Thursday, 5 February 2015

Kumbhaka studies: Breath holding and heightened arousal - Flute and shakuhachi and Bansuri inc. Japanese concept of ma, the space between the notes

Inhaling while playing and passages of breath holding during a piece cause a racing heart, an increase in blood pressure and a physical sense of emergency. Usually, such sensations are indicative of an increase in adrenalin and/or performance anxiety. These physical symptoms for a flutist performing Heinz Holliger’s (t)air(e) should not be avoided, however. Learning a piece where silence and extreme self-control are written for dramatic effect allows a performer to experience heightened physical arousal during performance in the context of achieving an artistic goal. The symptoms therefore lose their more common negative associations. This can then be used as a pedagogical tool in building a comfort level with increases in heart rate, and breathlessness while performing.
Breath holding and heightened arousal: Composing anxiety or intensity? Jennifer A. Borkowski


*

Three part post : First, Breath holding techniques for flute including video performance of (t)air(e) by Holliger. Second, Shakuhachi and 間 (ma), the space between the notes. Third, Bansuri and the breath. But first Ganesha and Krishna.

This post more about the breath in general, skilful breathing, than kumbhaka in particular.  What was interesting for me in this article below was how causes of stress and anxiety for a flute player in a performance became exaggerated in a score and thus addressed, overcome.



Ganesha playing flute
Krishna playing flute

Breath holding and heightened arousal: Composing anxiety or intensity? Jennifer A. Borkowski





Read and/or Download the full article at the excellent acadamia.edu
(You'll also find yoga articles by Mallinson and Birch)






http://www.notafina.de/noten/taire/1785



ma

See post Chanting or playing flute in asana http://grimmly2007.blogspot.jp/2013/04/chanting-or-playing-flute-in-asana.html


Shakuhachi and ma (間)

After the Sengoku period (1467-1568), samurai who had lost their masters became wandering Buddhist monks called komuso “monks of emptiness”. These komuso formed the Fuke sect of Zen Buddhism and composed the honkyoku (original pieces) to play on the shakuhachi as a form of meditation. The shakuhachi was not considered to be a musical instrument at that time but rather a hoki, an instrument of spiritual practice. The honkyoku of the komuso expressed their true feelings, from the heart, as they wandered over the countryside begging for alms and wishing to be delivered from earthly desires. They were in search of the elusive ichion jobutsu – “one sound become Buddha”. The honkyoku contains elements of the komuso’s samurai training in Bujutsu (military arts) and Zen Buddhism. In Bujutsu, the distance between the two blades decides which one will survive. In Zen Buddhism, reality lies in the distance between man and nature. In honkyoku, good expression is achieved by finding the right distance or ma (space) between two notes and two phrases. How deeply the shakuhachi player considers the meaning of ma, decides the quality of his or her performance.

The difficulty in realising good ma is that honkyoku have free rhythm and no beat. This poses a difficulty for many Western trained musicians (myself included), who rely on a clearly defined rhythm and beat to give a basic flow to the piece. When learning honkyoku, the student must first copy the teacher to get a feeling for suitable ma. The student must then find his or her own expression for the piece, which in Yokoyama Sensei’s words is a desperate matter taking on life or death dimensions, where the soul of the player is laid bare for all to see! I was encouraged to play as if these were the last notes that I would ever play. Or to play for someone as if these were the last notes that they would ever hear. Straight from the heart and directly in the moment.

The notation for honkyoku functions in a similar way to tablature. Each Japanese character denotes a different fingering, while the vertical lines indicate approximately how long to hold the note and frequently, how to shape the sound. Read down the columns, from right to left, the notation is used primarily as a memory aid, with embellishments and nuances learnt orally from a teacher. The honkyoku phrasing is directly related to the breathing of the performer i.e. the length of the phrase is determined by the inhalation just as much as the inhalation is determined by the length of the phrase. Austere melodic lines and subtle changes in timbre characterise the honkyoku, which are played in the pentatonic scale named In (D, Eb, G, A/Ab, C or D, Eb, G, A, B), the equivalent of the minor scale in Western music. The honkyoku is practised as religious music. It does not aim at melodic variation or development, as Western music does. It exists as an exercise in mindfulness,inviting the performer to be fully present in each unfolding moment, each tone, each breath. The honkyoku have been transmitted from teacher to student without gap, through various schools, from the time of the master-less samurai to the present day. 




Shakuhachi notation for Jinbo Sanya






Shakuhachi musical notation http://myoanshakuhachi.blogspot.jp/2009/11/jinbo-sanya-aka-oshu-reibo.html


More on Shakuhachi and ma (間)


"In one moment of silence, become the Buddha!’’ By Philip Horan

The role of silence is an essential part of Japanese sound aesthetics. This is conceptualised in the concept of time and space called ma (間). This concept can represent moments of silence in music or empty space in ritual and performance contexts.

The old pond, ah!
A frog jumps in:
The water’s sound!

This famous haiku of Bashô (1643-94) epitomises the Japanese conception of sound and silence. In these few words we have the visual image of an old pond, the random action of a frog and the sound of water which shatters the silence. The Japanese sensibility appreciates the visual, kinesthetic and sound phenomena as one aesthetic whole. In Zen, there is non-duality and the ever-evolving nature of seemingly opposite concepts like sound and silence. In the words of Hisamatsu: “A master lives in emptiness while working in form.” (Hisamatsu 1823)

The space and silence between one-breath tones represents the ma in honkyoku. It has even been suggested that the moments of silence are more important than the moments of sound. This can be seen in other arts; e.g. in the monochrome ink-drawn paintings of sumi-e where the positioning of the blank white spaces are crucial. I will refer to the moments of ma as ‘breath silences’. It is not measurable but a felt experience.

The following are some suggestions about how to cultivate your sense of ma. This is based on my own individual journey. Getting to the essence of a honkyoku often depends on how well you have mastered the breath silences.

First, try out these different types of breath silences:

Just leave enough space to snatch a breath.
Take all the time in the world.
Try a mixture of both of the above in a honkyoku.

Listen to the sound your breathing makes in the breath silences. Is it noisy or quiet? Variety is the spice of life! The different types of in-breath can add colour to your breath silences. What are you thinking of during each breath silence? This is a trick question as your mind should be empty!

The next step is to move beyond just having enough air to finish the breath tone. This means plenty of different types of ro-buki to extend your breathing and control. Some of the most effective breath silences are when no breath is inhaled. You have taken in enough air for two short one-breath tones and pause only for effect and the expectation of an inhalation. Try holding your breath for a moment after inhaling and start at an unpredictable moment. At the end of a one-breath tone enjoy blowing out the remaining air before a sudden inhalation and start to the next part. The possibilities are endless.

How you finish a one-breath tone and start the next are crucial to how you shape your breath silence. Do you end with a meri, suri-agi or ori? Does the next breath tone come from nothingness or does it burst into existence? A tone can fade away so the boundaries of where the breath tone ends and where the breath silence begins is ambiguous.

This is only the beginning of a long journey. Aim to start and finish every breath tone differently and make every breath silence unique. The length and volume of the one-breath tones will vary as will the breath silences. You will discover revelations in the honkyoku that you will reject on a future playing. Enjoy the whistles or air sounds that happen on purpose or by accident. Play with the confused fingering, break in octave or confused tuning so they are part of the performance! Once you think you have found enlightenment, you will soon realise that there are more challenges to be overcome. Be like Basho’s frog: jump into the unknown and make a big splash!





Bansuri and the Breath

"Students frequently ask whether yoga breathing exercises are useful, to improve a players breath control, the answer being, not in any evident way. The fundamental difference between yogic breathing and that of a wind player is that in yoga, breathing involves bath the nose and mouth and the underlying principle is of regular breathing in and out. The flute player can only breathe through the mouth, and the rhythm is entirely dictated by musical necessities. However, one great advantage that Indian music has over western classical music is that it is not fixed, and the musician can adopt musical phrases and sequences to suit his/her own capacity".




