Saturday, December 10, 2005

Wind, song for Zapotec clay flute

In the last post we looked at a Zapotec clay flute & whistle. Last January I was invited to perform during each of the four days at the 2005 TED Conference in Monterey. -How that invitation came about is another story for another post.

Each day had a name from the four elements of our planet: Earth, Wind, Fire and Water. I was asked me to come up with something for each day that reflected it's theme. For Day 2, Wind, I choose to play the Zapotec clay flute and whistle along with some wind chambers that were made by the same maker, Nash, based on Meso-American designs.

These flutes were acompanied by nature sounds that I had designed to work with that day's theme in a 5.1 surround sound mix, which were then mixed by the sound techs at TED. The performances were also video taped. I've posted an excerpt of the video and the entire performance as an mp3 below.


These are large files and can load slowly. If you don't have a fast internet connection you might want to consider the MP3 below.
High Speed
QuickTime 3.3MB
Low Speed
QuickTime 1.1MB

MP3 984KB

Monday, December 05, 2005

NAF Part 6 Zapotec clay flute & whistle


In this post we're going to look at a very unusual flute. A Zapotec clay flute & whistle. At first glance this instrument appears to be what many would call a Pan-Pipe or a Zampoña as is used in the musical cultures of the Andes. Rather it is a combination of four whistles and two small flutes joined together. A whistle is just a flute that plays one note, however as we'll see below, by covering the opening at the bottom of the tube another note can be played. All of these use a fipple to produce their sound.

Construction and Scales
This instrument is made from clay and has a white slip. The length across the top mouth piece is 4-1/4". The longest flute is 5-1/2" while the shortest whistle is 2-1/2" Like the Native American flutes discussed before, longer flutes play lower pitches. So is should come as no surprise that the longest flute on the right plays the lowest notes. These notes starting with all holes covered, including a thumb hole on the back, are C#, E, F#, G# and A. The flute to it's left plays D#, F#, G# and A#. There is no thumb hole for this flute.


The whistles can each play two notes. A higher pitch by just blowing through the mouthpiece, and a lower pitch by covering, or "stopping", the hole at the end of the pipe. Stopping the pipe causes the sound waves to travel twice the length of the pipe, thus lowering the pitch. The player alternates between the lower and higher pitch by covering and uncovering the end of the pipe. The notes the whistles on this instrument play are, from right to left, B/F, C#/G#, E/B, and G/C#. I use the whistles for color rather than as a melodic instrument, the notes available being somewhat limited. Two of the whistles play a diminished 5th (augmented fourth), or a Tritone which was once called the diabolus in musica ("Devil's interval") in early Western music up to the baroque period. This is a very dissonant interval and it is not found in the Native American flute's Pentatonic scale. These whistles, however, make excellent bird sounds. Examples of this can be heard in Heart of the Sky from New Fire and in the sample below.

The flutes can also be "stopped", by covering the holes at their ends, with all finger holes covered. When stopped they play a pitch that is a 5th lower than the lowest note played when not stopped. The longer flute on the right for example plays a F# when stopped, a 5th lower than it's un-stopped C#. This produces an extended scale. This extended scale is F#, C#, E, F#, G# and A. The flute to it's left will play a G# when stopped making it's extended scale G#, D#, F#, G# and A#. Notice how the lower five intervals are the same for both flutes and the first four intervals are found in the NAF Pentatonic scale.

The Maker
The maker of this flute is named Nashtavewa or Nash. He is from a Zapotec village named "Ltavehua" located in the jungle forest on the southeast coast of Mexico in the Oaxaca region. According to his bio his parents "are traditional artists specializing in clay whistles, authentic Zapotec cookware and traditional Zapotec ceremonial figures. He currently lives in Orange County. I met him originally at a southern California flute circle meeting at Guillermo Martinez’s (of Quetzalcoatl Flutes & Drums) house. Nash was studying with Guillermo and had some clay flutes for sale. As he doesn't have a web site, I am always interested to see if he has something I like. In addition to the flute featured in this post I also have three wind chambers and several bird whistles made by him and use them extensively. Nash also makes a replica of the Aztec Death Whistle which can be purchased through the Oregon Flute Store.


