Gunnar Jinmei Linder, 尺八(Shakuhachi) - Japanese bamboo flute

CD Emu

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Liner Notes



From the Meiji period the koto has been used widely in modern and contemporary compositions. “Emu“, “Dream Picture“, is a duet for koto and shakuhachi, composed by Kuribayashi Hideaki in 1979, a student of the post-WWII koto master Sawai Tadao (1937-1997). The theme of the piece is the sound of the late autumn wind in the mountains, expressed in a somewhat romantic fashion.
In the introduction the koto embraces the soft tones of the shakuhachi as an image of the wind blowing across the open mountain fields at twilight, according to the composer. This is followed by a rhythmical and crisp solo by the koto, and a lingering section for the shakuhachi. The final section builds with the koto and shakuhachi in a rapid tempo complementing and contrasting each other.

Sanya Sugagaki


The word sanya, as it is written in the title of this piece (三谷), means “three valleys”. At the time when I began studying shakuhachi I heard one explanation saying that it depicts three beautiful valleys, somewhere in the southern parts of China. There are many interpretations of the titel, but Yamaguchi Gorō said that for him it had mostly a musical meaning. He also said that it is “a piece of sanmai”, the Buddhist term for “devotion” (samadhi).

The suffix Sugagaki
There are different views on the meaning of this word, but the Sugagaki pieces in the Kinko-ryū honkyoku repertoire seem to have some affiliation with music played on the koto or the shamisen. The term sugagaki was originally used to denote special performance techniques and rhythmical patterns for the string instrument koto, and was later also used for the shamisen. In the seventeenth century the term began to be used in names of instrumental pieces for the string instruments and the hitoyogiri shakuhachi. One of the most famous pieces for koto “Rokudan no Shirabe” is also known under the name “Rokudan Sugagaki”. The hitoyogiri was used mostly (but not necessarily only) in popular songs of the day, probably having a more rhythmical character than the typical honkyoku. The hitoyogiri was used from the sixteenth century, maybe even before that, but it lost in popularity during the eighteenth century. In the Edo period, the word sugagaki seems also to have been used as a generic term for study pieces of the hitoyogiri.
Pieces within the Kinko-ryū shakuhachi honkyoku repertoire, with the suffix Sugagaki, have a more fixed rhythm, and a structure that consists of repeated phrases with similar patterns.

As expected, this piece is very repetitive, to the degree that Tsukitani Tsuneko comments on it with the words “there are many repetitions of simple melody lines, and it it rather tedious with a poor melody structure”. The repetitiveness is, on the other hand, one of the challenges of this piece. Structurally, it is not complicated, and technically, the phrases are not so difficult to play. Musically, however, to play it well, is all the more difficult.



The traditional music of Japan is largely vocal, and there are very few purely instrumental genres. From the beginning of the Edo period, the shamisen became very popular as accompaniment to vocal music. It was soon adopted in popular kouta or “small songs“, in theatre music like the Edo nagauta, used in the Kabuki, and jōruri, the narrative music used in the Bunraku Puppet Theatre, and folk music. The shape of the instrument varies depending on the genre. The vocal music you hear on this CD is jiuta, a genre that developed in the area around Osaka and Kyoto, and the shamisen used in this genre is usually referred to as sangen. A sub-genre of the jiuta is called ha-uta, which developed from the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century. The ha-uta broke off from the forms of the preceding jiuta music, and its meaning is roughly "crude", "irregular" or "unprecedented" songs.
Hauta often depict the sorrows of women. “Kurokami“, “Raven Hair“, composed by Koide Shijūrō (?-1800), is no exception, telling of a woman who was given promises by a man in her youth. Now her black hair has turned white as the snow that piles up in front of her house on a winter night. A temple bell rings somewhere in the distance.

On the CD Ginyū I have recorded another piece in the ha-uta style with Ms. Satō on shamisen and vocals, the famous piece "Yuki".


kurokami no
musubaretaru omoi wo ba
tokete neta yoru no makura koso
hitori nuru yoru no ada-makura
sode wa katashiku
tsuma ja to itte
(ai no te)
guchi na onago no kokoro to shirade
shinto fuketaru kane no koe
yûbe no yume no kesa samete
yukashi natsukashi yarusena ya
tsumoru to shirade, tsumoru shirayuki.

