Thursday, September 21, 2006


Bob Crowley shakuhachi at an improv with Philip Lampe and Robert Manzke

I'd bet that many musicians know how their mood affects their playing and have learned how to control it to some degree. The shakuhachi seems particularly sensitive to mood, and the more I listen to the great players and try to imitate some of the tones and sounds they have recorded, the more I appreciate how mental state affects the quality of the sounds I do manage to pull off. The shakuhachi is sort of a dual-use instrument for music making and also for zen meditation.

A clear mind, relaxed breathing, positive attitude and the elimination of intrusive thoughts and external sounds are apparently the prerequisites that work for me. When I am alone I play briliiantly and when others are around not so well, so confidence is of course a big factor. Having confidence seems to be a mix of conditions, people and instrument and if I have a flute that I know is going to reliably hit that note, even if it doesn't sound as good as the better sounding flute, there's the importance of choice. You can see how musicians often choose their instruments and other tools based on confidence and peer consensus, and quite rightly so, as this is a definite boost in their favor.

I also find it helpful to have a distant view off to some far away hillside, which I am fortunate to have from my home which looks out over hill and dale, but I don't know why that helps.

It's intriguing that these minor external things seem to have such a strong influence on timbre. Tone in the shakuhachi and certain other wind instruments is developed and modulated by embrochure. The connection of the lips to face, the mind to mood and then perhaps facial expression extending to body posture and the subjective thought processes, applies to the meditative clearing of mental clutter and central focus on dimensions of sound.

I have Paul Kastner to thank for turning me on to the shakuhachi. Paul and I went to high school together in Newton, MA, and after college he moved to Japan, went to a Japanese music school where he learned to play the shakuhachi under a master, raised a family, started a woodstove business in Nagano, and returned for a visit with his shakuhachi. Today (or tomorrow - he's in Japan now) is his birthday - Happy Birthday!

Link to a shakuhachi-like device I made from a recorder.

Link to a shakuhachi recording session with Philip Lampe


dom kaze said...

i got to your page in a strange way but i recorded last month a jazz trio with a shakuhachi flutist.
so i thought well this guy must have tried a whole bunch of mics and ways to record this amazing instrument.
do you have any recomendation ?
i used my akg 414 tl2 and i got a nice sound but just curious...


Bob Crowley said...

Hi Dom,

Yes I did try quite a few mics and the Naked Eye mount was partly a result of experiments with the shakuhachi. I already knew that the Proscenium was a successful flute mic. Flutes can sound perfect at first then that dryness gets to the back of your neck after a while and it can't be listened to. That's been the tradeoff, and why I like the more fluid ribbon sound.

The shakuhachi is hard to mic because it has so much dynamic range and the sounds come from the embrochure and the sound holes of course, and interact. I liked the ability to work the mic: for instance, get up close to the utagichi for a fatter sound, then go to the back of the figure eight of the mic to get a more distant sound.

Marco Granados, is a great flute (not shakuhachi) player and is extremely talented and technically able. He uses a pair of Prosceniums to record, also DPA 4004.

I think that the AKGs are among the best of the condensers by the way and have the smoothness in the mids.

I think of mics as sound lenses for recording cameras. The perspective, how the sound sits in space and time and finally in the mix, are manipulable to a great degree especiallly with mics that have "reach" which Naked Eye has. In any case I like that mic obviously because we made it and know its characteristics, but also because it just has some quality that has the sharpness without the grain, the articulation without the tizz, sort of like a good portrait lens.

I can't recommend anything specific but I can suggest micing at a fair distance if possible to let the player move around and not feel restricted. I also have an averstion to "dry" or even chalky sounding flutes and hate to try to mask that with delay and reverb. I use a little delay here. There is a lot to that instrument which I also think is great for jazz and even blues! Having a pentatonic scale certainly helps:}