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Muuyaw kiihu'at, Southeast Utah

The Journey
The sun beat down on the Colorado Plateau, but the day was not hot. A slight breeze carried away the heat of the day as I trekked toward my destination. A hidden canyon in southeastern Utah. All around me were the great landmarks of this area: Bears Ears, Sleeping Ute mountain, the Abajo and the Henry mountains were all in sight, as was wing of Shiprock hazy in the distance. Just over the south horizon, beyond sight, was the goosenecks, Valley of the Gods and Monument Valley. But today I wasn't thinking about any of them. I was after a small place. Unknown and fragile.
Years before I had heard rumors about an Anasazi ruin. A cliff dwelling unlike any other. Located deep within the wilderness of southeastern Utah. It's row of rooms hidden behind a front wall, shielded in a twilight alley. "Muuyaw kiihu'at" is my Hopi translation for the name of this hidden place. For years I had wanted to visit this place. On my last trip to Utah I promised myself I would.

To just get to the canyon where it waits in silence I had to drive 8 miles over a sometimes sandy, sometime rutted dirt road. It had rained hard two nights before and in places there were puddles so deep I didn't think my truck would make it through. Mud splattered everywhere as I plowed through the huge puddles of wet earth, covering my vehicle with a slip of red Utah mud. Surprisingly the toughest parts were over the harder slickrock. The hard packed rock tossed my truck around like a child's toy, along with me and my kidneys as well. Then the road became impassable, a deep rut through which I could not drive. It was time to get out of the truck and walk the last mile, through sage and rabbit brush, and an ever present forest of Juniper and Pinyon tress. Abbey would be proud.

At last I reached the canyon. I had been warned that the ruin would still be hidden from view until I hike down a ways. Carefully following the cairns down the steep slickrock, I gently lowered myself over the lip of a dry waterfall, a pour-over, on to a pile of loose rocks that had been placed there, as a step, by those who had made this pilgrimage before me.

Finally, as I rounded a bend, my goal came into view, tucked away in an alcove on the other side of the canyon. I couldn't even begin to imagine how a human being could get across, but I kept going along the rough slickrock that hovered on the rim, trusting the trail. Hard rock gave way to gritty red earth as the trail began to descend down a talus slope. Dirt crushed from the house sized boulders that towered above me.

Finally I made it to the bottom. Hidden from the sun the it was dark and cool. The walls and floor had been polished smooth by centuries of floods racing through the canyon. I carefully started up the other side towards the ruins. Going up slickrock cliffs has always seemed easier to me than coming down, and this was no exception, but I was back in the sun and there was no wind here in the depths of the canyon. Sweat was pouring off my face, my heart was pounding. The cliff face got steeper and harder to climb. Was I crazy? Would the ruins be as magical as I had imagined for so long? Suddenly, just as I thought I would never make it never, I peered over a lip of rock and there, in front of me, was my destination:

The Ruins
Muuyaw kiihu'at".

Dating to about AD 1260, the ruin itself was made up of three sections. The main one appearing as a slightly curved wall from the outside. Blank but for small Loop Holes and a little door. The door beckoned me, but I waited to take it all in, and catch my breath, before I entered

To the right three large rooms with horse collar doors stood in silence. Their doorway like dark eyes waiting for their builders to return.

To the left of the main section were the remains of rooms that had long ago collapsed.

The Pictographs
Above the main section were three very well preserved pictographs, or rock paintings. The one on the left a large white circle or shield, the one in the middle a band of white with two pairs of downward pointing triangles and a line of white dots running along the top, and on the right a zigzagging horizontal line.

As I stood there in front of these I wondered what they were trying to tell me. Was the circle a shield of war as many ruins have? Was it the Sun or the Moon? What was the white band with the dots and triangle?

Was the zigzagging line a snake or perhaps a chain of mountain peaks used to mark the passing of the sun throughout the year? Whatever they meant, I had the distinct feeling they were announcing those who had once lived here. Like an ancient address, a sign, or perhaps to strangers, a warning.

The Interior
My mind moved away from the mysteries of the pictograph when I climbed through the little door in the center wall. There I entered into a dark, secret alleyway behind the front facade of the wall.
In the dim light shafts of sunlight filtered through the door and the small holes in the outer wall, illuminating five sheltered and hidden rooms. The secrets of "Muuyaw kiihu'at".

The air was filled with echoes of the Ancient Ones as fine dust rose from under my feet. The silence and magic of neglected centuries permeated the walls. Broken only by the call of a distant Raven.

