World Shakuhachi Festival
In the first week of August I attended the World Shakuhachi Festival 2018 at Goldsmiths College in London. This international jamboree for shakuhachi players occurs every four years, usually in Japan but sometimes in other countries. It was the first time to come to Europe.
Quite an intense experience to be suddenly immersed in a force-field of 300 shakuhachi fanatics for a week, among a helter-skelter of multiple simultaneous workshops and concerts to attend. Nonetheless with ‘unhindered purposeful inaction’ as the guiding motto there seemed to be plenty of space for everything to coexist in a harmonious flow. All the top living shakuhachi players from Japan were there and loads of other dudes from all four corners.
Highlight for me was in the performances and workshops of shakuhachi master Tajima Tadashi, who seeming to have almost etheric approach to the venerable Honkyoku repertoire, implying that the only way to learn the pieces was to channel them directly from the astral heights … while at the same time giving precise instructions for tricky shaded-hole fingerings measured down to seven tenths of a millimetre.
I also made a good connection with Orimu Sabu, a charismatic contemporary shakuhachi player from Kamakura, who plays a very primal and spontaneous kind of music full of unexpected phrases and cosmic overtones. I shared the concert platform with him in one of the lunchtime concerts at the festival together with Zac Zinger – jazz shakuhachi player from New York.
The festival was a melting pot for so many shakuhachi players and styles. I was reminded what a cool instrument the shakuhachi is, for all the reasons I originally fell in love with it. First, the raw sound itself, crazy raw elemental sound from the finest of delicate whisperings to full-throated, swooping arcs of sound . Second, the elusive experience of trying to make that sound, and the full gamut of emotional, physical and mental challenges it presents. Third the broad approach to sound and silence, breath, timing, intention, meditation, awareness, life and death. Fourth, the funky zen traditions and resonances of the shakuhachi history and culture. Left me feeling rewired and refreshed. And remembering these words of my late teacher:
The Honkyoku represent an infinite source of wisdom to be tapped. The more you think and feel the depths of this music the more you realize your own depths and that of the universe. You have to investigate inside your self very seriously as a fresh living entity. In this way the honkyoku is a way into something that will always come up fresh and new. The true depth of the music is far deeper than the pieces themselves. They are a way to penetrate inside something true in the depth of the being. It is not only something from the past, ancient, old things, it has to emerge from the bamboo as a living, breathing spirit.
Yokoyama Katsuya (1934-2010)
Here is some feedback I received from other shakuhachi players after playing at the wsf2018:
There seemed to be no clear dividing line between sound and no sound so it made me listen quite intently; there were these deep rich tones very meditative in nature that one felt building or enveloping oneself.
Daniel Ribble (shakuhachi player)
A unique blend between the music and the hall’s ambient noise. One transformed into the other. Breathtaking experience, something that touches up some of the core ideas of shakuhachi music played by the komusō in Japan’s plein-air.
Marek Kimei Matvija (shakuhachi player)
Listening to Mr. Adrian’s performance at WSF and hearing his approach to the shakuhachi was a treasure for me
Adrian’s sound is wonderful. It’s so deep. The musical expression is surprisingly rich. I felt like I was hearing something truly new. The shakuhachi has travelled across the ocean and found great value in Adrian’s hands.
Orimu Sabu (shakuhachi player)
Your performance was one of the highlights of the festival for me. Accomplished, technically flawless, and so breathtakingly expressive.
Marty Regan (composer)
The quality of your silence took us in the beautiful stillness of your piece Seijaku and gave us a magical moment of peace. In this hectic festival where we were constantly solicited, it was refreshing and regenerating to listen to you, and just be, with you, in the music and your long soft sounds, emerging from silence and going back to it. Music and silence became one,
Hélène Codjo (shakuhachi player)
Your pure, quiet sounds washed our hearts out.
Kind, calm, inclusive, peacefully coexisting with the silences.
Elizabeth Brown (shakuhachi player
I felt we were breathing together—your body, sound, and spirit were so synchronized that I felt compelled to breathe with you. It was literally breathtaking.
Zac Zinger (shakuhachi player)