|John Kaizan Neptune
Music has the power to move people, to touch that something that is beyond sound and silence.
Like words, music is culturally specific, and there is such an amazing variety of sounds with different functions and structures that about the only generalization that can be made about music is to call it "organized sound".
Music is a process, not just product. People organize sounds in ways that reflect their understanding and relationship with everything. As one ethnomusicologist said, "As they sing, so do they live." I believe that through an understanding of the performing arts we can have a better understanding between different countries and cultures, so important in today's interdependent world.
A love and appreciation of the world's music, especially Asian music, is part of the message of TakéDaké. Our music has been directly influenced by the great musical traditions of Japan, China, India, Indonesia, and others. Instruments, rhythms, scales, and structure all find a unique expression in different cultures, and provide a fertile ground for growing new sounds with only bamboo.
The bamboo used in TakéDaké comes from Japan, China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, India and Hawaii. By using only bamboo we hope to showcase the importance of this flexible material in those various cultures. Called "the brother" in Vietnam and 'tthe friend of the people" in China, it is not an exaggeration to say that it has a major influence on the way people live.
In the East, bamboo has always been a symbol of something for us to emulate. Bamboo is hollow, representing an "empty-mind"--without the self-identification which leads us to see people as separate and superior to nature. Bamboo is useful. Food, medicine, shelter, paper, so many things functional and/or decorative, bamboo is an example of great generosity. In a storm, bamboo bends, but is seldom broken. Bamboo embodies strength through flexibility, a quality useful for individuals and nations alike.
Although I didn't grow up in a culture
where bamboo plays a significant role, it has had a profound influence
on my life for more than 25 years. I am fortunate enough to make
a living working with bamboo and organizing sound, and somehow
I feel like it is the bamboo and sound that shows me the way.
Tak6Dak4 is a celebration of the power on which we depend, the
mystery in which we all participate, and it is a great joy to
be able to share that energy.
-- John Kaizan Neptune
Bamboo is a truly remarkable plant. A member of the grass family, it grows faster than any other plant on earth, as much as 120cm (almost 4 feet) a day. Its tremendous vitality is also shown by its wide-ranging habitat: native to every continent except Europe and the Poles, more than 1200 species are found from sea level to 3600 meters (12,000 feet) in elevation. With the net-like structure of the root system, bamboo provides unequaled erQsion control, and because of the fast maturity cycle (often about four years) and high increase of annual biomass compared to trees, it creates greater yields of raw material for use.
The versatility of bamboo is "bamboggling". It would be possible to sit in a bamboo chair, in a bamboo house, and eat bamboo shoots, cooked over bamboo charcoal, eaten from a bamboo plate with bamboo chopsticks, while listening to music made by bamboo instruments from a record player with a bamboo needle, in a room illuminated with a bamboo filament light bulb, powered with energy from bamboo diesel fuels. There are thousands of ways that bamboo has been utilized, and there are new applications being developed for this renewable resource.
Basically hollow, bamboo has naturally been used to make many different kinds of flutes, but an amazing variety of pitched and unpitched percussion instruments, as well as bamboo stringed instruments and jaws harps are found in the music of many cultures.
I have been playing shakuhachi since 1971 and making the instrument from 1980. Harvesting the bamboo--digging it up (the root portion is used), curing and drying it for about 2 years, inlaying the mouthpiece, drilling the holes, shaping the bore, and finally lacquering the inside is a demanding process, but one that is very interesting and rewarding.
Over the years I have used the shakuhachi in many combinations with musicians and instruments from different cultures. There are a few traditional all-bamboo instrument ensembles, such as the wonderful jegog of B4li, and I had thought that I would like to compose some music for shakuhachi and other exclusively bamboo instruments.
In June of 1995 I was invited to perform at a festival in conjunction with the IV International Bamboo Congress held in Ubud, Bali. At that time I had the opportunity to see not only jegog but many other all-bamboo ensembles including a complete Western marching band with all the instruments (including the tubal) made from bamboo. There were lots of extraordinary bamboo sounds, coming from great musicians. But I found that though the shakuhachi could fit into many musical settings due to its flexible pitch and sound, it was difficult to find instruments with the adaptability and range to play the kind of new material I was hoping to create.
Loaded with raw bamboo rather than completed instruments, I returned to Japan from Bali with ideas for instruments that I would make myself. As I began to explore various sound-producing possibilities, I had two basic concepts that were guiding my work: first, the instruments could include material other than bamboo as part of the frame or support for the instrument, but the vibrating surface had to be bamboo. A bamboo drum with an animal skin head would not be appropriate, but bamboo tubes held together with a wood or metal frame would be fine. Second, the musicians I work with would all be professional with fantastic facility on the instruments they have spent many years mastering. To take advantage of this I have tried to create bamboo instruments that were physically close to the instruments they normally play. For example the baliphone is a bamboo "marimba" with a size and design similar enough to a normal vibraphone or marimba so that Hitoshi Hamada can use his great four-mallet technique.
After working late into the night for many months on one failure after anoth6r, I finally began to see results with some help from experts in many different fields: a bamboo basket weaver helped me to make some woven bamboo heads for the drum kit and a carpenter helped me to plane bamboo smooth and flat enough to make laminated heads for the bass and snare drums. Saito Instruments made a metal frame for the baliphone, and I found a company that was milling bamboo into thin flat strips I could use for "conga" drum bodies and heads. The Fuji Bamboo Garden introduced me to a bamboo charcoal maker (for wind chime material) and also showed me where to get the largest bamboo in Japan. A bamboo paper craftsman made many large sheets for two frame drums and a cabinet maker helped me to make and design a large stand for the bambass. My former experience in surfboard making also became very useful when I found that I could bind the bamboo with epoxy-fiberglass to prevent cracking.
See pictures of the bamboo instruments made by John Kaizan Neptune and used by TakéDaké.
The first performance of TakéDaké was in March 1996, sponsored by NHK in Oita, an area well-known for its bamboo products. Introducing the wide range of music possible on these instruments, our program included Japanese folk songs, jazz, Western classical music, and original music which I composed. The response was very encouraging; everyone seemed to like the look and the sound of bamboo!
TakéDaké continues to
evolve as new ideas for instruments are investigated and difterent
sound textures are explored with new compositions. I have used
bamboo from six different countries, and many different configurations:
natural tubes, sticks, planks, woven mat, paper, charcoal, and
more. It is my hope that people listening to this group will appreciate
the wide variety of uses and the beauty of this amazing natural
resource. After one of our concerts a friend said, "Thank
you for making a vegetarian drum!" Yes, I too feel very thankful
for the many unique natural flavors coming from "Bamboo Only".