Along the wall in the middle of the alley, over the central door, was the same white band with downward pointing triangles and dots that hung outside the ruin. The paint as fresh as if it had been done the day before. A wonderfully preserved motif that was repeating itself. I marveled at it's rarity as well as it's simple beauty.

The Kiva
Peering with my flashlight though the central door into a darkened middle room, I could barely make out the now familiar white band and dots, which now ran around all four interior walls! This version lacked the triangles, but instead had what looked to be three unpainted circles, floating in the band of white. There was also a niche in the back wall, which itself had a shelf built into it's entire length. The thought, "Kiva", immediately came to mind. Was this small square room a Kiva? The repeating motif of the white band certainly made this room special.

Adding to the mystery, the white band in the alleyway had two triangles pointing down toward a hole in the wall of the room on the left. It's doorway having been sealed up halfway for some unknown reason.

Like the center room, this room also had a small niche and shelf in the back wall but lacked the painted white band. What was the meaning of the hole in the wall? Does light shine through it on a special day, like a solstices? Did it relate to the small so called Loop Holes holes in the front facade wall?

The Loop Holes
From the inside of the ruin it seemed obvious to me that the view through the Loop Holes covered all approaches to the ruin. Anyone hiding behind the wall could easily see all of the canyon outside without exposing themselves. Why would they be hiding? Did they fear an attack, and if so, from who? I kept thinking about the paintings on the outer wall. The way they hung like a warning over the structure. Were the pictographs there to announce something, frighten someone or both?

The rumors had been true, his was a very special place.

The Anasazi flute returns
I spent the whole day there. Exploring other ruins in the canyon and then as the day waned returning to "Muuyaw kiihu'at" to play my "Anasazi" flute.
As discussed in the previous post, this flute had been recreated from a handful of flutes found throughout the four corners area dating back 700 - 1,500 years ago. This is the flute that the Ancient Ones had once played here. Kokopelli's flute. As the sound reverberated off the canyon cliffs I realized that the this flute had not been heard in this canyon in over 700 years. That I was the first person to play this kind of flute here since the inhabitants of this canyon fled south centuries ago. A chill ran through my body as the echoes seemed to fade away, back in time. As I continued to play the warmth of the flute's tranquil tones filled the ruins and the canyons. It's sound being reborn and with it, the spirits of the canyon.


Yellow Light of Dawn
Listen To a sample of the Anasazi flute from the song Yellow Light of Dawn.

The complete version of Yellow Light of Dawn is a free mp3 download available to members of my E-mailing list. Becoming a member is free and easy.
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You and also listen to sample of all my recordings and other Native American flutes by going to the Music Page at

To find out more information about Native American flutes and Native American flute music check out my Native American flute History page as well.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

NAF Part 5 Ancestral Puebloan, "Anasazi" flute

In this posting we're going to look at a completely different type of Native American flute. The Ancestral Pueblo or "Anasazi" flute, which is currently being reproduced by Michael Graham Allen aka Coyote Oldman. He is making these from measurements of artifacts that were provided by Dr. Richard Payne, an avid collector, historian and author. Unlike all the other Native American flutes (NAF) we've looked at so far, this flute pre dates any European influence. In this sense it is a true Native American flute, but as we shall see below, it shares many characteristic with flutes throughout the world.

Examples of this flute can be heard on Scott August's latest release "Lost Canyons" available from Cedar Mesa Music.
An Echoes radio "CD of the Month" this release features three pieces for solo Anasazi flute and three pieces for Anasazi flute and world instruments.

The major difference between the Anasazi flute and the modern (1800-present day) Native America flute is how the sound is produced. The Anasazi flute is not a fipple flute, like the modern NAF, but is an end-blown, or rim-blown, flute. End-blown flutes are some of the oldest flutes in the world. One of the oldest is the Ney from the Middle East, which dates back to the time of the Pyramids. In Turkey there are the Nai and the Kaval. The most well-know end-blown flute is the Japanese shakuhachi. In the Western Hemisphere an end-blown flute called the Quena can be found along side Pan-Pipes (Zampoñas) in South American, while in North America the Hopi culture has an end-blown flute that is still used for ceremonies, and the Southern California native cultures also have a end-blown flute made of Elderberry, but it is no longer in common use.

Unlike a modern NAF, the player has to learn how to place their lips against the mouth piece to produce a sound. It can take an hour to a week for the beginner to produce their first note! I was lucky, getting notes within the first hour, but even now, four months later, there are times when I have difficulty making a sound.

