Jablonski, Marek (Michael)



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3. Instruments.


Three flutes, all of similar construction, are used in the performance of gagaku (fig.27). The ryūteki, a transverse bamboo flute about 40 cm in length, with seven finger-holes, is used in tōgaku (both kangen and bugaku), saibara and rōei. In tōgaku, the ryūteki, together with the hichiriki, dominates the ensemble. Its melodies are characterized by intricate melodic formulae and frequent octave leaps, the performance of which is facilitated by the instrument’s large bore and finger-holes. In both saibara and rōei, the flute closely follows the vocal melody, but in the former, the line is embellished with formulae gleaned from tōgaku practice. The komabue is a transverse bamboo flute with six finger-holes used in komagaku and azuma asobi. Shorter (about 36 cm) and narrower in bore than the ryūteki, it sounds a tone higher in pitch. Like the ryūteki, the komabue performs a highly formulaic melody, in heterophony with the hichiriki. The kagurabue is a transverse bamboo flute with six finger-holes used in the ritual repertories kagura, yamato-uta and kume-uta. It is longer (45 cm) and slimmer than the ryūteki.

The Hichiriki, a small, almost cylindrical, double-reed pipe with nine finger-holes, seven in the front and two at the back, is used in all gagaku repertories. Together with the flute, it is the principal melodic instrument. The relative largeness of the reed in comparison with the air column permits the player to bend pitches in order to meet the melodic and modal requirements of the melodies characteristic of each genre.

The Shō, a small free-reed mouth-organ with 17 bamboo pipes (two of which are mute) set into a wind chamber, is used in tōgaku, saibara and rōei. When the player closes the holes on any of the 15 sounding pipes and blows and sucks air into the chamber, free reeds near the base of the pipe are sounded. In performing tōgaku, the shō produces five or six-note harmonic clusters (aitake) based on the circle of 5ths. Only one pitch is notated, in general the lowest note of each cluster. While in modern practice the shō is regarded as a harmonic rather than a melodic instrument and provides a richly dissonant texture against which the ryūteki and hichiriki perform their melodies, it is this instrument, together with the biwa, that in its notated pitches most accurately preserves the original melodies imported from Tang China. In saibara and rōei, the shō does not use aitake but rather follows the sung melody, doubling it in octaves or occasionally 5ths.

The three string instruments used in gagaku are the biwa, gakusō and wagon. The Biwa is a four-string lute played with a large plectrum (see also §II, 3 above). Like the shō, its part in tōgaku is based on the original Tang melodies. This ancient melody is carried as the highest note of an arpeggio created by the player sweeping the plectrum across the strings of the instrument from lowest to highest, sounding all open strings below that on which the notated pitch occurs. The effect of these strong arpeggios is, in modern practice, more rhythmic than melodic.

The gakusō (also known as , sō-no-koto, or simply Koto) is a long zither with 13 silk strings of equal thickness and 13 movable bridges (see also §II, 4 above). Owing to a deterioration of the tradition, the gakusō plays only in pentatonic modes executed on open-string tunings. For the most part the gakusō plays one of two formulaic patterns, shizugaki or hayagaki, alternating with single notes. The player wears plectra on the fingers of the right hand. In the Heian period, left-hand pressure was applied to the left of the bridges to alter the pitch of strings and produce ornaments, but this practice has long fallen into disuse.

The Wagon is a six-string zither, believed to be indigenous to Japan, used in the music of the various Shintō rituals (see §IV, 2 above). The player holds a plectrum in the right hand and plays rapid arpeggios across the strings. With the left hand, single strings are plucked individually or in formulaic patterns.

In both tōgaku and komagaku, three percussion instruments articulate the many rhythmic patterns that form the basis of a variety of rhythmic modes. The trio of kakko, shōko and taiko used in tōgaku is modified in komagaku by the replacement of the kakko with the san-no-tsuzumi. The kakko is a small barrel-drum placed on a stand; its two heads of deer skin are secured to either end of the body by laces. Small drumsticks held in both of the player’s hands are used to produce three different kinds of stroke; a single stroke with the right stick (sei), a slow accelerating roll played with the left stick alone (katarai) and a slow roll executed by the alternation of both sticks (mororai). The shōko is a small gong, set in a laquered stand. Two long sticks are used to produce three kinds of stroke. The taiko (see Kumi-daiko) is a large suspended drum that comes in three varieties, dadaiko, ninaidaiko and tsuridaiko. Two heads of ox hide are tacked onto a frame. Padded sticks are used to produce two strokes, a weaker ‘female’ stroke performed with the left hand (mebachi) and a stronger ‘male’ stroke produced by the right (obachi). The san-no-tsuzumi is an hourglass-shaped drum played with a single stick. The only other percussion instrument used in gagaku is the shakubyōshi, a pair of wooden clappers played by the lead singer in the performance of saibara and the music for Shintō rituals.

Japan, §V: Court music



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