HICHIRIKI ~ 篳篥
THOMAS PIERCY ~ HICHIRIKI
トーマス・ピアシー ~ 篳篥
The hichiriki (篳篥) is a double reed Japanese instrument used as one of two main melodic instruments in Japanese gagaku music, the other being the ryūteki. Pitch and ornamentation (most notably bending tones) are controlled largely with the embouchure. The hichiriki is one of the "sacred" instruments and is often heard being played at Shinto ceremonies in Japan. Its sound is often described as haunting. The hichiriki is the most widely used of all instruments in gagaku. The hichiriki is also used in contemporary classical music and is noted for its highly expressive qualities.
One of the most distinctive sounds of gagaku is the strong nasal tone of the hichiriki. It is said that the sound of the hichiriki expresses the voice of people living close to the earth. Often the main melody of a gagaku piece is carried by the hichiriki, but the range of the instrument is only about one octave, so a very rich range of embellishment techniques developed. The double reed for the hichiriki is very large so that even with the same fingering, just by altering the pressure on the reed a range of three pitches or so can be reached and a kind of portamento can be created.
The body of the instrument is a length of bamboo 18 cm. long 1.5 cm. in diameter and it is relatively elliptical. There are seven finger holes on the front of the instrument and two on the back. The ends of the instrument and sections between the finger holes are wrapped with thin strips of birch or cherry bark. The reed, which is called "shita" or "tongue," is 5.5 cm. long. It is made from ashi reeds with the skin peeled and the two sides brought together. The end that is pushed into the instrument is wrapped with Japanese paper and the two parts of the reed are held together with a length of rattan cane. The reed needs to be moistened when the instrument is played and soaking the reed in hot green tea is considered best. The reed being relatively large it can easily influence the pitch of the pipe. Sliding notes and tonal variation obtained by producing the same pitch on different fingerings is a feature of its style and a characteristic of the beauty of its sound.
Traditional Performance Practices
Articulation: Traditionally, tonguing is not used with Japanese wind instruments. Instead phrases are shaped by the control of the airflow and selected pitches are accentuated by tapping the instrument’s holes with the fingers. It is typical for the starting pitch of a melodic line to be approached with a portamento from below.
Osu: Decrescendo followed by a sudden re-attack of the pitch on a strong beat. The attack is not tongued but produced by an increase of the airflow.
Tataku: This is the coloration of a sustained tone with a rapid insertion of its upper or lower neighbor-tone. The change of fingering between the two pitches usually involves the rapidly closing and re-opening of a single hole, tapping the closing-hole and thereby accentuating the corresponding tone.
Mawasu: This melodic motion usually entails a change of fingerings involving two holes. A pitch slowly slides to its upper-neighbor tone opening one hole, and then rapidly closing two holes to move to its lower-neighbor tone, tapping the holes and thereby accentuating the last tone. On the hichiriki the motion of the reed inside of the performer’s mouth can also produce this effect. In this case, the last tone is not accentuated.
Enbai: Motion of the instrument in the performer’s mouth with the reed held in a shallow position producing a glissando that can alter the pitch by up to a perfect fourth. It is often used to color a sustained tone.
New Performance Practices
Articulation: Tonguing (including staccato) can be used, but best limited to single tonguing. Flutter tonguing is possible.
Tremolo: The hichiriki does not traditionally use tremolo, but it can be utilized in new music. The rule of thumb is to use tremolo between two pitches that do not involve awkward fingerings and for the most part, to limit it within the range of the perfect fourth.
Glissando and trills can be used independently or in combination.
Bisbigliando: An effect produced when slightly transforming the color of a tone. This is traditionally part of the hichiriki modes of performance since sliding notes and tonal variation obtained by producing the same pitch on different fingerings is a feature of its style.
Singing while playing: It is important to take into consideration the singing range of the performer.
Range of the hichirki and modern notation.
Any given fingering can produce a range of pitches with finger manipulation and by varying air and embouchure pressure.
The basic range is: G4 to A5.
Extended range: F4 to B5 are easily produced by embouchure and air pressure.
Notes below F4 and higher than B5 are also able to be produced by embouchure and air pressure but are less easily controlled.
Overblowing can be utilized to go higher than B5, but can be difficult and not easily controlled. You ca hear examples of these higher, overblown notes in the John Cage "Ryoanji" video.
You will find modern hichiriki notation "written as sounding" and also notated an octave below sounding pitch. I prefer the notation to be written "as sounding."