Review: Okeanos @ Cardiff University Concert Hall
It's always a special treat to hear the instruments of far away lands. They can help put into perspective what the European classical instruments are. Music in general is played from very unusual instruments, anyway you look at it.
Okeanos specialise in traditional Japanese instruments. These are the shakuhachi, shÅ, koto and bass koto, amongst others. I had received an introduction to the shÅ a few years before, when at a concert at the Proms in London, the shÅ was on centre stage. It is an astounding instrument.
Originally from China, this mouth organ from the eighth century brings most conventional harmonicas to shame. Consisting of 17 reeds of bamboo, the range is impressive, with glissandos, flutter tongue techniques and even vibrato.
The shape of it is to replicate a phoenix at rest. Whilst in use, the players face is virtually covered, such is the size of the shÅ. It's also very high maintenance. It must be warmed up at all parts of a concert, I case it becomes wet and is therefore unplayable. A hair dryer was on hand backstage.
The shÅ also puts to my mind, church spires, each one higher than the last. It's one of those curiosities that I know people would pay good money to own and know how to play. I would certainly be put in this category.
The music throughout in used different instruments in different ways. But all pieces keep the distinct Japanese flavours. In his Okeanos Suite, Dai Fujikura conjures up several atmospheres and emotions. His most memorable was part was Breathing Tides.
As if that wasn't enough for the shÅ, it can also incorporate a breathing mechanism for use in music. This featured here and it was eerily beautiful. The sea setting to my mind conjured up ships passing in the night in the middle of an ocean, as a lone lighthouse observes.
The koto is a stringed instrument and the shakuhachi a bamboo flute held vertically. I'm sure in Kill Bill it is discussed that the flutes are played by the warriors and yet could still be used as a fairly decent weapon. But the ocean drum was a percussion instrument I had never heard of.
It sounded similar to the geophone invented by the French composer Oliver Messiaen. His is the sound of the Earth and obviously here it's the sound of the sea. Both have a very quiet relaxing sound to them that would accompany mediation very well.
My previous experience with Japanese music is mainly that of TorÅ« Takemitsu with his impressive orchestral scores. He is the first Japanese composer to gain notoriety in the west. He is a marvellous character since he was an avid film fan, professional cook and even wrote a detective novel. Sadly none of his music for traditional instruments featured in the concert.
I hope they come back and do some of his. Perhaps at the Royal Welsh College as well. For a more discerning audience.
Related Article: Cardiff Young Persons Music Network Meeting