I've gotten pretty busy again at school and work, but I had to take a few minutes to tell everyone about the awesomeness that happened to me a few days ago. Two weeks ago on Tuesday at Playhouse Square the amazing Japanese taiko group Kodo played. It was a one night only engagement, and I had to throw everything together at the last moment. I just happened to catch an ad for them on "Around Noon" on NPR the previous Thursday. Since my first taiko experience I have made a solemn oath to myself, never pass up the experience to see more taiko.
For those who do not know, taiko is traditional Japanese drumming. In fact, taiko (太鼓) literally translates, tai (太) big around/plump and ko (鼓) drum. Taiko is simply the greatest thing ever. It is pump up music to the extreme. If I ever become rich I will hire a group of taiko players to follow me around and whenever I am feeling blue or need a pick me up, I will have them play. Listening to intense taiko really can't be described except it is like being stabbed in the tympanic membrane with an icepick made out awesome.
Like a lot of aspects of traditional Japanese culture, taiko really demonstrates the poverty of ancient Japan and the sheer minimalism of their aesthetics. Songs can be grandiose and feature lots of drums, or can be as minimal as a single drum, a hand cymbal, and a flute. You really get the sense that the music evolved from what a village had on hand. Unlike a lot of Western Classical music that presupposes an orchestra or a set group of instruments, you really get the feeling that taiko is all about "run with what you brung" and it makes the music incredibly versatile.
I like music that collapses into noise. My favorite aspect of Beethoven is when he has everybody playing all at once and the melodic line completely falls apart only to reemerge from the train wreck. Taiko does this as well on such an amazing scale. Sometimes it literally sounds like cacophony on stage with everyone wailing away on their drums and then SUDDENLY the melody surges out of the noise within a single beat. It makes for some amazingly powerful and breathtaking transitions.
Another aspect of taiko is the theater of it. It must be seen to be understood. The players moves are deliberate and purposeful. There is something to the way a player moves that makes the performance hypnotic and visually stunning.
Kodo is far and away the best taiko group I have ever seen. They were fantastic. They were quirky and funny in a very Japanese way for certain songs, but also brought their A-game and tore the place down when things needed to get real serious. These guys and gals know how to play! Mom and Dad were going nuts the whole time. Kodo played this one song with drums about the size of a snare. At first, it was soft and distant like rain. It built your tension as each person tapped out a little drum roll; each getting just a little bigger, until they were all playing and it was exploding off the stage. Then it changed from rain into something very VERY different. It sounded terrifying and creepy, like the whispers of demons in a graveyard. It was intense.
I want to see them again so bad!
Here is a vid that vaguely does them justice, but taiko really has to be seen live to be truly understood and enjoyed:
Kodo was AMAZING!