Sunday, October 22, 2023 at 4 pm
download a copy of this program here.
& The Wood Prophets
Bigfoot Revelation – bass shakuhachi quartet album release concert
Cornelius Boots, bass shakuhachi (Taimu) & compositions
Kevin Chen, Karl Young, Hiromi Inaba, bass shakuhachi
Black Earth (2018)
Cornelius Boots, 2.74 bass shakuhachi (Taimu)
The Mysteries of Harmony and Focus (2009)
Cornelius Boots, 2.95 bass shakuhachi (Taimu)
traditional monastic Zen honkyoku
Kevin Chen, 2.69 bass shakuhachi (Taimu)
Lights on a Satellite
Karl Young, 2.65 bass shakuhachi (Taimu)
Underworld Blues (2023) (World Premiere)
Cornelius Boots, 2.74 bass shakuhachi (Taimu)
Bigfoot Revelation (2022–23) (World Premiere)
Mvt. I – O The Smell
Mvt. II – Sounds & Shapes
Wood Prophecy (2020–21) (World Premiere)
Mvt. IV – Dark Hollow
Mvt. V – Wood Prophecy
The Wood Prophets – bass shakuhachi quartet
Cornelius Boots (2.74); Kevin Chen (2.69)
Karl Young (2.65); Hiromi Inaba (2.42)
About the music
Bass shakuhachi (Taimu)
Shakuhachi is a vertical, end-blown flute made of root-end bamboo that emerged from Japanese Zen Buddhism back in the old feudal/samurai times. The design is painfully basic—no parts, no mouthpiece, no keys, only 5 finger holes and a blowing edge at the very end of the tube (no whistle design as in recorders, we need a flute-like embouchure)—and the instrument appears as a cured and cleaned up version of exactly what it was when it grew from the ground. To keep the inner bore natural is called “jinashi” and to use a wider, thicker piece of bamboo is called “hocchiku.”
San Francisco renegade flutemaker Ken Mujitsu LaCosse created the Taimu in the early 2000’s by modifying jinashi, hocchiku versions of shakuhachi so that they had a bigger, “fog-horn glow” to their tone. Taimu means “the big nothing” and it is considered the full-throated, baritone or bass variant of shakuhachi: the Barry White, the redwood tree—the Bigfoot of all flutes. So rare, it almost didn’t exist at all, but thankfully, here we are. Thank you Brother Ken (1960–2019).
The return of the rustic woodwinder, listen to this close-up nature music: transmitting the inner feeling of the forest. Black Earth is rich soil, compost, the source of live, growth and magic vitalism: the word alchemy originally translates as “black earth”—transformation, fermentation.
This is an archtypical Deep Nature Blues in the solo woodwind, bamboo gospel style that I have been cultivating since about 2008. This tune’s title also became the seed for naming my East-West, syncretic-majestic training and practice lineage: Black Earth Shakuhachi School, where we merge traditional Zen shakuhachi flute practice, nature meditation and elemental, deep musicianship.
The Mysteries of Harmony and Focus
Composed & performed by Cornelius Boots, this piece is available on two albums (Mukyoku and Sacred Root) and was written for wide-bore, jinashi Taimu shakuhachi. This piece is at the intersection of the honkyoku influence and the blues influence. Kung Fu Blues, in a way. It is riff-based, but epic in its intention. Like most mukyoku, it is meant to be played with a full sound, large breath capacity and melodic forward motion within each phrase and connecting the phrases. Old long tone Zen honkyoku pieces, such as the ancient, monastic piece Kyorei, and slow Mississippi blues tunes (like solo Junior Kimbrough) are the primary inspirations for this piece, which is mukyoku #10.
Mukyoku are pieces for Taimu shakuhachi, which are like the cello/trombone/Barry White of the shakuhachi world. The Taimu excels at achieving a tone that is very earthy and glowing at the same time as projecting more than older style large Zen bamboo flutes (hocchiku, kyotaku for instance). Taimu were made by Ken Mujitsu LaCosse in San Francisco from about 2003-2019 with Japanese madake bamboo harvested outside of Matsukawa City, Nagano Prefecture by Hiroyuki Kodama, aka Chiku Za.
In the film Kung Fu Panda, Master Oogway, the turtle, talks about studying the mysteries of Harmony and Focus. This is a Yoda-esque, pseudo-Zen master type of character. Personally, I love it when these types of characters appear in films, particularly if they correctly impart any kind of useful Zen approach to the protagonist/audience. Some Zen enthusiasts have a derogatory opinion of these sometimes cute, quaint, or overly-pithy characters, but this makes no sense to me unless their appearance in some way causes harm or misdirection, which I find not to be true, at least in the case of Yoda, Oogway, Mr. Miyagi, Master Po, Master Kan, etc.—in my opinion the more the general public is exposed to intelligent and expanded thinking, the greater the chances of survival of our species (which are looking slim in general).
