( To hear our instruments, click on this link to our Work In Progress Frozen mp3 Blog )
We didn’t know it at the time, but many years ago when we were living in India and begged a friend to show us how to make our first shakuhachi ( a type of traditional Japanese flute ), we were fortunate he was at that point experimenting with non-standard models. Compared to shakuhachis made from the root pieces of Japanese bamboo, his were crafted from thinner walled, less dense, Indian scaffolding bamboo, which gave them a softer warmer tone which we instantly came to prefer. As importantly, it was easy to partially close his huge finger holes, and so to produce the microtones which fascinate us.
We added to these differences by being less than painstaking about smoothing out the inside of our flutes, and by developing our own style of mouthpiece. As a result, the instruments we were making soon became sufficiently different from the traditional shakuhachi, that it seemed best to call them “shoki’s” instead.
This probably protected us from getting stuck in the limitations of conventional shakuhachi style. Instead of using our flutes to diligently practice tunes from the shrunken traditional repertoire, they quickly became tools for opening up our breathing, and before we’d even noticed, our shoki playing had morphed into sadhana ( spiritual exercise ) rather than being merely a prelude to performance. ( Performance )
The kit you need to make a shoki is peculiarly simple and elegant. A small saw for cutting the required length from a cane of bamboo, some pieces of metal and a way to make them red hot for burning out the joints and for rough shaping the holes, a small sharp knife for carving the mouthpiece, a few round files, and some sand paper.
But to properly record a shoki turns out to be far from simple.
For one thing its sound is not speaker friendly. Its dynamic range is enormous and its high notes will rattle and distort on all but the most serious equipment.
This is in part because shoki’s are not recorders where the sound is made by some sort of whistle or fipple, but are true flutes where sound is made by carefully blowing across a sharp edge.
Also, when you play a shoki, so much of what you hear comes directly through your meatbag, that it is difficult to monitor your sound while you are recording it.