Of the five elements — and note that the Five Elements in Chinese and Japanese philosophies differ — it is water that I associate with the feeling of relaxation. Wind is exhilarating, fire is exciting, earth is nurturing, Ku is… I don’t associate it with anything because I don’t know exactly what it is. Of all the five elements, it is water and wind that I love best. The wind makes me feel alive. When I was in college, I would often turn off the car aircon and drive with the windows open so I could feel the wind on my face. Of course, that was 20 years ago. No sane person, if he had a choice, will choose to drive with the aircon off these days. The level of pollution on the streets and the amount of heat generated by vehicles that have quadrupled since my college days make city driving a slow moving hell.
But it is water that soothes my ruffled nerves; it is water that inspires my soul. My most creative thoughts were hatched in the shower and the most relaxing moments I experienced in the bath tub. I love watching the raindrops, I even like watching the washing machine tub as it fills with water. And I like the sound that water makes — when it rushes or even when it trickles.
Water has a rhythm that is impossible to miss yet exact regularity is not really a part of the rhythm. Listen to the waves as they lap on the shore — no two waves are of the same size, they don’t move with the exact same velocity and, ergo, they never make the same exact sound. Listen to the cadence of the raindrops when they fall. No two raindrops are the same; some make loud sounds while others make hardly a whisper.
The curious thing is that I am not alone in this fixation with the sounds that water makes. For the longest time, Speedy has been bent on creating a suikinkutsu in our garden. Suikinkutsu? Yes, that contraption with the upside down clay jar buried in the ground. Water drips from a hole at the tip and lands on a shallow pool underneath. The process creates tinkling echoes on the walls of the jar to produce a quaint irregular music. He saw it in a Japanese TV documentary and declared it was easy enough to create one.
Well, I’ve been reading about suikinkutsu and it seems it’s anything but simple. See an illustration of the construction details. Does that look simple? Japanese engineering professor Yoshio Watanabe conducted an experiment that elevated the level of complications even more. It appears that several factors can affect the pleasant quality of the sound that the water droplets make.
…under what conditions does a drop generate a good original sound? Is the barrel shape appropriate for the suikinkutsu to generate a good sound? What is the relationship between the natural elastic frequencies of the body of the suikinkutsu and the tonal quality of the reverberant sound of the suikinkutsu?
Now, I don’t know when Speedy’s suikinkutsu project will ever get finished or whether he will feel daunted once he realizes it’s not as easy as the TV documentary made it appear. Perhaps, he won’t feel daunted. He is an engineer after all and things may seem only complicated when viewed from the perspective of a lawyer and writer who is practically clueless in everything engineering. When will the suikinkutsu project come to life? Hopefully, before we become grandparents I will get to hear the the music of the suikinkutsu in our garden.