“Pounding Furiously” by Yuta Sumiyoshi
Only three weeks remain on our current “Kodo One Earth Tour 2016: Chaos” Japan Tour. This production is a rather experimental performance and I have heard a range of feedback, both positive and negative. So, while it is towards the end of the tour, I thought I would take the time to talk about my feelings towards “Chaos” and share them with you all.
I play the drums, a Western drum kit, in this performance. Do you think I wanted to play the drums?
Well, honestly, I was really reluctant about it! (lol)
I am not sure whether reluctant is the right choice of word, but anyway, from the beginning I had this constant feeling of “We are taiko players, so why are we playing the drums?” That feeling got in my way and it stopped me from getting into our drum rehearsals properly. I was wondering if I should be playing the drums at all and I had a kind of restlessness that wouldn’t go away.
We learned to play the drums little by little, starting our practice about three years before the premiere of “Chaos.” But it took ages for me to be able to feel like, “OK! Let’s do this!” and to really put my all into it.
The biggest change in how I felt came one day during our drum practise. I think it was about six months before “Chaos” premiered. Yosuke Oda, Masayuki Sakamoto and I were side by side pounding the drums furiously. Drummer Tetsuya Kajiwara was yelling out the count for us, “One! Two! Three! Four!,” and we just kept on beating the drums with all our might. The sweat poured off us. We lost ourselves in the drums, just pummelling them relentlessly.
Then, that night after the practice, I noticed for the first time that the air in the rehearsal hall felt the same as when we have been practicing Yatai-bayashi non-stop, which is a traditional Japanese festival taiko piece as well as an iconic Kodo stage piece. It’s also the first thing that all Kodo apprentices learn to play during their training.
After we play Yatai-bayashi non-stop, a faint ringing lingers in our ears and a slight heat and smell of sweat lingers in the air.
When I noticed that sense, I thought: “It’s the same…”
The act of pounding something furiously. Perhaps it is the hunting instinct that lies deep within all human beings. When we face the taiko drum, that overwhelming primal urge to pound it arises from deep inside. It’s not an emotion like anger, it’s an instinct. It’s like a roar within you.
The feeling of your soul stirring and trembling.
At last, I felt that sense, that roar, when I was playing the drums. That roar that emerges when I play taiko.
I am Japanese, I am a taiko player, but this sense is deeper than that. It is part of my identity as a human being.
Well, I’m not really sure which words I should use to express what I’m feeling, but I can say that I felt this sensation intuitively.
So, getting back to the topic, some people see “Chaos” and say, “Why don’t you just play taiko?” Actually, I have always played taiko thinking that it was the right instrument for me.
I think everyone has a set idea about what taiko is, or should be. Not only taiko players, but also our audiences have a set idea about what they expect when they hear the word “taiko.” Taiko is an instrument created by using the trunk of a tree that is centuries old and covering it with animal hides. So it has a lot of life force and history within it. Whether it is on the surface or otherwise, as I said, the person who beats it will feel their soul stir. But I think most people take that for granted and don’t really give it a second thought most of the time.
So for us, beating an instrument for this performance that is not a Japanese taiko drum has led to many new realizations… and questions like these:
If we pound drums with plastic heads… can we convey the same soul stirring roar? Can we move people with our drumming, without the power of our taiko drums?
I think it would be great if we could do the same thing a puppeteer does on stage.
You may look at a puppeteer and think: Why do you use a puppet? You are a human, and humans can express many different emotions and move so fluidly. So you could express yourself better without the puppet.
But by expressing yourself through a puppet, something that is lifeless and inorganic, you are pushed to tap into the essence of your expression to make the puppet come to life so you can convey your intentions to the audience.
So I hope we can do the same thing using drums instead of taiko for this performance. By pounding the drums instead of taiko, I hope that we can tap into the soul and “roar” behind our drumming. I hope that it will become even more apparent to our audiences.
Of course, it’s not all about pummeling the drums like a maniac. By learning to play the drums and practicing hard, I have learned many new things related to music and technique that I would not have felt or discovered if I had continued to only play taiko.
When I perform on stage in “Chaos,” I try to put all these feelings, and everything I have learned through this production, into each performance.
We still have a few performances left on this tour and I really hope you will come along to see this production live on stage. I hope we can stir something deep within our audiences with our drumming, regardless of the instrument.