The flute is a hollow tube. The mouth piece is a slight depression on the top side of the tube. The player covers most of the lower part of the tube with their lower lip and chin while blowing a stream of air across the depression. If the stream air doesn't hit the flute just right no sound, or high squeaking overtone results.

This flute is 30" long and has a bore of 3/4" at the far end. It is made of cedar. The root note is G# and has a scale that is surprisingly close to the modern NAF scale in that it is pentatonic. But the mode is differetnt. This scale is a major pentatonic scale with the addition of a minor 3rd. The pitches are G#, A#, B, C, D#, F, then the Octave. Notes above, and including the Octave that can be played by over-blowing are: G#, A#, B, C and even D# and a higher G# -two octaves above the root. With alternate fingerings a player can get some chromatic pitches, such as G (half step below the octave), F#, and E. As you can see in the photo above the finger holes are much different than the modern NAF, being closer to the bottom of the pipe and there is a larger gap between each set of three holes than on the NAF.

Listen to a Sample of this flute.


This type of flute dates back to AD 500. During this time the cultures of the Four Corner area of North America were called Basketmakers. Pottery was just beginning to be made, but weaving was the at it's height during this time. This was before the cliff dwelling of Mesa Verde, and the giant pueblos of Chaco Canyon. People lived in Pit-houses, a semi-subterranean "earth-lodge" with an earth covered log roof. This was also the high point of Rock Art creativity, especially so of Kokopelli. This flute is Kokopelli's flute.

In 1931 Earl Morris, who reconstructed the great Kiva at Aztec, NM, was excavating in the Prayer Rock district of northern Arizona, near Canyon de Chelly, when he unearthed four flutes in a cave he later named Broken Flute Cave. These flutes were made of Box Elder which has a soft inner pith that can easily be removed. (End-blown flutes from southern California were made of Elderberry which also has a soft inner pith.)

Morris also found similar flutes in Mummy Cave in Canyon del Muerto, part of Canyon de Chelly in 1934. These include ones with only five holes. These five hole flutes match Hopi flutes from the 1900's. A living history that stretches back 1,500 years! These flutes are reported to be in the collection a the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Morris describes the Mummy Cave find In a National Geographic Magazine article. He describes that the flutes found were buried with "The body...of an old man, surely once a priest or chief. Beside the usual offerings of beads, baskets, and sandals, there lay above his buckskin wrapping a flute, one end beneath the chin, the other between the thighs. ...

Along the left side was a mass of wooden objects, all readily perishable, hence extremely rare in perfect condition. Conspicuous among them were bone-tipped flint flakers with which knives and projectile points were made, several spears, four handsomely wrought spear throwers, and three more flutes."

Note: In my research on these flutes, especially as regards Morris' finds there are some discrepancies with dates that I have yet to sort out.

To hear more of the Anasazi flute sign up for my quarterly free mp3 downloads, through my free E-mailing list.

Campbell, Grant, Canyon de Chelly: It's people and rock art, 1978, University of Arizona, Tucson.

Clint Goss, 2005,

Robert Gatliff: 2005, Personal Correspondence.


© Cedar Mesa Music

Friday, September 16, 2005

Echoes from the Road: Day 10: Moab & Canyonlands

June 30, 2005. Day 10

I dropped my truck off at the mechanics this morning and then, thanks to the wife of the couple I was staying with, I got a tour of some of the sights around Moab that I hadn't seen yet. Jane, not her real name, took me north of the town and then turned west into the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands. After a brief stop at a petroglyph panel we did the hike to Mesa Arch. Although I'd never witnessed it in person, the photos I'd seen of Mesa Arch had fixed it in my mind. The very name seemed to speak to me, inspiring me to write Dawn at Mesa Arch on my first recording Distant Spirits.

It's a short hike to get to the arch which, upon first glimpse, looks like an eye of stone. It's also smaller than the famous view through it would suggest. The arch is part of a "fin" of rock that is separating from a cliff. Water, which expands when frozen, cut through the rock below the top of the fin and carved out the arch. The view is stunning.

The La Sal mountains in the distance. Giant pillars of red rock tumbling down to a broad plateau that is cut by the Colorado river. This view has become one of the most famous in the area, at least at dawn. During the harsh light of day the scene is bleached and washed out. Still stunning though.

