Monash University
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The Shakuhachi and the Didjeridu : two case studies of historical iconology, performance practice and their relation to avian respiration and song

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posted on 2017-01-13, 01:34 authored by Rubin, Lauren
This thesis provides case studies of two end-blown instruments: the didjeridu, an Australian Aboriginal horn, and the shakuhachi, a Japanese flute, focusing on the correlation between avian symbology, respiration and song and each instruments’ performance practices and history. Both instruments are depicted using avian iconology in the ancient art of their respective cultures: the rock art of the Northern Territory and the mandala art of Shingon Buddhism. Using a broad range of interdisciplinary data the thesis argues and concludes that the use of avian symbology was purposeful rather than coincidental, citing multiple analogies between avian respiration and song and each instruments’ playing methods and performance practices. Further, ancient avian iconology present in the Taizōkai mandala provides evidence of the early history of the shakuhachi as a hōki, or spiritual tool, of Shingon Buddhism. These findings provide an alternative to the specious legend used by the Fuke sect about the shakuhachi’s early history, and give new evidence that the shakuhachi was first a tool of Shingon Buddhism before it was a tool of Zen.


Principal supervisor

Margaret Kartomi

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music – Conservatorium


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts