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

CD Ginyū

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CD Ginyū



The piece “Ginyū” is actually a solo shakuhachi piece, composed by Kineya Seihō in 1969. In this performance, Tōsha Kaho adds an extra dimension to the piece with her own kotsuzumi part.
To my knowledge, there are no pieces composed solely for shakuhachi and kotsuzumi, but the instruments complement each other wonderfully in timbre. The kotsuzumi produces a variety of sounds, from thin, dry, and tense sounds to loud, round sounds, with a sense of relieved tension. The drummer’s voice will at times cut through the prolonged tones of the shakuhachi, increase the tension and make the pulse more explicit. Just a single beat on the drum — the sound reverberating through the space, the voice of the drummer — touches me deeply. I deeply like the kotsuzumi.

The composer comments on the piece:
“The main theme is based on a folk tune, a melody in yama-uta (literary “Mountain song”) fashion. There are several changes between major and minor scales, in an attempt to create a piece that sings of the joys and sorrows of life. My wish is that the performer will make his or her own interpretation, and that is why I named it ‘Ginyū’ [“Floating Song”]”.

This performance is our own interpretation, and we hope that it brings out the best of the two instruments.



The piece “Dosei”, “The Voice of Earth”, composed by Sawai Hikaru in 1991, is a duet for the 17-stringed koto, jūshichigen, and shakuhachi. According to the composer, “Dosei is the two voices born from earth: the reverberations of the koto, and the poetic voice of the shakuhachi. The koto makes its voice come forth and return to the earth, and the voice of the shakuhachi sings of the life inherent in the earth. The two voices are imposed on each other, ring together, and share their existence”.

The jūshichigen was developed by Miyagi Michio (1894-1956) in the early 20th century. The traditional koto has 13 strings, and the jūshichigen has 17 (the name means literary "17 strings"). There is also a 20-stringed koto, but this instrument has the same tonal range as the traditional koto, whereas the jūshichigen is a bass instrument with a lower tonal register.

The piece consists of two movements. The First Movement starts in a dramatic fashion, and evolves into a pleasant and relaxed melody. There are some dramatic changes in tempo, and then the theme returns at the end.
The Second Movement shows a more intense forward drive. Here the jūshichigen employs a percussive effect, achieved by striking the strings from above. This is a contemporary performance technique, but other Japanese string instruments, the biwa and the shamisen, for example, also show percussive elements, to the extent that they sometimes are referred to as "percussive string instruments".

There are not so many compostions for jūshichigen and shakuhachi.

Chidori no Kyoku


One of the most well known traditional pieces for koto is this “Chidori no Kyoku”. The title means “The Beach Plovers Song”, and it was composed by Yoshisawa Kengyō II (1800-1872).

It was originally composed for the bowed kokyū, but it became famous as a koto piece. It is a pleasant piece to play on the shakuhachi, maybe because the kokyū, just like the shakuhachi, has a sustained tone.
In the 19th century jiuta pieces for sangen, often with an added koto part, were very popular. Yoshisawa Kengyô composed five koto pieces, including “Chidori no Kyoku”, with the intension of reviving a kind of pure koto music. From the eighteenth century there was a cultural movement in Japan, known as koku-gaku, or "National Studies". The koku-gaku movement attempted new interpretations of older Japanese culture, going back to before the Heian period. The notion was also adopted in the music, by for example Yoshisawa Kengyō. The koto began as an instrument of the court music, gagaku, and it became an instrument for profane music in the early seventeenth century. Before that, a new type of music, called koto kumi-uta, flourished, and these older styles of music was probably what Yoshisawa wished to explore and develop.

The piece originally consists of a fore-song and an after-song, but in this recording, we only play the instrumental parts: the introduction and the tegoto interlude, which was added later by Matsusaka Shunei (1854-1920). Yoshisawa composed the introduction, and the song parts.
The shakuhachi plays an interesting second part, a so-called kaede, composed some time before the Second World War. The original koto part, based on an Edo period piece, but added to during the Meiji period, blends well with this shakuhachi part, born in the twentieth century Shōwa period. In the form it appears here, the piece stretches over four Japanese eras: the Edo period (1601-1867), the Meiji period (1868-1911), the Taishō period (1912-1925), and the Shōwa period (1926-1989).



“Marobashi” is a modern piece, which includes several aspects of older styles of music. The piece was composed in 1999 by the biwa performer and composer Shiotaka Kazuyuki, who also performs on this CD. He gives the following comments to the piece:
“‘Marobashi’ is the secret of kendō. This piece depicts a confrontation between the biwa and the shakuhachi. It demands a clear-cut ma, and a strong and suggestive ichi-on (see the article "Aspects of Aesthetics"). Imagine a setting of two samurai meeting for a ‘showdown’.”

The piece is composed in an ad-lib fashion, where “the pitch should be regarded in approximate terms” and “each phrase should be regarded as a separate idiom”. These aspects remind me of compositions by Takemitsu Tōru, whom Mr. Shiotaka might have been influenced by.
I met Mr. Shiotaka for the first time in the summer of 2001, and our collaboration began immediately. It was the first time I saw and heard the biwa at close range. The instrument Mr. Shiotaka uses has five strings and six bridges, and the size is bigger than the traditional Satsuma biwa. He says that it is his own idea of a possible development of the instrument, from being an accompanimental instrument for the epics of the Heike, to become an instrument for solo and ensemble performance. The sweet timbre together with the strong physical vibrations had a very strong impact on me.

Sōkaku Reibo


The piece “Sōkaku Reibo”, or “Nesting Cranes”, was transmitted to the Kinko Lineage by the first Kurosawa Kinko (1710-1771), according to the writings of his grandson, Kurosawa Kinko III (1772-1816). It is one of the most well known pieces in the Kinko-ryū honkyoku repertoire, its fame stretching to outer space; my teacher and mentor, the late Yamaguchi Gorō (National Treasure, 1933-99) recorded this piece for the Voyager II project. At this very moment, “Sōkaku Reibo” is travelling in universe. Yamaguchi-sensei used to say that he wondered how the piece would sound to extra-terrestrials. Maybe he knows the answer now.

This piece is said to be related to a piece for the bow instrument kokyū named “Tsuru no Sugomori”, and there are several pieces of the same name in other shakuhachi lineages.
The piece depicts cranes building their nest, taking care of their offspring, and then parting from them. “Sōkaku Reibo” is said to have a Buddhist background, telling of the sufferings of a mother crane and her benevolent approach to life — a Zen Buddhist ideal. There is a story about a crane family: During the cold winter, the adult cranes were not able to find enough food for their offspring, and the chicken crane became weaker and weaker. Then the mother crane, in unselfish benevolence, fed the child with her own flesh, and the young crane gained strength. Eventually it was able to leave the nest, and the mother crane slowly and silently passed away.

The piece is in twelve sections, each telling one story of the cranes from the birth of the child crane until it leaves the nest. It incorporates several typical shakuhachi techniques, as well as some less typical that are employed only in this piece.



The title “Yuki” means “Snow”, and this is one of the most well-known ha-uta of the jiuta repertoire. The song text is a beautiful poem, externalising the deep emotions of a nun who has parted from this world after having been disappointed in love as a young geisha. The beginning tells us that many years have passed: the flowers in the spring, and the snow in the winter. The Mandarin Duck is known to live as a couple its entire life, thus giving an allusion to a life-long marriage. In Japan, the ducks go to Siberia during the summer, and when they come back in the autumn, their crying, as they pass in the sky, is said to be a lament over their lost beloved ones. This evokes the idea of a lost partner. The temple bell motif is also an interesting appearance. In the Edo period, a bell ringing in the very early morning was a signal for lovers to part. Perhaps she hears this bell, making her loneliness even stronger, remembering the early mornings when her lover used to leave her.

The instrumental interlude (ai no te) is meant to evoke the tolling of a distant temple bell on a snowy night, but it has become so well known that the melancholic melody sometimes is used as a kind of ‘leitmotiv’ to describe a snowy scene, or to evoke a cold, dark atmosphere.
In the latter part of the piece, the emotions grow stronger, and the tension increases — the hopes that he will appear again, paired with the deep sadness of not being able to forget, and not being able to get on with life.

“Yuki” was composed by Minezaki Kōtō, who flourished around 1785-1805.

I am very grateful for having been able to record “Yuki” with Satō Kikuko. There are several styles of interpretation for jiuta pieces, and Ms. Satō has done extensive research in various performance styles. I am very found of both her singing and shamisen playing. On the CD Emu there are two more pieces I perform with Ms. Satō on shamisen, "Kurokami" and "Shiki no Nagame". In the piece "Chidori no Kyoku" on this CD she plays the koto.


Hana mo yuki mo haraeba,
kiyoki tamoto kana
Honni mukashi no
mukashi no koto yo
waga matsu hito mo ware wo machiken
Oshi no otori ni mono omoiba no
kōru fusuma ni
naku ne wa sazona sanaki dani
kokoro mo tōki yowa no kane
[ai no te]
kiku mo samishiki
hitorine no makura ni hibiku
arare no oto mo moshiya to isso
sekikanete otsuru namida no
tsurara yori tsuraki inochi wa
oshikaranedomo koishiki hito wa
tsumi fukaku
omowanu koto no kanashisa ni suteta uki
suteta ukiyo no yamakazura

Both the flowers and the snow
I brush away, and how clear
My sleeves become!

Truly, it was a long,
Long time ago, this affair,
The man I waited for
May still be waiting for me.
The mandarin duck, thinking of the loved ones
In the freezing nest
The sound of its cry is like the bell
Just as far away as my heart when
The temple bell at midnight rings.
[ai no te]
It makes me sad to hear, in my lonely rest,
The reverberating at my pillowcase
Of the patter of hail
I seem to hear, somehow, his knocking on my door again.
My tears falling, freezing to icicles, but worse than this:
Although this bitter life is no longer dear to me,
That my loved one is full of sin
I dare not think.
And to this sadness I have thrown this life away
Ah, I have thrown this life away!
This forsaken world of sorrow.

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