Raven Hair
My raven hair is tied
To my thoughts of you
The pillow on which my untied hair was spread
Causes only lament when I sleep alone.
A single sleeve of my robe is now my lonesome head-rest,
Though you said, “You‘ll be my wife“
[ai no te - short instrumental interlude]
Without knowing the heart of a grieving girl,
A temple bell rings into the late and quiet night.
In the morning, waking from the dream of last night
With the lovely, sweet and helpless longing,
Before I know, piled up; the silver-white snow

“Kurokami“ was originally performed in the Kabuki Theatre, in a scene where Tatsu-hime, the concubine of Yoritomo Minamoto (the regent who unified Japan in 1185 and started the Kamakura period), is sitting on the ground floor while Yoritomo is meeting his wife Hōjō Masako upstairs. Slowly letting out her hair she holds back her strong feelings for Yoritomo, knowing that she can never be his wife. I prefer to think of this piece in its jiuta version, as a more abstract expression of the lonely and inconsolable emotions of a heart helplessly in love. The interplay between the voice, sangen and shakuhachi creates a beautiful mixture of timbre which expresses this tension. The slow, dream-like introduction reminisces, moving into a short instrumental interlude (ai no te), finally becoming emotionally agitated when the bell rings out in the night. In the Edo period, a bell ringing in the very early morning was a signal for lovers to part. Perhaps this is the bell she hears, making her loneliness even stronger. At the end, as the snow piles up, there seems to be a softened reconciliation, perhaps acceptance but not forgiveness in the elderly lady‘s heart.

Ryūkyū Minyō ni yoru Kumi-kyoku


In “Ryūkyū Minyō ni yoru Kumi-kyoku“, “Suite based on Folk Songs from Ryūkyū“, we hear both the koto and the 17-stringed koto (jūshichigen), invented by the pre-war koto master Miyagi Michio (1894-1956). Composed by Makino Yutaka in 1966, this suite is based on two folk songs, “Asadoya-yunta“ and “Tobaruma“, from the Ryūkyū Islands (Okinawa). It consists of three movements, played in continuous fashion.
The first movement begins with a long koto cadenza, based on the Ryūkyū scale. The cadenza is followed by the melody line of Asadoya-yunta, which further develops into a variation of the theme. In the second movement the shakuhachi plays the melody of Tobaruma with the koto evolving around it. This movement also includes cadenzas for the shakuhachi and koto. The final movement begins after the koto cadenza and moves on into a rapid, syncopated, dance-like section. The climax involves a return to the Asadoya-yunta melody. To me this piece is full of energy and the beauty of the open sea.

Shin no Kyorei


“Shin no Kyorei“ is said to be one of the oldest pieces in the shakuhachi repertoire, and although several different versions of the piece exist, they all share a connection to legendary origin of the instrument, in which the shakuhachi sound imitated the sound of the bell that the Zen Master Fuke rang as he was walking the streets.
It is well worth noting that this piece is not mentioned in the book Shichiku shoshin-shū from 1664, but some other pieces played by the komusō are. Some scholars regard this as an indication that the piece did not exist at this time.
According to the Kyotaku Denki Kokuji-kai (published in 1795), the original title of the piece was “Kyotaku“ meaning “Empty Bell“, and this was the piece that Hottō Kokushi supposedly brought to Japan upon his return from China in 1254. There are, however, no historical proofs of this.
The Chinese character for bell, taku (鐸), that appears in the name of the piece, was at some point replaced by another character with the same meaning but a different reading “rei“ (鈴). This Chinese character was replaced with one having a the same pronunciation “rei“, but a different meaning, “soul“ (霊). Thus, the name of the piece “Shin no Kyorei“ evolved from having meant "True Emply Bell" according to the legend, to mean “The True Empty Soul“. Roughly speaking, the piece has two parts: the first is performed mainly in the low register, slow and relaxed; the second mostly in the high register, more agitated.

