Each Sound Is Really Itself

More so than in western music, the shakuhachi is an instrument where the sound of each note is important. Part of this comes from the fact that, at least in honkyoku, it is a solo instrument, and the only musical sound you hear is these notes. But this is also the case because of the philosophy of playing the shakuhachi. When approached as a tool for meditation, as well as music, then each note needs to be played as truly as possible. I don’t think this means that each note needs to be perfect, because imperfection is part of the music, but that each note needs to be played as if it is the only note to be played at that time.

I was recently reading For the Birds: John Cage in Conversation with Daniel Charles, and Charles was discussing a performance of Cage’s Song Books. Cage said, “They gave a very beautiful performance of it I think.”

Charles asked, “In what sense was it a beautiful performance?”

Cage replied: “In that they performed with great care to make sure that each sound was really itself.”

2 Replies to “Each Sound Is Really Itself”

  1. Some people say ”consciousness is breathing”. Some say ”consciousness is sound”. Aren’t we blessed to have Shakuhachi here. ;)

  2. This reminds me of the Taoist concept of Tzu Jan – “of itself”, “by itself”, or “itself so”. Some translators have used the term “nature” for this concept but the central idea is that, if allowed to be itself, by non-interference, something is allowed to be. Your breath for example, is automatic, as is the forest. I think that in terms of performance this works with Wu Wei, and both open the door to the Japanese concept of Wabisabi. Thanks for the post Kirk, I love investigating the intersection of Cage and shakuhachi.

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