Farther down the road to the tip of the plateau we were on, called "Island in the Sky" we come to Grand View point. Again the view is stunning. Almost a hundred miles in the distance are the Abajo mountains while below us is more of the canyons cut by the Colorado and Green rivers. Giant pillar of rock called Hoodoos are capped with white sandstone. Jane tells me that the name Grand View Point is not for the "Grand" view, but rather the Colorado river was once called the Grand river above it's union with the Green. Grand View Point was named before the name was changed.

While we were leave Canyonlands, Jane, who realized that I enjoyed seeing rock art told me that see knew a place that I wouldn't normally see called Sego Canyon about 35 miles northeast of Moab with rock art from three cultures.
We headed north out of town and soon left the main highway driving through a 20th century ghost town. Heading into the book cliffs we came to dirt road that led into a small canyon and parked.

There above us was a large panel of Ute pictographs, dating from the 19th century. As we walk further up the canyon we went back in time.

Next was a panel of Fremont petroglyphs. The Fremont culture is thought to have been current with the Ancestral Pueblo cultures. They have some similar traits, such as pit houses, and later pueblo style building. Some believe them to, perhaps, be the ancestors of the modern Ute culture. Further up the canyon, however, was the biggest surprise of all.

A huge panel of Barrier Style pictographs floated above us. The Barrier style is very old. Most of the panels can not be dated but limited information puts them somewhere between BC 2,000 to AD 1, some 2,000 to 4,000 years old.

The human figures in most Barrier style panels have ghostly eyes, floating bodies and seem to be connected in some way to shamanism. The figure above looks to be holding a horned serpent or snake.

Wild head dress abound along with stylistic clothing or robes. Many people see aliens from another planet in these other worldly depictions.

What ever their meaning they stare at us down through the ages.

We stayed as long as we could, but Jane had to get back to work and I needed to check on my truck, as so we headed back toward Moab. Once back at the mechanic., it turned out that a bad spark plug gap was causing the problem after all. Thanks to Tony at Arches Repair Center I was mobile again.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Echoes from the Road: Summer 2005, Day 9

Boulder to Moab
June 29, 2005

Highway I-70
Today started early. I had spent the night with a friend in Boulder after a week with two other friends in Denver. It had been a long week. Several gigs and meetings. I was happy to get back on the road.

My truck had been good all week and so I figured that today's trip would be fun, exciting and breath-taking as I crossed the Rockies. But just as I started to get on the ramp to highway I-70 my truck started sputtering and hesitating. Do I turn around or see if it the problem passes again? I elected to press on.

I passed several old, abandoned mines. The road was very steep and my truck was struggling. I decided to stop for a while.

I found a Starbucks and pulled off the highway. As I drank my tea I went over my options. I had a gig in Moab in two days. If I could make it there today that would give me a free day tomorrow to get a mechanic to look at my truck... I got back on the highway.

I was beginning to feel like would never make it when the Eisenhower Tunnel came into view. The highest vehicular tunnel in the world, the west side is over 11,000 feet. Passing through it I would cross the Continental Divide again, this time to the pacific side. Hopefully it was all "down hill" from here.

Once on the other side of the tunnel there were many mountains in the distance. I still had a way to go. By the time I got to Vail my truck was acting so strange I didn't even bother to take photos. By this time I was very worried.

Soon the Colorado River began to parallel the highway. At several places the highway and river passed through canyons that were so narrow the road became elevated. The west bounds lanes over the east bound lanes.

By mid afternoon I was in Utah, in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. I got off I-70 and got on Scenic Byway 128 which I knew would pass through some incredible scenery and dump out just north of Moab. In the distance are the La Sal mountains.

After a while the road began to descend into a narrow canyon and rejoined the Colorado River. You can still see the La Sal mountains on the horizon.

Scenic Highway 128
The road passed the Fisher Towers...

Then Castle Rock, over looking Castle Valley came into view.

The canyon got narrower,

The cliffs got steeper.

Wonderful, weird, red rock surrounded everything.

After passing through steep walls of hanging rock, the road finally came out just north of Moab. My truck had made it! I found my destination and got some advice about where to get my it fixed. A little garage called, appropriately, Arches Repair Center was reccomened. Tony, the mechanic there, thought it was might be a bad spark plug. I made plans to drop my truck off in the morning. I thought I would have to hang out all day waiting for it to be fixed, but the wife of the couple I was staying with offered to drive me around.

That night I slept soundly. Hopefully tomorrow my truck would be fixed and things could get back to the normal grind of life on the road.