7 October 2007

The Boy and His Koto

I've had -- let's say -- a healthy interest in the koto (琴), a thirteen stringed Japanese instrument for nearly three years now. Picture this if you may, a string instrument, not terribly different from your standard guitar, only the size and shape of a surf board. This thing, it wouldn't fit in my living room. I know that for sure, because I was at the Seikatsukan, a local junk store full of strange Japanese things. Katanas, tea ware, electronics, pornography, furniture, and other odds and ends. I bought a lot of my dishes there and my friend Daisuke asked if I could show him where the store was, so he, Andy and I perused the store and out of the corner of my eye I saw this giant thing leaning against the wall. Just an hour before I was looking at these third-sized mini kotos at a music store for about $400 Canadian. But this koto in the store was full sized and ¥8000, and I got a discount, so I paid exactly $58.75. INCREDIBLE.

But, I first heard from traditional Japanese music a few years ago working on a Multimedia project with my friend and former housemate Alana, and happened upon some traditional songs. A couple of tracks struck out, because as an amateur guitarist, my ears perk up when I hear something ridiculously good placed on a vaguely familiar sounding instrument. I learned a little about the koto in the year to come, and tracked down some songs here and there and found my guitar and piano playing to be somewhat influenced by Japanese styles.

Then, just last Spring I went to a Chinese-Japanese cultural night and (long, frustrating) discussion at McMaster University. At the end of the lengthy discussions, there was a performance of guzheng (古箏), a Chinese instrument with similar roots to the koto. This was my first time seeing this kind of instrument performed, and after I talked to the musician, Feihong. She agreed to play some guzheng parts for some musical pieces I was writing for my Multimedia thesis, and we quickly became friends. If you're interested in hearing what a master of this instrument sounds like, try downloading "Chun-xue", which is a collaboration we worked on.

Anyway, tuning the instrument was a bit of an experience. None of the pegs that guitars have. Playing it is rather interesting too, but not easy. I'll hopefully learn enough to record a little bit too.

5 comments:

Gorrozolla said...

Hey, its great you have a blog now. Oh and I know what you're talking about. I got acute broncitis twice while I lived there, and I got it again during my visit :( something about the air in Kyuushu i guess.

Michael said...

Yeah! Everyone has been a bit sick in the last two weeks... uughh. Gaijin fever.

Ugh, that has a bit of a weird connotation.

stereoheads said...

I hope I don't catch anything...

I'm looking forward to checking out that Koto at some point down the road!

Michael said...

Yeah! My all means, I'm happy to give anyone some brief koto lessons. Maybe not lessons... I don't know what I'm doing. Tutorials?

Caelan said...

Michael! Keep your eyes open for a Shamisen for me! (Ps.... I read your blog...)