Since its very beginning, the Prague Shakuhachi Summer School project has entailed cooperation of shakuhachi players with artists from other fields. In previous years, artists such poet James Ragan and multi-instrumentalist and composer Ganesh Anandan took part in creating cross-genre performances. This year we have decided to offer selected shakuhachi players and new media and visual artists the chance to take part in a four-day-long creative workshop. Our aim is to offer a meeting point for the two different art worlds, so they can mutually enrich each other.


The workshop will take place in The Chemistry Gallery, Prague, from 10th till 13th August 2009. On the 13th there will be a vernisage at the gallery and the following day works will be moved to the Summer School’s venue, New Town town-hall, to be displayed there. On the evening of the 14th, the exhibition as well as the entire festival will be opened. Throughout the duration of the workshop Jim Franklin, a professional shakuhachi player (master in the school of Katsuya Yokoyama) and a composer of contemporary art music, will be available for consultations. Furthermore, Christopher Blasdel, a master of the Kinko School, will be taking part in the workshop and will be able to give some advice.


New media or digital media artists often work with glitch and other visual and aural noises, thus highlighting the existence of the medium itself. This approach strongly resembles the one used in traditional pieces of the shakuhachi. There, a bright tone is always accompanied by a rough, disintegrated one; sound exists only surrounded by silence, and in moving towards an in-tune tone one wanders through a landscape of various flexions and glissandos. However, unlike new media, the shakuhachi tradition has continuously developed this aesthetic for hundreds of years. We can now see that these two fields share a similar workspace and aesthetic, nevertheless, a genuine artistic cooperation between these two fields has not yet happened, in Europe at least. 


We would like to present to you three short texts which will describe some of the remarkable aspects of the shakuhachi and possible ways of integrating them in a work of art. Nevertheless, please take the ideas presented below only as propositions, which need not be followed.


Sound Space


The shakuhachi, apart from closed sessions in temples, was most often heard in open space of Japanese countryside, where wandering monks playing the flute would go from house to house begging for alms. (Some of these monks even refused to communicate by other means than the flute.) The natural environment for their music, therefore, was not a quiet room, but a space filled with sounds of casual rural life. We can still hear this environment on the oldest shakuhachi recordings, where, to the dismay of sound technicians, a master would open all the windows in the recording room, saying that only in this way can one hear the true sound of the shakuhachi. From time to time you can hear a dog barking or sounds of village craftsmen.


Sounds of nature and animals were also the inspiration for most of traditional pieces. They are stories of rapture and close observation of these phenomena, including the time of their non-existence, beginning, duration and end. An inspiration was, for example, the sound of a waterfall (the piece Taki Ochi), or the calling of deer (Shika no Tone). Artistic rendition and meditation upon these sounds prevailed over the use of musical language as it is understood by western classical music. For this purpose, the previously mentioned noise techniques and methods of working with the tone were developed. Hence the wandering monks brought testimonials of sounds which were not directly involved with lives of those in the village, but which, nevertheless, were not outside of the discourse of their wider environment, which perhaps did not attract their full attention.


This poses us a question: what is our actual sound environment? What sounds are worth of closer examination when we ponder upon their message, their connotations and their effects?


The Corporal and The Spiritual


Breath is the foundation of all shakuhachi playing. Its quality strongly affects tone quality and production. Shakuhachi music, therefore, has a strong physical aspect. This we feel is connected to the concept of the shakuhachi as a spiritual, not musical, instrument. (The approach of shakuhachi as a musical instrument started to develop more significantly only by the end of the nineteenth Century, but still spiritual practice remains as a significant part of the shakuhachi discourse.) The breath itself has an impact on the mind (playing the shakuhachi used to be called suizen, blowing meditation, meditation of breath). However, in the light of historical evidence which shows that the alleged history of the Fuke sect which links it to the ninth Century China was fabricated in order to legitimise its existence and privileged lifestyle of its members, the formerly emphasized spirituality is now often regarded with cynicism. 


At the same time, there hasn’t been any fundamental research or a work of art which would examine the relationship between playing the shakuhachi and the human psyche. We think that contemporary technologies which measure mental frequencies and cerebral electrical activity can provide the artist with data to be used in a work of art.


The Colour of Tone


The colour of tone (timbre) is what enables us to distinguish between the sound of a piano and the sound of a violin. It is determined by the structure and amplitude of individual harmonic frequencies which make up a sound. It is not only the case that a shakuhachi player can manipulate the tone colour using different embouchure, breath and fingering techniques, but each individual shakuhachi player has a tone colour of his own. This has been demonstrated, for example, in the PhD thesis of David Bidlo from Prague HAMU (Kinko Honkyoku – significance of timbre for musical structure). Through comparative analysis of a couple of players playing the same tone, using the same fingering and similar embouchure technique, dramatic differences in tone structure became apparent. Therefore, we can say that the tone of shakuhachi has a powerful individual character, which is directly linked towards the player's physiognomy. Another factor is actual mental state and relaxation of the player.


The historical development of western instruments moved in the direction of uniform tone throughout an instrument’s range; at the same time aspects such as its loudness, tuning precision and balance were favoured more than sound quality itself. This elusive aspect of music has been more thoroughly studied by Musicology and Acoustics only recently, thanks to better availability of adequate technologies. A spectrogram, a graphical image of sound including its entire harmonic spectrum, or its digital real-time version, can not only inspire an interesting installation, but it can lead to increased consciousness and perception of different tone colours. Thus an analysis of one media through another one can enrich the understanding of its function and means of operation.

See Attachment No.1




To be considered for selection to take part in the project, participants are required to send in their brief profiles indicating their interest in the shakuhachi and art in general. Examples of their work and letters of recommendation are very welcome. All participants will be given a substantial discount on the Prague Shakuhachi Summer School fee; they will need to pay only 50 EURO. Deadline for the application is 31.05.2009.


Please send in your applications to mmardias(at)