SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

Joe Browning

BMus (University of York), MMus (SOAS)
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Joseph Browning
Mr Joe Browning
Thesis title:
Cosmopolitan natures: an ethnography of the global shakuhachi scene.
Year of Study:
2010 (year started)
Internal Supervisors


Shakuhachi (end-blown Japanese bamboo flute), music and environment, music and place, music and religion, music in East Asia, contemporary composition, Central Javanese gamelan

PhD Research

My research explores the significance of “nature” - as social imaginary and material reality - in the emergence of the cosmopolitan shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) scene outside Japan. Ideas about nature pervade understanding of this instrument's construction, performance contexts and sound. My work traces the transposition of this problematic trope amongst shakuhachi players in Europe, North America and Australia, where the music's history and geography are open to distinctly contemporary reinterpretation. Here, shakuhachi music increasingly occupies a hybrid space, rooted in landscapes inside and outside Japan and mediated through global travel, virtual communities and music technologies. I examine how connections between the shakuhachi, nature and cosmopolitanism are enacted through discourse, travel, performance, instrument-making, and the creation of recordings and new compositions. My ethnography highlights how this shared imaginary is enacted in diverse ways as musicians incorporate environmental sounds into recordings of traditional pieces, compose new music mimetic of American landscapes and animals, harvest US and Australian bamboo, and redesign instruments for a more “natural” sound.

My work follows moves within cultural geography, post-Latourian Actor Network Theory, anthropology and musicology (Gell, Born and others) to expand theorisation of the social by crediting the social agency of art objects, technologies, institutions and natural entities, as well as people. I draw on recent “environmental ethnomusicology” (Ramnarine, Guy, Post and others), whilst arguing that cosmopolitan musical practices have a crucial and so far neglected place within this emerging sub-field.


  • “Crane calls and shakuhachi sounds: tracing changing music-environment relations in the piece Tsuru no Sugomori” presented at "Listening for a change: music, environment, action", the annual one-day conference of the British Forum for Ethnomusicology, London. November 2011
  • “Performing nature?: thinking through 'performance' and 'environment' in the global shakuhachi scene” presented at SOAS Music Department Study Day, London. June 2011


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Japanese shakuhachi, Central Javanese gamelan

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