayer, dividing it in to logical segments and marking the moment for taking a breath.


In my project the bells were initially recorded to accompany an interpretation of the Buddhist chant goeika but became the core of an etude referring to the play of light and falling ginko leaves. The high, pure, soft, refined sound of the bell which in my opinion stimulates the ear in a way comparable to the visual impression of shimmering light and its effect on the eye. Think of the play of reflections of candlelight on the gold-plated screens of Sotatsu.

On purely musical level I have listened to the exact pitch of the bells, the length of their sustain and interaction of two different sets of bells. The result of combining recordings of several bells sounding together have created a cluster of high pitched waves, which in turn enhance the effect of aural equivalent of rays of light.


The movement of the bowl set on a cotton cloth and wooden stool delivered even more colours. Regular wooden stick strokes in the rhythm of the heartbeat (a living bell if you wish) moved me further into a 6/8 biwa lute pattern, played on various instruments (example beneath on the strings of the grand piano). That was yet another fruit of playing with one idea and ending up somewhere else.


Biwa pattern

Catching the essence of flute breath usage.

The Shakuhachi was my only native guest. It one of the most common vertical Japanese flutes. Originating in China, perfected throughout the centuries into a shape we know it today in the 17th century. It is constructed in different lengths and corresponds to different keys. Popular among the broader public since the end of the 19th century as an instrument for chamber settings along with koto or shamisen. 7.12

I have set to improvise with the shakuhachi from an open angle: I have listened to its timbre and its articulation but did not decide beforehand to copy any particular sound or technique.  Because of the alikeness of the voice and the flute (volume, driving force of breath, monody and range) it was relatively easy to dialogue. We have entwined purely melodic but also percussive and rhythm driven motives in a form of smooth call and response. Nevertheless… as much as I hoped to sing without any preconceived stylistics the shakuhachi’s pre-set key/ scale, and so characteristic sound, has naturally pulled me into a native Japanese colorings. The flute player and myself challenged one another to accentuate the breath (both extensive in- and exhalation) but also playful use of vibrato. The little story has developed: from lyrical and cantabile lines into an energetic child-like game, all bathed in the warm sound of bamboo and human breath.


Shakuhachi and voice improvisation

The Process


Japanese sonorities translated:

I have experimented with the sonic palette of different Western and Eastern instruments which I thought to be useful interpreters of the Japanese instruments. The reasons for using mostly Western instruments are quite mundane: the access to the Japanese instruments and accomplished players is limited. This initial complication encouraged me to look for creative solutions. I wanted to be able to catch the atmosphere of the poem, support it with sounds coming from the culture's own backdrop but still let it evolve in its artistic expression as a whole. Challenging the Western instruments to find their voice through the sensitivities of purely Japanese origin led to the following experiments. The following instruments were recorded:

-          voice

-          soprano saxophone

-          modern transverse flute

-          grand piano (keys and strings)

-          double bass

-          various drums and percussion instruments

-          voice and electronics

-          electronic soundscapes


Those recordings were meant to explore not only the sound of the instruments but to bring us closer to the language of the original Japanese musical communication. In the recordings what I set to explore amongst others were:


The aitake harmonies particular to sho mouth organ. The goal was to imitate the technique of non-vibrato sound production, connecting two chords together on one breath (especially in the instrumental version of the soprano saxophone) and slightly elevating the sharpness (twang) of the upper-mid frequencies.

After the recording was made I compared the instrumental colours to the original sho: their general colour (brightness and darkness/ higher or lower frequencies present) the atmosphere they create (although that judgement is somehow subjective I realise), the instrument’s timbre if played with excessive air by onset or with limited air on the attack (no audible attack).

The surprising conclusion of those experiments was that a modern transverse flute, which is a metal instrument, when played with a lot of air, both by onset and continuing sound resembles a wooden instrument, this adding a soft, whispering, warm and gentle sonic colour dimension to the project. The flute has also sounded less piercing than even a very softly played soprano saxophone.

For both the instruments and the voice (voices) not using vibrato seems to be the determining element in bringing it as close to the sho as possible. Softer volumes such as piano and mezzo piano also contribute to the organic balance of otherwise harmonically tense chords and brings us closer to dreamlike quality of the sho. I have refrained from the use of the sharpened mid frequencies in the voice (and more intense volumes of the SS) as they took over the sound space in an aggressive and unrefined way being therefore not yugen.

For sound samples please refer to Sketches I - Descending.

Colourings of different percussive instruments, their rhythmic and melodic capacities.


Copper, metal and steel sound bowls (mostly Tibetan singing bowls) struck with a hand, using wooden stick, mallet or played on the edge with a cello bow.


Singing bowls; melodic and percussive aspect