This article examines the folding together of music and landscape in some recent albums featuring the shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute that today animates an active and international music scene. Through analysis of the texts, images, and sounds on these albums, I explore the re-imagining of the shakuhachi’s musical geography as the instrument reaches new players and places in Europe, Australia, and North America. Using recordings that incorporate environmental sounds alongside the shakuhachi, I examine ideas about the perceived authenticity of particular sounds, performance spaces, and recording aesthetics. These recordings unsettle our thinking about the relationship between music and landscape in several ways. First they document performers’ connections with particular sites, yet complicate any notion that the shakuhachi is related to a single place or nation, signalling a distinctly contemporary sense of place. Second, the centrality of mediation in these artistic projects makes technology crucial to the production of the natural and renders the naturalness of the shakuhachi audible in new ways. Third, the use of environmental sounds provokes questions about agency and the boundaries between human and non-human sound-making. By treating these albums as assemblages of material, social, technological, and natural elements, I reveal the lively and complex character of otherwise everyday musical objects.
Assembled Landscapes: The Sites and Sounds of Some Recent Shakuhachi Recordings
Joseph Browning is an ethnomusicologist specializing in the shakuhachi, central Javanese gamelan, and ethnographic approaches to Western art music. He completed his Ph.D. on the transnational shakuhachi scene at SOAS, University of London in 2014. His current research, based at the University of Melbourne, examines creative and rehearsal processes in Western art-music contexts.
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Joseph Browning; Assembled Landscapes: The Sites and Sounds of Some Recent Shakuhachi Recordings. Journal of Musicology 1 January 2016; 33 (1): 70–91. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jm.2016.33.1.70
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