These two recent recordings on CD of gagaku court music and shakuhachi honkyoku are reminders of just how demanding Japanese traditional music can be for listeners. Solo shakuhachi playing in the Zen style of the Fuke sect may lure the listener in simply by the unique tone of the five-holed bamboo flute, but such minimal music demands that the listener concentrate on individual sounds themselves. The primacy of the single sound is an essential part of Japanese music, and this mode of listening is mentioned in the notes of this CD of shakuhachi music (18). John Cage, who once claimed solo shakuhachi as his favorite genre of music, explained how very few musicians or listeners were able to fully focus on the quality of individual sounds from moment to moment, accustomed instead to listening for relationships between sounds.

Compared to the minimalist solo shakuhachi repertoire, the maximalist gagaku orchestra poses...

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