The classical Buddhist songs (honkyoku 本曲) for shakuhachi are derived from nature, dreams, breath awareness and manipulation, devotional chant, existential philosophy and contemplation. They are part of a tradition over 1000 years old and connect to the Fuke sect of China (9th century) which contained the origins of what would become Japanese Zen flute. Focusing attention on the absolute, inescapable present moment is the basic practice of Zen.
Mukyoku (無曲 songs of nothing) are original compositions written for the Taimu (big nothing) flutes through an animistic compositional process (what do the flutes want to play?). Inspirational elements of mukyoku include Zen Buddhist honkyoku, Mississippi blues, melodically structured long tones, and breath texture.
“The sage emperor stands firm in the immeasurable
and wanders free in realms where there’s nothing at all.”
-from the Inner Chapters of Chuang Tzu (translated by David Hinton)
“Power is not the thing.
To be calm within oneself, that is the Way of the Wood.”
-The Parliament of Trees in Saga of the Swamp Thing