Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Saturday, September 18, 2010


I have to admit Facebook has brought a lot of things into my life. But other than increased cynicism, a higher risk of identity theft or virus infection, netgame addiction, and a tremendous amount of wasted time, there have been some unexpected good things, too. For one thing, I've both reconnected with a lot of names from way back and, thanks mainly to my netgame socializing, gotten acquainted with some very interesting people. That has led to some other unexpected fringe benefits.

Take for example a "conversation" I had with a member of my netgame family/army a few months ago. We were talking about music, specifically the Native American-themed Sacred Spirit project (which is actually led by a German artist, but anyway...), and the topic of Native American flutes came up. My netfriend, who lives in Colorado, mentioned that she had just gotten a traditional red cedar flute and was starting to learn how to play it. I asked her where she'd gotten it, and she replied that she had ordered it from the Oregon Flute Store.

Oregon Flute Store? There was an Oregon Flute Store?

My netfriend kindly provided me with a link to their website, and when I opened it, my jaw just about hit the ground. For someone like me, who has long been interested in both traditional and handmade musical instruments of ANY kind, let alone Native American (an increasing passion of mine), a website like that should probably qualify as a controlled substance. Needless to say, it got my thoughts and heart working.

The problem was that, after having been exposed to another dangerous website (specifically PedalGeek), I had already been thinking about getting one or two new boutique effect pedals for my guitar. Boutique pedals are not cheap. Neither are handmade flutes that are actually meant to be played. I fussed and fumed about it for weeks before finally deciding on a flute. However, when I went the the website to order the one I'd chosen, I found that it had been sold out. I went back to fussing and fuming.

But then a couple of unexpected things happened. First, the value of the dollar against the yen plummeted even further, and the Japanese government (over American protests) started talking about intervening to stop the yen's rapid appreciation. That meant it was as good a time as any to order things from the US. Also, the "featured items" page on the Oregon Flute Store website displayed a new type of flute that seemed to fit my needs (and budget) perfectly. I debated the issue for all of twenty seconds before I body-slammed my superego and placed the order. The rep at the OFS got back to me immediately (and very pleasantly), and soon my new instrument was on its way.

A package arrived on the very day I'd expected it. It was indeed from Oregon, and the customs declaration form did indeed say "flute". However, the address was that of my parents! Even more surprising, the customs declaration had a number "2" next to the "flute" entry! Puzzled, not to mention quivering with anticipation, I opened the box, and this is what I found:

Taiwanese flute

I'd completely forgotten about this Chinese bamboo flute. I bought it in Taiwan when I was there with my college symphonic band back in 1987. Unlike a Japanese shakuhachi (which I also have), it has five finger holes and a thumb hole, making it easier to play a Western-style scale. It also has a different sort of blowing edge which makes a slightly more nasally tone than a shakuhachi but is far easier to blow. (Interestingly, back in 1987 it was all I could do to coax a sound out of it, let alone a tune! Now I can actually play it.)

Red cedar flute

My mother says that she bought this flute at a local craft fair (a passion of hers) from the craftsman who made it. Apparently it was one of his less expensive ones (to say the least! As works of art, they can cost a pretty penny!). It is a genuine, hand-made, red cedar flute of the "medium" size class, tuned to F# minor. For the most part, it is what is now considered traditional style, with a round, tapered mouthpiece and a carved fetish block or "bird" (though this one is in the shape of a horse) to direct the airflow from the sound chamber into the tone chamber. Interestingly, this one has five holes arranged in a minor pentatonic scale instead of the customary flat six, a style that developed in the early to mid 20th century inspired by the Japanese shakuhachi. It is not a loud instrument, and it has a very gently, earthy tone.

