We're really gearing up for our next main-stage performances now. Lots of work is being done on Side By Side - with lots of new music to explore! Here is a sneak peak at the program notes, which gives an idea of what to expect...
Shadow Games Sophia Ang | Flowing Water Kerryn Joyce & Ryuji Hamada | Fierce: The Vengeance Of Joy Karlin Love | Run! Kerryn Joyce | Yasaka Ryuji Hamada | Awakening Ian Cleworth | Cocoon Claudia Wherry
Tonight’s music is all about intimacy, innermost thoughts and shared experience. Each of our emerging composers responded to the pressures, anxieties and pragmatism imposed by the Covid threat in very different ways, but there is a kind of thread that binds them.
Sophia Ang’s Shadow Gamesis for solo taiko-set – a set of five taiko drums of differing pitches. Sophia plays with the idea of soft sounds merging imperceptibly from one to the other – ‘shadowing’ in other words. Although the latter part of the piece is rather playful in character – the ‘games’ of the title – the first part is dark and austere in its sound world. In this sense, the shadow image is more suggestive, as in shadowy, ghostly or spectral.
Sophia talks about the effect of Covid-19 in relation to her composition, “It turned out to be darker at the beginning… that’s just the way I was feeling. During Covid-19 lockdown, I was coming into the dojo on my own and improvising on the taiko, recording what I played and then choosing the best material later… it was just me in the dojo, just me at home. It’s also a solo piece – so mental health-wise, probably not the wisest choice of instrumentation! I was in a ‘shadowy’ headspace and that’s how the music came out – it became sparse and moody, more than it might have been otherwise. But, I knew how I wanted it to end – that part I had already composed – so it got happier!”
Jointly composed by Ryuji and Kerryn, Flowing Water is an altogether more interior piece. It begins with an extended solo for the beautiful steel pan called Hang, followed by a soulful shinobue (flute) melody, delicate percussion interjections and a rolling ostinato played with fingers on a two-tone taiko. Kerryn and Ryuji devised the structure of the piece, central melodic theme and basic ostinato, but the detail is improvised in each performance. Naturally, the spontaneity and skill of the musicians is paramount in producing a good performance, but an image that each player draws upon for inspiration is that of the gentle, streaming waterways hewn in Sydney sandstone.
Even though the winner of Taikoz’s inaugural Composition Competition Karlin Love composed her work before the pandemic hit, Fierce: the Vengeance Of Joy evokes a similarly introspective theme. Karlin writes, “The title comes from Jonathan Jackson’s writing about joy as vengeance on evil/dark influences and Imani Perry’s idea of joy as an act of resistance – refusing to succumb via despair.”
Run!, composed by Kerryn Joyce – long-standing member of Taikoz and inspiring mentor to taiko players all over Australia – had a vision of two players ‘chasing’ each other, in and out, over and under. With the players setting out at a brisk tempo, Run! has a rather breathless quality about it. Although several of the motifs are often played in unison, the two taiko-set players also play rhythmic figures that answer each other in hocket-like fashion. Run! is, on the one hand, suggestive of escape (from what?), and freedom, on the other.
Kerryn says about Run!, “Originally, I was composing [Run!] for Tsubasa Hori and my ensemble, but because of Covid-19 it had to change and the piece became a duet with Ian. Because we have a similar language and playing style it took a new form, and so I changed course to the idea of ‘mirror-imaging’ and the [aural] vision of a chase. I had a strong reaction to the effect of Covid-19: when I was writing, I had anger in me and the music became ‘hard sounding’. But through the whole process of composing and falling into the sound world, I – and the music – became calmer. It definitely underwent a metamorphosis.”
Ryuji was born, grew up and educated (including his early training in the art of taiko) in Yokohama, Japan, and his work is the only one of the new pieces that doesn’t evoke a specific image. Rather, Yasaka is a more abstract response to Covid that seeks to inspire positivity and joy. In fact, Ryuji has drawn on the traditional music of his hometown area by composing for a music ensemble called hayashi, which is very commonly heard in Japan at annual matsuri (festivals); the bamboo flute called shinobue carries the melody and is accompanied by the taiko and clamorous handheld bell atarigane. While Ryuji’s musical material is original and has a contemporary bent to it, an ‘average’ Japanese person is likely to feel deep-rooted emotions just by hearing the overall sound of Yasaka, whereas Australian audiences won't necessarily react in this way. Nevertheless, Yasaka is so impossibly up-beat that everyone is sure to enjoy its sunny melody and infectious syncopated ‘swing’ rhythms! Ryuji says about his work, “Yasaka is the Japanese word for prosperity and through my music, I wish to express my desire for our towns, cities and countries to flourish, even in this time [of global crisis].”
Composed in 2012, Ian’s work called Awakening is the oldest work on the program, although it was extensively revised for these performances. Ian writes, “The musical material that makes up Awakening – motifs, themes, bridges and solos – gradually unfolds as if the music itself is waking up over time. In composing for three odaiko, I have made use of their huge dynamic range. Curiously, the deep, resonant tone of the big taiko can have a somewhat mesmerising and calming effect on the listener, and it is my hope that this combination of focussed centeredness and emotional inexorability will rousesomething of an awakening of the mind and the spirit of the listener.”
The largest work is entitled Cocoon. Composed by Taikoz’s youngest member Claudia Wherry, the musical material was inspired by her experience of studying Balinese Gamelan at the University of NSW. Like Gamelan music, Cocoon employs complex hocket motifs and uses a system of open and closed sounds that are created through hand-damping techniques. The effect is such that the taiko sounds as though they are being played more than three players!
Claudia says of Cocoon: “The introduction features two metalophones playing a melody that takes its inspiration from Hieronymus Bosch’s painting, Garden of Earthly Delights. A small figure lying on their front, painted in the far right section of the work, has a melody painted across their butt(!) I’ve taken this melody and developed it in my own composition through the rhythmic material of the subsequent taiko sections, as well as further explored Gamelan inspired dampening techniques, which allow the natural resonance of the instrument to be utilised in an interesting way.”
Whereas the Gamelan influenced Claudia’s musical thinking, the general sound world and overall structure of the piece draws on the image and ‘feeling’ of the butterfly cocoon. In other words, the evocative caressing of the taiko with one hand and the busy textures created by a bamboo stick in the other, conjures insect-like images, and the gradual opening up of the dynamic and style of performance implies ‘unlocking’ and transformation.