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Songs from the lake (shakuhachi music)

by Jim Franklin

Songs from the Lake


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Songs from the Lake / Jim Franklin.

Library shelf no. CD 3202 [Not for loan]

Work Overview

Hovering like morning mist above the mirror-lake
(Allan Marett, Eliza)

This work has evolved over a period of about twelve years, although a few of the sound ideas and images are much older, dating back to my days as a composition student in the 1980s. I have performed earlier versions of some of the movements in numerous concerts and at various shakuhachi festivals in Europe, Japan and Australia between 2008 and 2020, gradually honing the pieces and creating the shape of the overall composition.

The nature of the work, and of this recording, is deliberately performative. The shakuhachi, a deceptively simple-looking Japanese bamboo flute and a highly physical instrument, features in all the movements. This flute, and the combinations shakuhachi / live electronics (that is to say, electronic processing of the shakuhachi sounds in real time), were performed simultaneously by one player (me) and recorded in single, complete takes, without separate takes of the electronics, and usually as a direct mix to stereo. This is effectively identical to the way the pieces are performed in concert, and attempts to capture the nuances (and unavoidable 'imperfections') of real-time performance as opposed to the (apparent, and often disembodied) perfection of studio construction. In some of the movements, all instruments, including the additional electronic resources beyond real-time processing of the shakuhachi, were played and recorded simultaneously in real time by one performer (shakuhachi and theremin / live electronics in Ripples and shakuhachi / live electronics and Haken ContinuuMini in Surface Trace). Even where multiple synthesizers were employed, multitracked layering was kept to a minimum. For example, the complex synthetic textures of Mirrored Depths were recorded as only two layers (real-time performed stereo mixes, admittedly using sequenced elements that were manipulated during performance, rather than being performed note-for-note).

As a result, many of the movements are playable by one performer despite their multilayered nature; these are the pieces which I have performed at festivals and so forth. In the case of the other movements, either two performers (Spiral Eddies; Mists, Departing) or three performers (Mirrored Depths) would be required for live performance. These movements make their first public appearance on this CD.

The pieces are all semi-composed, structured improvisations: a form composed in advance, in which the 'signposts' and turning points are clearly delineated, but whereby the exact route taken between these points varies from performance to performance. I have allowed myself this liberty partly because I enjoy the focus and centredness of live performance and improvisation, and partly because the collection of instruments employed is highly specific. Probably no other shakuhachi performer has access to the particular synthesizers, processors and so on (collected between 1985 and 2020) which I employed. I thus saw no point in composing the pieces at note-for-note level and notating them in a generally readable form, as it is highly unlikely that anyone else will be able to assemble the particular instrumentarium required to perform them.

Accordingly, part of the composition and recording process was to perform multiple, semi-improvised takes of the pieces (or in a few cases, of the layers within the pieces) and then select those takes which represent, to my perception, the best 'route' through the pieces.

The overall title of the work, as well as the titles of the individual movements, have their roots in two sources. Firstly, for many years I have been fascinated by visual textures in the natural environment in which the overall form remains the same but the details are ever-changing. Prominent amongst such textures are those of water, flowing or still: the continually changing ripples in a stream, the coruscating flecks of sunlight on the ocean, or (an image that has remained with me since I first saw it some 35 years ago) a lake in winter, with flowing wavelets glimpsed in the cold, midday sun on the water surface below a thin layer of ice: always changing, ever the same.

A second source of inspiration is the world of Buddhist thought and experience, especially in the form of Zen. Water is often used as an image of the mind, sometimes disturbed, sometimes calm and flat like a mirror. To me, the Lake is thus not simply a natural image, but also a metaphor and an object for meditation, development and purification, always heading towards the clear, undisturbed mirror-like state, which reflects without attachment the things around it, and yet allows an unhindered view of the underlying ground or source on which it rests and from which it is fed.

Songs from the Lake is, for me, therefore not simply a sonic depiction of images of the natural world, but a meditative process - always the same, ever changing, still, and yet in constant motion.

Forth from the mirror-lake
Our dreamings dance
(Allan Marett, Eliza)

Work Details

Instrumentation: Shakuhachi, theremin, synthesiser, Haken ContinuuMini, and live electronics.

Contents note: 1. Mists, Descending -- 2. Ripples -- 3. Fluid Convex -- 4. Mirrored Depths -- 5. Surface Trace -- 6. Spiral Eddies -- 7. Mists, Departing.

Performances of this work

11 Oct 2012: at Japanese Shihan Principles & Australian Electroacoustic Composition (The Playhouse, WSU Penrith). Featuring Jim Franklin.

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