I was happy enough with these two surprise acquisitions, but then I got another package from Oregon the very next day. It was the instrument that I'd ordered:

Hybrid Southern Plains warbling flute

It's a hybrid Southern Plains warbling flute of "high" size class, tuned to A minor. Its basic design is more or less traditional, having a similar shape and configuration to that of my cedar flute but with the classic flat six (i.e. six finger holes, all equidistant) layout. However, the Southern Plains warbling flute is uniquely designed so that, when you cover all the finger holes and blow at high pressure, it produces a warbling sound like a bird. (Here's a sample performance by the guy who made mine.) The "hybrid" designation comes from the fact that this instrument's air-diverting "bird" can also be adjusted to make it an ordinary, non-warbling type. Another key feature (and, for me, selling point) is that it is of simple, sturdy construction with a body of carved resin and a mouthpiece and bird of hardwood so as to make it rugged and durable. It was designed from the start to be portable, i.e. you can stuff it in your backpack and take it hiking without fear of it getting smashed. In my case, since I have needed a Native American flute for pub gigs in the past (but always wound up using an alto recorder as a substitute), it is nice to have an instrument that can give me the proper sound and nuance and yet be able to stand up to wear and tear if necessary.

All three of these flutes are most welcome additions to my "family", and I hope to give them a good home. Indeed, the hybrid Southern Plains warbling flute has already been used in my studio, having a significant role in my new song, "Real in Real Time". I'm sure the others will find their way into the action soon.

Incidentally, since the low dollar rate has made things so cheap, I went ahead and got a new effect pedal, too. It wasn't one of the higher ones on my list (which are STILL least if purchased in Japan), but I went ahead and got one, partly because it was so much cheaper than the ones I really wanted, and partly because it is currently a hot item in the US and tends to be quickly sold out. It's a Vox Satchurator distortion pedal, designed for and partly by Joe "Satch" Satriani. Again, it's not what I was really hoping to get, but it is still a cool box that produces some great sounds and opens some new possibilities. I used it in "Real in Real Time", too. (More details in my Minstrel's Muse site.)

And so new journeys have begun. Time to explore!


  • I likes the Satchurator. Can't wait to hear some hot flute action in the near future. (Maybe I could have phrased that better)

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 4:51 AM  

  • The Satchurator is a cool pedal. It's quite unlike any of the other distortion pedals that I have. The closest is probably my old BOSS DS-2 Feedback/Distortion pedal, but it doesn't sound anywhere near as good. The Satchurator was apparently based to a large extent on the original BOSS DS-1 Distortion pedal (before BOSS started using lower-grade components), which is what Joe Satriani is said to have used. It is also said to have been influenced by the original RAT distortion pedal. (I have a model of that in my PODxt guitar processor but again, it doesn't sound as good.) My other bona fide distortion pedals, my Marshall Guv'nor Plus and BOSS Metal Zone, are very different animals.

    What I was (and still am) hoping to get was a really good overdrive pedal, i.e. melodic low-gain clipping rather than harsh high gain. I can get good overdrive sounds out of my PODxt, especially if I use its model of an Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer, but I'd still like something different. My Ibanez TS-9 Tube Screamer pedal isn't all that good and is worn out besides. My BOSS OD-2 Turbo Overdrive pedal, my old workhorse, definitely has its limitations. My BOSS BD-2 Blues Driver is fairly close to what I want, but I still feel like I could do better. My Zoom 5000 Distortion pedal (actually sort of a hybrid overdrive/distortion pedal) is a nice piece of equipment (not to mention a collector's item), and I do use it, but it still doesn't produce the kind of tone I'm looking for. There are a number of boutique models I've fallen in love with thanks to PedalGeek, and I have found ways to get some of them here in Japan, but they're spendy. The Fulltone and Pigtronix pedals I'm eyeballing cost about 20% more than the Satchurator ordered from Amazon Japan. The Xotic pedal that's also on the list is sold by my regular music store for TWICE what the Satchurator cost. There are others (Menatone? Greenhouse Effects? Barber?) I could order from PedalGeek, and the ones I mentioned are listed for much cheaper there, too, but then I'd have to figure in the shipping cost. Not pretty.

    Oh, well. I'm in pretty good shape with what I have even if I'm not completely satisfied.

    As for the flute action (with the mind firmly out of the gutter), I've already gotten some mileage out of the hybrid warbling flute. (I love that thing!) I hope to use the others soon.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 12:20 PM  

  • Put the pedal to the metal. I gravitate toward the natural ie non-electric versions. The Native American flutes are especially of interest as my daughters have significant blood lineage in that direction on their mother's side and I remember a red cedar flute being in our house, assembled from a kit. Love the big surprise from your own past sent by your parents. Serendipitous loops in time.

    Anyway, have fun making music with your new finds/acquisitions.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 6:28 PM  

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