At any rate, I particularly enjoyed this phrase, as it seems to directly relate to flute playing: harmony and focus. The mental focus and the actual focus of our air stream are the primary aspects of flute playing in general. Once we establish some kind of tone, we move on to musical thought: melody, harmony and rhythm. The way in which our brain perceives larger musical structures is the expanded definition of Harmony, and this is working in a unique way when it comes to single-line, solo instrumental music such as this. The parallels that I have discovered between spiritual discipline and instrumental study are the subjects of another project, but in general the shakuhachi, hocchiku or Taimu explorer should seek out and bear these parallels in mind, thus revealing additional reasons that we are fascinated with making these sounds.
Daha 打波 traditional monastic Zen honkyoku
The Japanese characters used in writing this title are “utsu” (“to strike”) and “nami” (“wave”) which represent a continuous pulse expressing persistence.
The aim or objective in playing this song is to rid oneself of greed, desire and ambition (bad intention). The word “uchi” of “uchi yaburu” comes from the word “ustu”. This means to break through the habit of thinking only in a dualistic manner confined to subject and object. “1 (subject) live in this world (object)” is a habitual way of thinking that is born when one is very young and the brain’s “gears of duality” begin turning. These opposites of up/down, left/right and in/out are the cubic building blocks of the material world that this mind perceives. It is a quantitative world, thus, the mind creates desires. I want to be big, bigger, biggest and sound loud, louder loudest, etc. One must break through this conditioned way of thinking and existing with the logical mind to experience oneself and the cosmos in a wholesome spiritual manner. The technique of komibuki used here helps one to stay focused and in the moment. It is the persistence of will power that is needed to get beyond unnecessary boundaries.
A steady, pulsating rhythm is produced by the breath to imitate the natural sound of waves striking the shore as the tide comes in. Another explanation is that the will tries to transcend the realm of the material world, and its ambitions and desires are reflected through this pulsation.
(piece description written by Grandmaster Michael Chikuzen Gould, CB’s shakuhachi teacher and the connecting player between Watazumido, Yochinobu Taniguchi and Katsuya Yokoyama on the Japan side of the lineage, and CB and Kevin on the Black Earth side of the lineage.)
Lights on a Satellite is a piece written in 1960 by Sun Ra, the great jazz composer, visionary, and creator of Afro-futurism. Its combination of otherworldly but calming melody and rhythmic subtlety seemed the perfect vehicle for this arrangement for Taimu shakuhachi by Young.
The original lyrics:
“The satellites are spinning
A better day is breaking
Great happiness is pending
For planet Earth’s awakening
The satellites are spinning
The galaxy’s awaiting
For planet Earth’s awakening
Oh we sing this song to
A great tomorrow
Oh we sing this song to Ra”
Written earlier this year a mere 3 miles from (and well within the stench perimeter) the gigantic, Mordor-like US Steel Braddock coking facility in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this latest solo Nature Blues in the bamboo gospel style contains all the “-isms” of what I have come to feel the big bamboo flutes enjoying doing: sinking into thick tone and laying down solid, trance-inducing riffs – this time leading into an improvised solo section. The Underworld is likely the source of the occult music-magic that I have been leaning into and drawing from for the past 30 years. Is it misunderstood, the underworld? Most certainly. Is it powerfully influencing the cosmos and all of manifest reality? Absolutely. Does engaging with it and seeking true understanding defy or deny the presence of God, the divine, or the generative powers of the Universe? Quite the opposite, in fact.
Bigfoot Revelation – a woodwind animism tribute in four movements
Bigfoot is elusive, yet always in our hearts. This is a four-part tribute to the majesty, the grit, and even the stink of our hairy relatives around the world. They leave clues, hide in the forest and have always appeared in every culture in various forms. This is the musical form. Not of Bigfoot or his relatives, but rather of the thought-texture that transmits between a bamboo flute sage—a Wood Prophet—and the deeper soul of Bigfoot.
Is Bigfoot “real”? I hear you ask.
And I say, “Is there funk after death? Is 7 up?”
Bigfoot Revelation has two meanings. First, for anyone (and there are many) who has had what they call “an encounter,” the experience certainly qualifies as a revelation, at least in the authentic cases, and perhaps even in the inauthentic cases. Direct, alive, startling—activating smell, the most psychologically powerful of all the sense perceptions—these encounters tend to contain certain common elements in general. The first two movements here are a tribute to some of these Bigfoot Encounter Key Ingredients: the smell, and the clues and traces.
