Sun 6th Aug 2006

At the feet of the Kazooki master.

I remember when I first heard it – that thin, reedy rasp – bouncing among the tumbled rocks at the head of the valley. It was that very sound that had brought me all this way - a journey of many months - to a certain remote, mysterious, mountainous corner of Japan. I fingered nervously at the kazoo on its thin leather cord around my neck. What if the Master would not see me? Or worse – what if I failed? What if I didn’t have the spiritual strength, the iron will, the life-breath to become like him – a true Kazooki Master?

I banished these doubts from my mind as the clear note rasped from high above me – a clarion call, a voice calling me ever up, up, upwards towards my destiny. Somewhere up there, in a cave high on the peaks, lived the last surviving Kazooki Master. Three long years I had searched to find him. No one knew his age, or even his real name. In the village I had left they just called him Kazooki-jo. But I knew one thing. I knew I had to climb. I had to meet him. I had to learn the secrets of the kazoo

Several hours later I clung, panting, to a tiny ledge that ran outside a cave high up among the crags. I stared at the small, cross-legged form in brown robes from whose tiny frame was coming such an extraordinary noise. My foot slipped and a pebble dislodged. Abruptly the music stopped. Quick as a bird a tiny wizened head snapped round to meet my gaze.

“What want you here?” came a creaking voice.

I bowed my head low and said: “I have travelled oceans and continents to find you, Master. You may be the last true Kazooki Master left in the world. I have come to learn from you. Teach me your secrets!”

There was silence for a long time. I waited breathlessly. Then he spoke:

“If you wish me to teach you, pale fat one, answer this one question you please must: to become true Kazooki Master, what is the one thing you must have?”

I thought for a little while, and then gave my answer: “A kazoo, Master.”

His small faced turned thunderous. “Fool!” he screamed, “You know nothing of what you speak. Your mouth opens but your sounds have no meaning, like an accordion. You are like a stupid cat that sees his reflection but thinks there is some other cat!”

Then with one swift motion he leapt up, tore my precious kazoo from around my neck and hurled into the valley. I heard it bounce. And as I stood stunned and grieving, he began to speak.

“The kazoo is merely a mouthpiece. It is no more than piece of tin. It only one purpose has. To channel the ka-energy. This energy comes from within. It is in everyone, and everything. Listen to the rustle of the trees! Listen to the sound of grasshopper! All around you is kazoo! Can you not hear it?”

I listened. “ Yes, I think I can” I said doubtfully.

He stared hard at me, narrowing his eyes. What secrets dwelt in those glittering jet-black pits, I wondered? After what must have been seconds, but seemed an eternity, he spoke: “Very well. I will teach you.” And then from a fold of his voluminous robe he pulled a kazoo. I looked closely but could scarce believe it – it was my own! That very same kazoo I had seen flashing amongst the jagged rocks mere seconds ago now lay in the palm of my hand.

I could barely contain myself. “When can we begin, Master?” I asked eagerly, and I gave a little toot on my kazoo out of sheer excitement.

“Silence” he yelled, striking me sharply across the back of my head with a bamboo cane. “Not to make a sound please!” He glared at me. I was stunned, ashamed – I felt the tears pricking the backs of my eyes. But then he spoke again.

“Before you make sound first you learn to make no-sound!” His expression softened. “Look, listen, learn, buzz. That is the way of the kazoo. Now we begin.”

He took a kazoo from one of the folds of his robes and put it between his lips, assuming instantly a position of such serene peace that I felt instantly humbled in the presence of profound spiritual power. Clumsily, painfully, I crossed my legs, mimicking my master’s pose and put my kazoo to my lips. My training had begun.

Over the next weeks and months I studied deeply the art of no-sound. Once I had mastered the basic positions I moved onto more complex and difficult skills. Standing on one leg at the edge of the very highest crag I learnt the song of the rocks. If the slightest sound, the tiniest vibration came from the kazoo in my mouth I was swiftly rewarded with a sharp series of blows from the Master’s ever-present bamboo stick. Standing on my head, with a heavy rock in each outstretched hand, and the pure sound of silence coming from the kazoo gripped between my clenched teeth, I considered the onefold path. The smallest wheeze however, caused me instead to contemplate the incipient bruises from my master’s steel-tipped sandals. But as time passed the kazoo rarely left my lips. It became a part of me, and I a part of it. And one day – we had not spoken for several weeks – my Master called me to him.

“Now we learn sound,” he said. I had moved one step closer to my goal.

Sometimes I would go out and search among the rocks until I had brought back a captured wasp in a jam jar. We would sit, crossed-legged at the mouth of the Master’s cave and listen, deep in contemplation, as the insect buzzed and buzzed and buzzed, and finally fell silent. Then the Master would turn to me, saying “This one is dead. Go and bring another.”

As the seasons turned I learned the sound of eagle soaring high in the sparkling air; I learned the noise of the frog in the calm of the evening. I learned the sound a snowflake makes, landing on a bamboo leaf; I learned the snoring of my Master as I stood watchful at the cave mouth. And then one day he called me to him again.

“You have learned well, my son. You have learned no-sound, and you have learned sound. I have done all I can. Now you truly are Kazooki Master. You must leave here. Go into the world.”

From the folds of his long robe he produced an exquisitely carved bamboo kazoo. “Take this. And remember, you must always use the kazoo for good. Never for evil.”

I took the gift wonderingly, but already with a sense of loss. I knew somehow that I would never see the valley or my Master again. Instinctively I took my battered tin kazoo from around my neck and gave it to him with a deep bow. He smiled again – that perfect smile. Then he took my kazoo, placed it in his mouth along with his own, and began to play. To my complete amazement two beautiful notes emerged, each as perfect as a tiny buzz-saw, soaring in perfect harmony through the valley. The two-note kazoo – the very stuff of legend! I had heard it with my own ears!

And I realised my journey had only just begun.