Friday, April 13, 2007

Taimu - The Expressionist Painting of Shakuhachi


I thought I'd write a little about what I'm trying to do with Taimu Shakuhachi. 'Taimu' (The Big Nothing) refers to very wide bore shakuhachi

One way to think of shakuhachi, in a design sense, is that it has a window of bore/length possibilities. (some refer to this as aspect ratio) A thinner bore to length ratio usually results in a focused, cleaner tone. A wider bore to length ratio usually results in a breathier tone. Going too far in any direction results in poor tuning and tone. A bore/length ratio in the middle results in better odds for good octave tuning without extensive bore work.

With Taimu Shakuhachi, I'm trying to push the bore width/length ratio as far as possible. I'm looking for an expressive, breathy foghorn tone as well as good tuning. In a sense, this is like shooting oneself in the foot from the start. To find the tone color desired, the widest bore/length ratio possible has to be used. Therefore, the tuning in the second register often requires quite a bit of bore work to bring into tune.

Concerning tone, while working the bore, I'm looking for the point where the tone suddenly improves dramatically into a glowing, vibrating foghorn. This is achieved by the right combination of adjustments of nodes, choke point, blowing end and rootend diameter as well as hole size and undercutting.

The challenge is trying to get as close as possible to these ideals of tuning and tone color.

Taimu Shakuhachi design differs from many of the 'Hocchiku' Shakuhachi currently in vogue. First, the Taimu bore/length ratio is slightly wider. The bottom end of the bore is opened up to increase tone projection. The holes are also much larger and severely undercut.

These design differences often make this style of flute difficult to make. However, if it can be pulled off, the results can be very powerful.



Anonymous Bryan said...

Ken, I've been experimenting with wide bore (1.5-1.75") none root end, until I can get root end. Of course, no back pressure. I will start to 'insert' materials to narrow the bore at the root end to similate root end. Are others doing this? What material? Thanks, Bryan (Peter Phippen recommended your advice on Shakuhachi construction)

7:54 PM  
Blogger Ken LaCosse said...

Hi Bryan,

Longer shakuhachi (2.4 and up)are much more forgiving to make with a wide bore. A wide bore shakuhachi in the 1.5 to 1.75 range will be more difficult to get the upper second register to play in tune or even play at all. I've found you can't go too much wider than conventional jiari measurements for those lengths.(especially 1.5) There is a larger window of bore width possibilities as the lengths increase. With a wider bore, a much wider, glowing, complex tone is possible.

Ji paste (urushi mixture) is often used to spot fill. However, there are many substitutes that will work. Automobile bondo or other two part epoxy will work. Glue and saw dust, plaster and fix all are other possibilities.

I hope this helps. Best of luck!


10:16 AM  
Anonymous Bryan said...

Hi Ken, been some months since I've reviewed my post and your answer. Thank you. I've been studying other 'wide bore', namely, kyotaku, made, and recorded with by Tilopa in Germany He advises me that "2.7 to 3.2cm a diameter for a good kyotaku sound with quite comfortable playing." Hearing his music I imagined the bore wider. Listening to your taimu, I imagine the bore even wider. What range seems to work best for you in your taimu (I understand each piece of bamboo is individual and may speak to you in its own voice!, even before you work with it.) Still experimenting and learning, Thank you, Bryan

10:01 AM  
Blogger Ken LaCosse said...


The widest width possible depends on the length of the flute.

For example, I recently made a 1.9 (short for Taimu) with interior diameter of about 3.0cm at the top. A 2.9 can be closer to 4.0cm. Shorter than 2.9 and the width usually decreases somewhat. For me, this width works with tapered bores only. Any wider than this and the second register suffers. Even at this width some second register bore work is often needed.

Of course, working within conventional aspect ratios is a much more efficient way to work. The octaves cooperate nicely. However, I love the tone quality of a flute that has been taken to the width limit but still plays in tune!


1:14 PM  

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