The second meaning of Bigfoot Revelation is an internal point of view or realization that I have had about them: they are very “real.” I will not attempt to explain the depths and multiple dimensions of what I mean by that in these program notes, but suffice it to say that upon this realization, I was moved to compose this four-part tribute to them.
Movements 3 and 4 are a reflection on to the other side of the encounter: the point of view of the Bigfoots. Of course, homo sapiens is partly a delusional, paranoiac, death-obsessed homicidal species, so it only makes sense to avoid us if you can. The “forest” as a living ecosystem that is the emerald jewel of all the creations of Earth (and perhaps of the entire Universe) is where a thriving alternative hominid species would, should and does hide. Once safely hidden from Those-Who-Think-They-Know-But-Can-Barely-Even-See (“humans”), They can expand and embrace their domain, their majestic and living Wood Ape Home.
I. O The Smell
Pungent vitality, thick furry fear. Or is it awe and wonder? All of the above.
Smell has a direct connection to certain deep parts of our brain. Smell is less filtered as it travels to these areas as compared with the other senses. It is the most intimate, visceral and for some of us, impactful of the sense perceptions. It can be its own altered state of perception.
Those who recall Bigfoot encounters that seem to me to be genuine always get a little weird when they describe the smell, the overpowering smell that thickened their skunk ape or wood ape experience. This is profound to me because, anything that happens to us becomes much heavier and more real when there is strong scent involved, especially in this case when it is likely to be so musky, so pungent, so inexplicably complex and animalistic as to contain millennia of fur-trapped, reddish-brown secrets within every noseful, causing anyone involved to exclaim, almost involuntarily “O, The Smell!” It is neither good, bad, right or wrong but it certainly IS, at that moment, for that person; and the juxtaposition of otherwordly and profoundly Earthly lies at the heart of this difficult-to-process encounter.
II. Sounds & Shapes
Footprints, stick structures, sounds in the night, sounds at a distance, shadows behind trees, shapes far away—a bit of fur, elusive evidence of activity or proximity: are we tracking prey or trying to follow the clues to reconnect with a lost friend?
Much Bigfoot seeking takes the form of tracking and/or hunting. Makes sense inasmuch as we are and have been a predatory species, so our defaults of looking for something kind of notch into this. But all these wisps of sounds and shapes don’t often add up to a hill of beans in the vast array of Bigfoot games that have been played over the past 60-70 years or more. All cultures have had Bigfoots, and many understand that there is a kind of respectful distance between them and us.
Maybe sounds and shapes are as close as we should be permitted to get to Bigfoot.
Wood Prophecy – a woodwind animism saga in five movements
Elemental Nature Music in the Hour of Man’s Demise.
World-building Chamber Music. Dark Green Religious Music.
Authentic Nature Music in an Age of Vanishing Soul
The Main Idea:
To transmit the feeling philosophy of the forest; Nature’s quintessence, in sound.
To transmit through direct experience the flavor of the peace, majesty and aliveness of the ancient days of the Earth.
Actualizing an earthy and authentic nature-based woodwind musicianship, and returning to reverence.
Earth’s deep history shows us three vital stages in this Wood Prophecy:
1 – Blue-Green Algae Makes Oxygen
2 – Wood Makes Verticality
3 – Awareness Grows
This is happening on the couple-of-billion years ago time scale, and we tend to have a hard time processing deep time. Humans do enter the scene here in the 11th hour as (potential) magic wands of Awareness. What my (primarily non-verbal yet with a philosophical backbone) Wood Prophecy is revealing is that we have clues: we have strong clues that Symbiosis is the path of Living Life. Chloroplasts, cyanobacteria, photosynthesis, oxygen, growing upwards into the atmosphere, material that is both solid and empty — these are all intertwined and implicated in each other. Competition and domination do not obtain beyond a certain narrow scope within living systems; when these seem to appear, they are a zoomed in, semi-distorted view of the whole.
My experience as a demi-noetic woodwinder has provided me with direct experience of wood elementals. Communication through breath, sound/vibration, shared intention/consciousness and, yes, even “time.” About 40 years, maybe slightly more if we take the ingestion of peanuts-in-the-shell as the origin point of my personal tale — but that’s a story for another album perhaps. To be motivated in this life by a symbiotic connection to wood as an element is not something that I intend to defend or even make a case for right now, but I am stating it here as a fact for me in order to contextualize the liner notes for Wood Prophecy, which, in turn, helps to contextualize the actual music for you, the listener. Or so I hope.
