Striking Light, Striking Dark

“If light comes, I will strike it. If dark comes, I will strike it.”
(Kyotaku Denki)

Poetry set to music

Original compositions by Christopher Yohmei Blasdel, Shakuhachi, & Sasha Bogdanowitsch, Voice & World Instruments. 2015.

I bought this CD at the WSF 2018 in London last August and I was very curious to listen to it. “Original compositions by Christopher Yohmei Blasdel & Sasha Bogdanowitsch”and “Poetry from Rainer Maria Rilke, Pablo Neruda, John Logan and Sam Hamill” was enough to intrigue me. I love poetry and I have been working myself for a long time about connecting music and words, in shows or with composers.

The first time I met Christopher Yohmei Blasdel was at the International Shakuhachi Festival in Prague in 2010 and got from him my first Kinko-ryū Chikumeisha shakuhachi lessons. How much I struggled on Hifumi Hachigaeschi no shirabe at that time! But the more you struggle, the deeper you remember the music! He was very patient with me and I enjoyed a lot his teaching, his playing during the concerts, and his Aikido-based workshops. His bookThe Shakuhachi, A Manual of Learning” is a must to have in your shakuhachi books’ collection.
At the ISF Prague, I purchased his CD Visionary Tones and his book The Single Tone. Both are beautifully inspiring and I have a strong personal connection with the CD.

After a busy summer this year, one of the first things I did when I was back home was to listen to Christopher’s CD. I was immediately so captivated by its beauty and richness that I listened to it twice in a row, the first time listening “only” to the music, the second time while reading the texts I found on Christopher’s website (I am not an English native speaker).
Each piece is a little jewel.
Each piece takes you to its own world.
The connection between music and poetry is beautifully executed with high precision. Music and words enhance each other, reaching a new dimension.
It is so inspired and inspiring.

Below are some personal impressions about this very special CD. I hope this post will make you curious enough to listen to it (and guess what? You can also listen to it on Spotify!).

12 tracks, 11 poems or poetic texts, 1 instrumental.
Some compositions are light and joyful (#1 Ish Province Work Song, #5 Peacock Feather, #12 Saltarello), some profound or mysterious (#2 How Could We Forget?, #4 Solstice, #6, Elegy, #8 Oracular), telling tales (#7 All of it, #10 The Search),  or being still (#3 Unity, #11 Kyorei).

The music is very diverse, using not only shakuhachi (1.8 & 2.4) and voice, but also all kind of world music instruments meticulously chosen (some of them quite rare). Along the different compositions, you travel through folk music, English madrigal, Indian raga, Gregorian chants, Indonesian Gamelan and much more. It is very creative and never repetitive. The shakuhachi finds its place on a natural way in each style. The use of the normal voice (not singing) and harmonics with the flute in #6 Elegy is very touching.

The highlight of this CD is for me the rendition of Hifumi Hachigaeschi no shirabe in #8 Oracular, with the shakuhachi and the voice playing at unison. It makes me think of the way voice and shakuhachi work together in traditional sankyoku pieces (pieces for shamisen, koto and shakuhachi), where the shakuhachi accompanies the song. Here, it is the other way around, the voice blending in the shakuhachi inflections of the honkyoku. After the words “no sound” on the highest note of the melody, the shakuhachi continues alone: it is just magnificent. I can’t get enough of this track!

One of my other favourites ones is #10 The Search. It grabs you into what seems an endless journey, until it suddenly takes a twist, after the words “for then my search is ended“. At this moment, it is like the poet (and the musicians) is standing in front of you, looking at you in the eyes…  Very strong.

Between those two tracks, #9 The Art of Literary Translation makes quite a strong contrast. It is the only track where Christopher doesn’t play shakuhachi but a traditional Hungarian flute “furulya”. Although this one is my least favourite track, I like how its dark humor pulls you out of your comfort zone!

What could look like an eclectic choice of poems contains, for me, a lot of shakuhachi and zen spirit, particularly about non-duality. Putting them all together on one CD contributes to make universal connections between traditions, periods, places and artistic expressions.

Humanity, in its diversity and similitude.



3 thoughts on “Striking Light, Striking Dark”

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