Sunday, May 8, 2011

Japanese Buddhist Chanting

These past few weeks have been busy, between going to Ann Arbor, teaching, performing around DC, and general living. I've got a lot to say about that, and tracks to post, but not tonight.

Instead, I thought I'd share what I'm listening to this beautiful, peaceful Sunday evening. It is only about 10 minutes long, and I would strongly encourage/challenge you to listen to the whole thing - just take it in, sit with it, and be immersed.

Japanese Buddhist Chanting by Gary Prince

Last December I went to Japan, for the first time, to visit my younger brother Ian Prince. Ian is an assistant language teacher in the JET program, in Oshima of Imabari, a small island in the Inland Sea. While there, my family and I traveled around a good bit, spending several days in Kyoto, visiting temples and sight seeing. That's where this recording comes from.

I wish I could say I knew more about it. Each of the major Buddhist temples in Japan has a small gift shop where they sell charms, amulets, votive tablets, and other similar souvenirs. Though they often carry the same kind of stuff, each temple's selection of things is a little different and specific to that temple. This recording comes from one of the first temples we visited, in Kyoto. I'm ashamed to say I don't remember the name. It was on a cassette tape, and I got it as a souvenir for Matt Endahl, who was good enough to transfer it to digital at the WCBN studios when I was visiting Ann Arbor. The writing on the cassette case is, of course, entirely in Japanese, with an image of a lotus flower on the front, and I have no idea what is going on. The woman who sold it to me told me it was monks chanting sutras (the words of the Buddha). That was all I could get out of her - the language barrier was pretty severe.

So, enjoy. The monks are hitting large wood bells for accompaniment - like these

Also, a large, resonating metal bowl (the sound at the beginning, like a gong):

And a higher pitched chime like instrument that I don't have a picture of. These pictures come from one of the temples, also in Kyoto.

I feel like we have a tendency, in our modern, secular, commodity driven experience of music, to forget that music can be experienced in this way: as a part of religious ritual, as a way to experience a trance like state, through repetition and rhythmic consistency. This music (and it is music) doesn't go anywhere. There is no journey, no narrative, just the experience of the sound. Music doesn't need to go anywhere. It doesn't need to have a goal, a beginning, or an end, or development. Development is not inherent to the nature of music, it is a tool we can choose to use, or to abandon! The power of this music is manifest when you allow yourself to be immersed in it brought into sync with the vibration. For further proof, look to the minimalist composers, look to noise musicians, look to baptism by sound, look to the music of nature, the music of the cars passing in the street, the sirens in the distance, the neighbor's windchimes, all of them barely audible through the open window, but always playing...

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