We need to merge all three of these vital clues together and taste the full, up-close flavor in absolute presence: our own vital awareness. Return to the Root, and re-engage reverence. We are not now, nor ever have we been, alone.
Beginning with An Apicultural Excursion – a 1997 three-movement composition for bass clarinet quartet inspired by the deep historical symbiotic-art of beekeeping – the nature-centric, multi-movement, same-instrument chamber quartet has been a primary mode for me to express and illuminate key musical, ethical and emotional impulses and insights. Over time it has become clear that a deeper spiritual grounding is at the root of these projects, these compositions.
Among other labels and lineages–some to be explored in a completely separate book–animism suits and summarizes these ongoing musical offerings. These are non-verbal, breath-powered narratives and timbral explorations.
As we proceed through the five movements of Wood Prophecy, it becomes clear that there is a “U-” or even “V-”shape to this journey, with movement III being the furthest from our human-centered, linear-time, so-called “secular” world.
IV. Dark Hollow
From the start of the saga, we move from opening announcements, into surrounding context, then on to deep interior presences—a meta-level—now, we move parallel over to the interior of the physical flute. We return from the mystical to the empirical, which is still magical. In this physical interior, our breath converts to sounds. The magic, the resonance all happens in the dark emptiness inside the flute: the Dark Hollow. In the fullness of emptiness, the tangible world collides with Magic, with breath and vibration mediating in between the two. The two become One.
V. Wood Prophecy
The finale of finales, our path, journey and narrative conclude in this robust fifth movement. Containing not only the most premium riffs, but also the riffs that birthed the stoutest sub-riffs, Wood Prophecy is both microcosm and macrocosm simultaneously, bearing as its own title the title of the full suite. Organic unfoldment is the mission in Wood Prophecy: emergence from the existence-tissue of pure beingness, and manifesting as the wood element. A dark green plant-consciousness in which humans are enfolded yet we remain ignorant of this miraculous symbiosis. Where there might seem to be a choice of “for” or “against,” there is no such choice; there is only “with.”
About the musicians
Composer/performer Cornelius Boots is a woodwind animist who has forged his own unique path as a professional musician since 1989. Known internationally as a style sorcerer and deeply innovative bass clarinetist and shakuhachi player, Boots has a long history of creating new repertoire by evolving the low-end capabilities of his instruments and artfully weaving deep blues and heavy rock threads into solo and small group compositions. His upcoming book Woodwind Nature illuminates the granular details of his method and philosophy, and his latest group, The Wood Prophets (previously known as the Heavy Roots Shakuhachi Ensemble), is an apotheosis of the past 25 years of musical and spiritual explorations.
The video for his composition Green Swampy Water won Best Music Video in the Tokyo International Short Film Festival in January 2021. In 2019, Boots founded the Black Earth Shakuhachi School, an East-West music school of international scope for wide and low, pure bamboo flutes (jinashi & Taimu shakuhachi), honkyoku (本曲 solo Zen Buddhist repertoire), blues, and new music. In 2018, he was a finalist in the World Shakuhachi Competition, a featured performer for Sony PlayStation’s E3 press conference (LA) and a featured performer/lecturer at both the World Bamboo Congress (Xalapa, Mexico) and the World Shakuhachi Festival (London).
A licensed shakuhachi grandmaster (dai shihan) and prize-winning composer, he is now integrating the lineages of Watazumido, Eric Dolphy, and Son House on jinashi (all-natural) and Taimu (bass) shakuhachi. Boots has generated and released a catalog of new songs and compositions for these large, raw and rare bamboo flutes of Japanese Zen Buddhist origin: mukyoku (27 pieces for Taimu) and Shakuhachi Unleashed (48 virtuosic songs of rock, Zen, blues, metal and more).
A three-time graduate of the renowned Jacobs School of Music (BM Classical Clarinet ’97, BS Audio Recording ’97, MM Jazz Studies ’99), Boots’ training and work experience is deep and diverse: jazz saxophonist, Dixieland clarinetist, symphony bass clarinetist, funk and progressive rock bandleader and founder/composer of the world’s only composing bass clarinet quartet, Edmund Welles. A Performer’s Certificate Awardee from David N. Baker’s seminal Jazz Studies program at Indiana University, Cornelius is the first student of Grandmaster Michael Chikuzen Gould to have earned a Shihan (master teaching license) in 2013 and was given the shakuhachi name 深禅 “Shinzen” (depth Zen or deep Zen). In addition to teaching, Cornelius has recorded and written, in shakuhachi calligraphic notation, a series of études for Taimu shakuhachi.
