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Shakuhachi

The Shakuhachi is more than a musical instrument. This Japanese flute made of bamboo does not only attract in a musical way, but it also develops a strong spiritual power. The monks of the Japanese Fuke movement, who significantly influenced the Shakuhachi playing in Japan from the 17th to the 19th century, did not use this flute as a musical instrument at all. The Shakuhachi was a “mental tool” used for meditation, and it was said to lead to enlightenment. The Fuke monks belonged to the movement of the Japanese Zen Buddhism. Their members used to wear a basket of common reed over their heads to cover their faces. The old Shakuhachi musical pieces of the Fuke are called Honkyoku. And until today they have been a central reference point for all Shakuhachi players.

The diverse possibilities to create the sound of the Shakuhachi are fascinating, even though it has got only five tone holes: four holes on the front side of the flute and one for the thumb. Its pure and warm sound covers almost three octaves. The tone is produced by blowing into a notch at the upper end of the instrument. Its sound is similar to other notched flutes such as Quena or Xiao, it is voluminous and light. The Shakuhachi is played soloistically. In Japan it is also part of the Sankyoku ensembles and is combined there with the heterochord half-tube zither Koto and the lute Shamisen. Meanwhile the Shakuhachi has been applied within many music genres even outside of Japan: in jazz, film music, world music, rock music, and within the New Music scene. Absolutely worth hearing are the Shakuhachi passages in the song “Pump” by Björk’s band Sugarcubes (1989), the first few notes of “Ride across the River” by the Dire Straits (1985), or of John Zorn’s “Samarkan” (2001).

The name Shakuhachi can be attributed to the length of the flute. “Shaku” is the measure of length for “one foot”, “hachi” means “eight” and refers to the measuring unit “sun”: Shakuhachi – “one foot eight”. This corresponds with a length of 54 cm. The instruments offered by DAN MOI have the same length. The Shakuhachis are handmade by one of the best Shakuhachi makers in Germany. The bamboo used for the corpus has been dried for several years before being processed. The Shakuhachis at DAN MOI are traditionally tuned in pentatonic D minor.

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