Shiki no Nagame


The Japanese imported the koto in the 7th century, but rarely used it outside of the imperial court in Kyoto until the 16th century. A new type of music for the koto was being developed by a monk, Kenjun, who lived in Kyūshū, the most southern of the four main islands of Japan. The koto was combined with the shamisen (or sangen) into a new form of music, the jiuta-sōkyoku. Interestingly, the koto performance techniques were influenced by the sangen. The koto is played with finger picks on the thumb, index, and middle fingers of the right hand, and the size and shape of these picks changed to make it easier to employ techniques that would fit with the sangen. The strings used to be struck only, but a technique of plucking the strings, used by the sangen, was incorporated in the koto playing. The left hand can be used to pull or press the strings on the far side of the bridges to alter the pitch and to create vibratos and other tonal nuances, and these techniques were also further developed to accomodate the sound of the sangen.
In the late 18th century there was a development of koto lines being added to the original lines for voice and sangen. These pieces are referred to as jiuta-sōkyoku. The short instrumental interludes, ai no te, of the jiuta (see Kurokami above) became longer and more technically demanding, and was referred to as tegoto, literary "hand things". In the 18th and 19th centuries the kyōfū tegoto-mono, tegoto pieces from Kyoto, became the epitome of the art music. These pieces were sometimes played as trios with a bowed instrument, the kokyū, added. Later the shakuhachi would take the place of the kokyū. Both of these instruments have a sustained tone in contrast to the koto and sangen. The trios were referred to as sankyoku, pieces for three instruments.
The jiuta pieces were composed by members of a guild of blind male musicians, relating back to the biwa hōshi, blind male monks playing the lute biwa. In this guild, the title kengyō was the highest rank. All the jiuta were composed by these blind male biwa, koto, and sangen playing monks, with the notable exception of “Kurokami“, which was composed for sangen by a sighted nagauta musician. The songtexts were in several cases written by patrons of the arts. The shakuhachi line was added only after the Meiji period (1868-1912) because in the Edo period (1601-1912) only komusō were allowed to play, and only for religious purposes. In reality the komusō did take part in sankyoku performances, probably already from the late 17th century, and other non-religious activities, such as teaching laymen. In the Meiji period, the Fuke Sect was abolished and the shakuhachi was officially acknowledged as a musical instrument rather than a religious implement. This allowed for a further development of sankyoku performances with the shakuhachi as the third instrument.
The tegoto-mono consist of a fore-song, the mae-uta, which is further divided by a number of short ai no te. This is followed by a long instrumental interlude, the tegoto, and ends with an after-song, the ato-uta. “Shiki no Nagame“ is a typical Kyoto style, kyōfū, tegoto-mono, composed by the Matsuura Kengyō (d. 1822) as a jiuta with the koto tezuke (koto part) added later by the Yaezaki Kengyō (1766?-1848), and it incorporates many interesting aspects of this genre. The title means “Views of the Four Seasons“ - the mae-uta depicts spring and summer and the ato-uta autumn and winter. The song text was written by a Tonomura Hirauemon, a money trader in Osaka.
Note the composed dissonant section around the "mountain warbler" (actually a kind of cuckoo), a bird that is poor at singing in the beginning of the season.

Shiki no Nagame
Ume no nioi ni
yanagi mo nabiku
harukaze ni
momo no yayoi no
hana mite modoru
yurari yurari to
haru no nogake ni
seri yomogi
Sato no unohana
tanomo no sanae
iro miete
shigeru wakaba no
kage toi yukeba
hatsune no
hitokoe ni
hana no nagori mo
ie-zuto ni katarabaya
Kusaba iro-zuki
nogiku mo sakite
aki fukami
nobe no asakaze
tsuyu mi ni shimite
chirari chirari to
yoshiya nuru tomo
momijiba no
Nobe no kayoi-ji
hitome mo kusa mo
ochiba shigururu
kogarashi no kaze
mine no sumigama
kemuri mo samishi
furu yuki ni
no-ji mo yama-ji mo
shirotae ni

Views of Four Seasons
Amid the scent of plum
The willows bend over and flutter
For the spring breeze.
The peach blossoms of March
We watch before returning home.
Hovering, hovering,
Is the evening mist
In the meadows of spring,
Parsley and sagebrush
[ai no te]
We pluck
How joyful!
[ai no te]
Sunflowers in the village
Rice sprouts on the paddy banks,
Show off their colours.
Amid the flourishing young leaves
We go to seek a shadow
And yet we hear
[ai no te]
The first sounds
Of the mountain warbler.
Singing a single song.
[ai no te]
The sad parting from the flowers
We cannot forget.
Well at home, of such things will I tell.
Grasses and leaves changing colour,
The wild chrysanthemum in bloom.
As autumn deepens
The morning wind blows across the fields
The dew piercing our frail bodies.
Lightly, lightly
The rains of late autumn fall in the village.
Even if we get wet,
To see the leaves
Turning red,
Is such a delight!
[ai no te]
Along the paths on the fields,
Man and grass the same,
Wither in winter.
Leaves falling
In the tree-withering winter wind.
The charcoal kiln on the mountain
With its smoke lonely rising to the sky.
In the falling snow,
The meadow paths and mountain trails
All dressed in white.
Overlooking the scenery
Is so delightful!

The first half of the mae-uta of this piece moves on in a relaxed fashion, but picks up speed towards the end of the spring section (... tsumikaketaru omoshirosa). From the ai no te that follows this section, increased tempo and rhythmical interplay combine to create a strong forward drive. A slower tempo returns before the yama-hototogisu (mountain warbler) makes its appearance. The sudden change of mode here, into a dissonant section reflects upon the hototogisu, which does not have its song perfected in the beginning of the season. The instrumental interlude, tegoto, commences at a comfortable pace with a carefree feeling, going on to a wide variety of compositional techniques that provide for a surprisingly pleasant swing. Changes in tempo, rhythmical dialogues on the front (down) and back (up) beats, kake-ai conversations with the sangen taking turns with the koto and shakuhachi. The chirashi consists of long lines of eighth notes played in a quick tempo, and comes between the tegoto and ato-uta as a division between the sections and a bridge-ver to the ato-uta. “Shiki no Nagame“ might not be as emotionally intriguing as “Kurokami“, with less tension, but the instrumental elements are much more elaborate.

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