Ueli Derendinger: San Ya
( Percaso Productions : 14 )
Ueli Derendinger (shakuhachi)
Not an experimental music disc, this, but a rather traditional one. Derendinger treats us to a sequence of Japanese compositions in the Meian-ryu; indeed, it gives us nearly one-third of the pieces which exist in this style. The sound of the shakuhachi -- an end-blown bamboo flute -- is, however, surprisingly resonant for Western listeners more used to hearing these kinds of sounds in an experimental music context.
Derendinger does give us his own addition to the shinyoku, the repertoire of new compositions, and it's there where we should probably start because it's here that his love of the sound of the shakuhachi comes to the fore. Along with the standard intervallic structures and free rhythm which characterise shakuhachi music, he appears to have added quite extreme timbral effects as compositional elements. The flexibility in pitch which the instrument offers are exploited to the full in the bubbling opening. It seems that a piece in shinyoku gives Derendinger a liberty to create more textural effects than the could be applied to honyoku pieces without overstepping the margins of allowable interpretation.
Still, traditional shakuhachi music, perhaps only equalled in this by some vocal styles, has always had a lot in common with the Western avant garde, even centuries before such a thing existed. The focus on open rhythmic structure means that sounds can stand alone and are subject to scrutiny. The upshot of this is that timbral variations are as essential in shakuhachi music as pitch variations in a raga or the blues -- without them, you simply wouldn't be playing the music at all.Derendinger has obviously entered into this spirit wholeheartedly. His control over the flutter-tongueing, over-blowing and microtonal techniques which give the instrument its astonishing musical depth (this is essentially a tube with five holes in it) is virtuosic. Whether the subtleties of his performances are well-judged or not will have to be left to experts, of which this writer is certainly not one, but these interpretations sit comfortably with those by established Japanese performers.
Those with an ear for Western experimental music -- especially new music and free improvisation -- will find a lot to enjoy in shakuhachi music, probably more so than most other Japanese traditions even, and this disc contains some wonderful examples. For its focus on the Meian-ryu it is to be particularly praised, since it gives a clear picture of what this style is about for a Western audience too often palmed off with "world music" discs which give us little help in understanding the sounds we hear. And unlike many such offerings, this session has been beautifully recorded.