Japanese drumming: Kodo in Tallinn

  • 2014-03-05
  • By TBT staff

KEEPING THE BEAT: Kodo strives to preserve and re-interpret traditional Japanese performing arts. Members tour and research all over the globe, bringing back to Sado a kaleidoscope of world music and experiences which exert a strong influence on the group’s performances and compositions.

TALLINN - It’s almost as if the space between man and drum disappears and a fusion of the two entities opens up another realm. There is nothing tangible created, but there is a palpable life force, and everyone who shares that space is somehow transformed.

Kodo strives to both preserve and re-interpret traditional Japanese performing arts. Exploring the limitless possibilities of the traditional Japanese drum, the taiko, Kodo are forging new directions for a vibrant living art-form.
In Japanese the word ‘Kodo’ conveys two meanings: firstly, ‘heartbeat’ as the primal source of all rhythm. The sound of the great taiko is said to resemble mother’s heartbeat as felt in the womb, and it is no myth that babies are often lulled asleep by its thunderous vibrations.

Secondly, read in a different way, the word can mean ‘children of the drum,’ a reflection of Kodo’s desire to play their drums simply, with the heart of a child. Since their debut at the Berlin Festival in 1981, Kodo have given over 2,800 performances on five continents, spending about a third of the year overseas, a third touring in Japan and a third resting and preparing new material on Sado Island.

Taiko means ‘drum’ in Japanese. Outside Japan, the word is often used to refer to any of the various Japanese drums and to the relatively recent art-form of ensemble taiko drumming. Taiko drums have been developed into a wide range of percussion instruments that are used in Japanese folk, ritual and classical musical traditions.

Mythic origins
One mythological story about the origin of taiko comes from the Nihon Shoki. According to myth, taiko originated from the Shinto goddess Ame no Uzume, the goddess of sunlight, Amaterasu, and her brother Susanoo, the god of the sea and storms.

In one interpretation, Susanoo suddenly becomes angry and rages from his place on the sea, bringing havoc to the land. His sister, Amaterasu, became so upset at this state of affairs, she fled into a cave and sealed it with a boulder, refusing to come out.

The other gods gathered and knew that without sunlight, life on the Earth would decay and die. Accordingly, they tried many ways to bring her out in begging, threatening, and even trying to physically move the boulder, but met with no success.

Finally, the elder goddess Ame no Uzume, stepped forward and claimed she could bring Amaterasu out of the cave. Despite ridicule from the other gods, she proceeded with her plan. Ame no Uzume emptied out a barrel of sake and jumped on its head, stomping on it furiously to create compelling, percussive rhythms.
The gods were so moved by this music that they could not help but dance and sing. Their celebration became so noisy that Amaterasu peered out of the cave, and upon seeing the joyous scene brought her light back to the world and banished Susanoo. From Ame no Uzume’s performance, taiko music was created.

Taiko, in general, are stick percussion instruments. With the exception of the kotsuzumi and ootsuzumi, all taiko are struck with bachi. They have heads on both sides of the drum body, and a sealed resonating cavity. Taiko are also characterized by a high amount of tension on the drum heads, with a correspondingly high pitch relative to body size. This high tension likely developed in response to Japan’s wet and humid summers when most festivals take place. Many taiko are not tunable, and a drum with high head tension wouldcounteract the slacking effects of humidity.

Drumming village
After more than a decade of living in a converted schoolhouse, Kodo finally obtained 25 acres (10 hectares) of thickly-forested land on the Ogi peninsula in the southern part of the island, and in 1988 the opening ceremony of the village was held.

In keeping with Kodo’s dedication to preserving traditional arts, the first structure, the main office building, was reassembled from the timbers of a 200-year-old farmhouse that was scheduled for demolition.
It has now been extended and includes communal cooking and dining areas as well as a library devoted to world music and dance.
Since then, a reception building (also a reassembled farmhouse), a dormitory building, a studio and most recently a new rehearsal hall
have been added. In addition to these main communal buildings, married members of the group have been building family homes on surrounding land.

March 24, 19:00 Nokia Concert Hall, Tallinn
Tickets can be purchased at: www.ticketpro.ee