JOHN KAIZAN NEPTUNE
John Kaizan Neptune brings to the shakuhachi (bamboo flute) a new and dynamic sound and feeling entirely his own. A California-born American, Neptune received his master’s certificate in the Tozan School of Shakuhachi in 1977, at which time he was awarded the name “Kaizan” (“Sea Mountain”). He is the author of the book SHAKUHACHI, and has performed and recorded in many countries around the world. His second album, BAMBOO, was named Outstanding Record of the Year by the Cultural Affairs Agency of the Japanese Ministry of Education; subsequent albums (23 to date) and his concerts throughout Japan, Asia, Australia, America, and Europe have made his original music, from traditional Japanese to contemporary jazz, widely know and loved by people of all ages. Neptune, who is acknowledged to be among the top masters of the instrument in Japan, now lives in Kamogawa, Chiba-ken, where he continues to make, write for and experiment with the instrument he had adopted as his own.
About the recording:
It has been a dream of mine to be able to make a quality recording in the comfortable environment of my own home. And when I say “quality,” my standards are quite strict because I have been “spoiled” by recording in some of the best studios in the world – Toshiba EMI, Nippon Columbia, Victor (JVC) – for more than ten years.
The dome house I built in the Japanese countryside (Kamogawa is about 2 hours by car outside Tokyo) has a 27 feet high open ceiling, wood floors, no sound-absorbing curtains, and a resonance that can only be described as natural and full. We opened up the windows a bit to let in some delightful cricket sounds to give the real flavor of a late-night fall recording of shakuhachi in Kamogawa.
The countryside is “hi-fi!” Victor recording director Soh Fujimoto commented: “To achieve an S/N (signal to noise) ratio like this we normally have to build a studio with walls a meter thick!” Furthermore, the acoustics of the dome give a very natural feeling to the sound unavailable in a typical studio with all their high-tech digital delay and echo machines. The result is something more personal, I hope. It is “bare” shakuhachi. I remember talking with a shakuhachi recording artist who thought that playing shakuhachi without a lot of echo is like “being without clothes…you feel naked.” I think this is appropriate for a solo recording and one of the reasons why this is the first completely solo recording I have done. The sterile environment of the average studio does not seem suited for music that is as spiritual as “honkyoku,” the traditional solo shakuhachi music.
This is not to say that the recording was not high-tech. We used two Shopps 52S microphones, a Sony PCM converter as a microphone amplifier and as a type of limiter, then went directly to a Sony DAT TCD-D3 recorder. The sound was recorded from “one point;” actually, the mikes were separated about the same as the ears on your head to give an amazingly true reproduction. No artificial echo, delay, or equalization was used.
All of the music was recorded during one night, September 29-30, from 11:30PM until 4:30AM. Not exactly the best working hours, but the music helped to sustain the energy.
About the music:
For this recording I chose a variety of solo pieces using a variety of different lengths of shakuhachi. There are “Kinko” style and other honkyoku for the Edo period (1603-1868): Tsuru no Sugomori, Shika no Tone, Honshirabe, and Sagariha; “Tozan” style honkyoku from the turn of last century: Asa Kaze and Kogarashi; one folk tune, Mogamigawa Funa Uta, and three “contemporary” compositions of my own: Past and Present, Colorings, and Word Can’t Go There.
Six different lengths of shakuhachi are used; in Japanese feet or “shaku” they are: 1.6, 1.8, 2.0, 2.1, 2.4, and 3.0 (from 19 inches to 36 inches). All of these flutes have the same basic arrangement of five holes, but of course the pitch and tone color for each one is unique. I make my own shakuhachi, and the 3.0 used in this recording is an instrument that was far from being finished and needed work on the bore, but I decided it would add an interesting flavor to the recording.
Although there are different styles of music and different lengths of shakuhachi, I feel there is a certain continuity to this recording. I hope that the listener can feel some of the joy and sadness, the high and low, the active and silent…the intense power of “quiet space” that is the essence of shakuhachi. It is a quality difficult to describe…words can’t go there.