The National Concert Hall is full to the brim under the crucifix-like domination of the immense O-daiko drum. New Artistic Director Tamasaburo Bando has broken the performance into several pieces, combining traditional Kodo music with new compositions.
The pieces in the first half of the evening run smoothly together, organically shifting between performers and soundscapes. Beginning with shime-daiko, the smallest drum, Monochrome incorporates progressively larger of the two identical sets of percussion on the stage, each manned by three performers. The work explores the capabilities of a percussion ensemble. From moments of shattering volume with the larger drums to stunning silence, the elemental work captures the audience and brings us into the world of Kodo taiko drumming. The performers, all in black, perform with every line of their body. Choreographed leaps and synchronised movements bring the level of performance a step higher than many professional musicians could hope for.
In contrast to the first half, the music following the interval incorporates individual theatricality into the performance with costumes and clear stories being told. This move from the immensity of nature to the individuality of humanity explains the choice of title for the show – One Earth – in its all-encompassing quality. Onidaiko involves two masked ‘demons’ in a divine dance to the beat of a single drum, performances again polished with drama etched into every beat and step.
Another of Bando’s original compositions follows, this one created with Kodo performer Shogo Yoshii. Here, colour abounds with each performer in a different shade of glittering pants or dress. The effect of the visual and aural elements combining ups the ante as the drummers clearly become taken over by the music. This increased energy builds perfectly for the introduction of the colossal O-daiko, with a certain sobriety evident in the performers as they step up to face the instrument in the traditional thong-like fundoshi, showing their lean muscles as they raise their arms and begin. There is, however, slightly less sobriety evident in some women near the front of the room who seem quite pleased with the change of costume.
The O-daiko sends us into a trance-like state, overpowering and throbbing through our chests, so that we can only look on and wonder at the power of the players. Three changes take place so that the performers do not become completely spent, but there is no silence here as the energy is maintained on smaller drums during changes. From here, the Yatai-bayashi brings the evening to a close. Here players show their strength and form as they sit on the ground and use all their power to fill the hall with the changing rhythms, overlaid with a cutting flute line to add another elements to the complex weave.
While the Irish are known to be sometimes overly-fond of their standing ovations, there can be no doubt that it is truly deserved here. Exploding with energy, the performers finish the night in a celebratory curtain call encore, to the delight of the crowd. Unlike many Western composers’ imitations of nature, tonight the Japanese group have shown how percussion can truly channel it, bringing a musical experience unlike any other.
Tamasaburo Bando Kaden
Maki Ishii Monochrome
Motofumi Yamaguchi Ibuki
Traditional, arr. Kodo Onidaiko
Tamasaburo Bando and Shogo Yoshii Tsukimachi
Traditional, arr. Kodo O-daiko
Traditional, arr. Kodo Yatai-Bayashi