First-prize winner of the 2013 International Clarinet Composition Competition, Boots has also received commissions and awards from Chamber Music America, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Areon Flutes, International Songwriting Competition and Meet the Composer. Boots has recorded and released 13 albums as a leader (Edmund Welles, Sabbaticus Rex, Cornelius Boots) and played on albums by The Kehoe Nation, Faun Fables, Jorge Liderman and Aaron Novik. In 2016, he had a nature-conversion, sold all of his Western woodwind instruments, and now exclusively plays natural bamboo flutes with no keys, parts or mechanisms. https://corneliusboots.com/
The Wood Prophets are a natural shakuhachi quartet playing woodwind nature hymns and primeval chamber music. This concert will feature solo performances from the members (set one) and premieres of some of this unique group’s core repertoire (set two).
A recipient of a 2020 InterMusic SF musical grant program commissioning award for the creation of the five-part woodwind chamber saga Wood Prophecy, this concert celebrates the release of their second concept album, the four-part Bigfoot Revelation.
Playing low-pitched variants of the root-end bamboo shakuhachi flute, the group evolves this Japanese Zen Buddhist music tradition, drawing heavily and creatively upon sensibilities of nature communion and breath cultivation.
Composting “styles” and morphing boundaries, they give voice to a rare and musky instrument: bass shakuhachi, the Bigfoot of flutes. Boots and The Wood Prophets thrive at the intersection of Zen nature meditation, rural blues, jubilee gospel and lost paleolithic cave rituals, hoping to revive a visceral sense of the ancient days of the Earth.
While Kevin Chen’s study of shakuhachi/taimu began only recently, he has been a student of Cornelius Boots for many years. Under Boots’ mentorship, Kevin has deepened his relationship to both music and the inner world of breath. Breathing with the mysterious bamboo flute, Kevin has discovered for himself the simple joy of producing even a single sound. He hopes to connect with the eternity of the present moment, accepting the invitation of resonance.
As a taiko percussionist, Kevin has contributed to the Asian American and Buddhist communities by giving countless workshops, teaching at conferences (including TechnoBuddha and the IntercollegiateTaiko Conference), performing at various festivals (including San Jose Obon, Yerba Buena Gardens Festival, San Francisco Japantown Cherry Blossom Festival, etc.), and piloting UC Berkeley’s first course on taiko as art, as community, and as cultural movement.
Currently a PhD student at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, he has a window into the statistical lives of various communities through his work in epidemiology, including how environmental and psychological factors directly impact quality of life and longevity. Starting clarinet lessons with Boots way back in 2004, his ongoing reed and flute musicianship and polystylism keep him musically challenged while grounding him in the breath practices these instruments require. For Kevin, shakuhachi and Taimu have constituted an important part of his spiritual practice. However, he is extremely excited to pivot towards performance under the leadership of Cornelius Boots as a member of the Wood Prophets (formerly the Heavy Roots Shakuhachi Ensemble) and Assistant Director of the Black Earth Shakuhachi School.
After spending some time as a jazz tenor saxophone player, Karl Young embarked on a career as a physicist and chose to satisfy his musical yearnings with an intensive study of the shakuhachi. He studied extensively with Kaoru Kakizakai and Riley Lee, both masters in the dokyoku tradition and students of Katsuya Yokoyama. While his focus has been on the traditional solo honkyoku repertoire or original pieces in the dokyoku tradition, he also plays sankyoku or traditional ensemble music with shamisen and koto in addition to minyo or Japanese folk music. He co-founded the group Ensohza, formed in 2006, specializing in traditional minyo and Japanese folk dance, in which he plays the shinobue (transverse bamboo flute) as well as the shakuhachi. He couldn’t help wandering back to his roots and worked with jazz flutist Ali Ryerson on developing an approach to jazz shakuhachi. He subsequently released Lost In The Wood, a CD of jazz standards and original pieces in an exploration of the expressive possibilities for shakuhachi in jazz. He has recently been playing jazz in various ensemble formats around the San Francisco Bay and Mendonoma areas. In addition, he enjoys playing with poets of various stripes (haiku, tanka, etc.) and has played in a variety of non-traditional settings for shakuhachi such as with the Ernst Bloch Bell Ringers, the Anchor Bay Children’s Choir, and dancers from the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company.
Hiromi Inaba, newly initiated into the shakuhachi world, in a matter of weeks cultivated a relationship with this instrument to share this new embodied learning with you. For Hiromi, playing shakuhachi is a newfound joy that aligns with her love for taiko and community-centered music-making. May we collectively rebel against the forces that promote cultural amnesia by practicing presence.