2. BREATHING AND BLOWING
This constitutes the very heart and soul of bansuri playing. Through good blowing and breath control all the essential qualities of the instrument manifest; tonal quality, intonation, dynamics, rasa and bhava (the sentiment and emotional atmosphere of the raag) . Powerful blowing and stamina are must be developed. From a position of strength and power all the essential elements of bansuri playing can be expressed. The bansuri is, after all, only a simple length of bamboo with seven or eight holes, but through the power of breath it can be bought to life, coerced by the intention and will of the player to express all essential qualities. Poor and weak blowing will, only produce a thin, dry one-dimensional sound, unable to project the essentials of the music. Blowing and embouchure need priority attention, as flutes by their nature do not have the tonal contrasts and range of expression of other wind instruments.
Points to consider...

1) Exploiting full lung capacity. It is easy to fall into the habit of breathing only from the top of the lungs. Diaphragm breathing is essential in order to exploit the maximum capacity of the lungs, and also to control the dynamics of playing. Loud, soft, crescendo, diminuendo, the shaping and moulding of musical phrases are expressed and controlled by the movement of the diaphragm.

2) Posture. The basic position for the Indian musician is to sit cross legged, and yet this not an ideal position for wind instrument players. In most other traditions, wind instrument players either sit in a chair or stand, which greatly facilitates the breathing process. But for cultural and practical reasons the bansuri player always sits in cross-legged position during performance, but at other times it does not have to be this way. It is advisable to develop a flexible practice routine, sometimes practlse in the traditional position, other times sitting or standing. When sitting cross-legged, posture can be aided considerably by sitting on a cushion of about 6 cm in height, placed under the buttocks so that the knees reach down to the floor and the back then straightens, allowing the diaphragm to function more efficiently. Another way of sitting on the fleer is to kneel, sitting back on the heel (the position used by Japanese shakuhachi players), then during very long playing sessions to alternate between the two positions.

3) The development of stamina is essential. In all other traditions of flute playing, such as western classical music or jazz, there always times when the flute player can rest while other instruments play; even in carnatic music the flute player is usually accompanied by a violinist, so that he has moments to rest and recover his breath. In the hindustani tradition, the bansuri player is expected play seamlessly for long periods, of an hour or more. This is only possible when a perfect balance of intake and expenditure of energy and breath is established, Much practice of stamina building must be done. One test is to repeat a sequence, which could be , for instance, the first line of a composition followed by a tana and then returning to the line, and repeating the same without a break for up to 20 times, taking breath at the same places, and then observing any deterioration in the quality if one’s playing, increasing breathlessness, etc. If so, this will indicate that the breathing rhythm is not in balance, and more attention will need to be given to where one breathes, and how much is needed to keep the lungs full. In general, one should never continue playing until the lungs are nearly empty. oxygen deprivation will affect both physical and mental processes.

4) A general rule for all wind players of any instrument or tradition is to play long notes. Absolute steadiness, without vibrato is essential. Both low and high notes should be played, both straight and also with crescendo and diminuendo. The latter is particularly important, as in Indian music, notes rarely step suddenly, but tend to fade out and disappear into the background drone or tanpura.

5) Students frequently ask whether yoga breathing exercises are useful, to improve a players breath control, the answer being, not in any evident way. The fundamental difference between yogic breathing and that of a wind player is that in yoga, breathing involves bath the nose and mouth and the underlying principle is of regular breathing in and out. The flute player can only breathe through the mouth, and the rhythm is entirely dictated by musical necessities. However, one great advantage that Indian music has over western classical music is that it is not fixed, and the musician can adopt musical phrases and sequences to suit his/her own capacity. For a teacher writing tanas for students, it is always possible to tailor musical materials with breathing gaps, according to whether the student is a child. or adult.

6) The natural characteristic of the bansuri and all flutes is for the higher notes to have more volume and power and the lower notes to be softer and quieter, and yet the characteristic of the bansuri is to exhibit the greatest beauty and expressiveness when the player can achieve the opposite; to play strong powerful notes in the base, and soft ,delicate notes in the highest register.

from http://bansuriuk.blogspot.jp/2008/03/2-breathing-and-blowing.html


Appendix
see also




Kumbhaka in Asana practice

inspired by kumbhaka instruction in Krishnamacharya's 1938 Yoga Makaranda


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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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