Kaoru Watanabe: Haruka and Akira

Reviews, Live Shows

220213 Breathing Forests by Gabriella Smith (world premier)

Sobbing beneath our masks

211203 "Seven Pillars" premier at Emerald City Music

Inspiring composition, mind-blowing performance

210911 Sylvan Esso at The Greek

Standard production, amazing music

210911 Tune Yards at Ford Amphitheater

Low expectations, high reward!

210129 Cinematic Orchestra at Royal Albert Hall livestream

Monochromatic, but enjoyable.

201201 Sylvan Esso "With Love" streaming

Heartfelt performance by one of my favorites

201010 NDT2: Dare to Say

Proving that streamed dance performances can move

201010 NDT: Endlessly Free

The Other You is my favorite choreography ever.

201010 Kaoru Watanabe: Haruka and Akira

"Kibou no Hikari" made me cry

200411 Arugakki at JCCC Montreal

First steps: shaky, exciting

200322 Nederlans Dans Theater at Place des Artes

Vladimir is mind-blowing

200221 DRUM Tao at Jorgensen Center

pina colada cotton candy

191116 Sylvan Esso at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Moving music, delightful dancing, incredible sound

191115 Ohmme at Teragram Ballroom

Fantastically quirky

191025 Hiatus Kaiyote at Novo

Amazing music, over my head

191023 Frances Cone and Delta Rae at Bootleg

Introspective, thoughtful music vs showboating

191017 Cosmo Sheldrake at Echoplex

Great samples, less-inspiring looping

191013 Oregon Symphony premier of Andy Akiho Percussion Concerto

My new favorite piece of classical music.

191009 GoGo Penguin's Koyaanisqatsi at Regent Theater

A worthwhile addition to an iconic movie

190925 Cornelius at Echoplex

Bright lights, big music.

190726 New Original Works Festival 2019 at REDCAT

Craving a "composition"

190717 Mitski at Hollywood Palladium

How to make pop songs performative?

190614 Imogen Heap at Greek Theatre

Hide and Seek and not much else

190601 Snarky Puppy at Orpheum

So Snarky!

190319 Monterey Symphony: Sound Waves Concert IV

A drifting concert. Water Concerto anchored by Chris Lamb

190316 Miyamoto is Black Enough, at Wallis

Holy shit this was a good show!

190127 Hidaka at International Dinner 2019

Go Hidaka Taiko!

190116 Third Coast Percussion with Hubbard Street Dance

Unsure why I was unmoved

181120 Dermot Kennedy at Fonda

Solid show to adoring fans

181108 Birdtalker at Hotel Cafe

A special band, early in their career

180623 Olafur Arnalds at Cathedral Sanctuary

The power of sweet/sad melody!

180614 Dirty Projectors at El Rey Theater

Amazing quirk-pop!

180310 Miyake x UnitOne

UnitOne shines!

180224 Batare at La Mirada Theater

Laudably ambitious but scattered.

180223 QuiltCon 2018

Inspiring works, inspiring community.

180131 Kagami Kai at Asian Art Museum

Amazing mochi-making skills, frustrating calligraphy, and take-home encouragement

170416 Sigur Rós with LA Phil

Amazing concert with a few missed opportunities.

170115 A Seed: Ichi-Ryu Manbai

Overwrought concept, thin music, tragic flowers

160927 Sigur Rós at Hollywood Bowl

Amazing sound needs mixed set-list

160918 Road to Kumano: Taiko Project with Chieko Kojima

Ambitious new work!

160409 Locations and Dislocations: An Ecomusicological Conversation

thought-provoking, inspiring, exhausting

130514 Stuck Elevator was fantastic

Powerfully uneventful ending

081012 Byron's Bottled Water Operas

Welcome. Stay and think.

Kaoru Watanabe: Haruka and Akira

This streamed event series was delightful.  Kaoru's newest music for Japanese flute and taiko made the most of imposed solitude.  Hosted by Shoji Kameda of KaDon, Kaoru answered questions and introduced the pieces from his studio in Brooklyn.

Part 1 -- Oct 10 2020

Three pieces were replayed from video, pre-recorded the day prior.


Kaoru talked about liking words with multiple meanings.  "Sengoku" can refer to Japan's civil war era, or it can mean "1000 bushels", i.e. prosperity.  In the piece, Kaoru moved back and forth between taiko and various shinobue, layering them with a looper (Ableton).  It was a tasteful approach to looping, dodging tediusness and predictability with long phrases and alternating out-of-time and rhythmic passages.  I found the piece more interesting than moving, but I loved the effortlessness of it all.  Using a sampler in my own playing I feel like I'm getting pushed around by the technology.  Kaoru was in control here and created a space for actual music creation.

Covid Etude

This was a short piece for shinobue which Kaoru explained challenged his breath control and referenced breathing in our current culture.  It didn't feel breathless at all to me.

Kibou no Hikari

This was my favorite piece of the set.  The sweet/sad melodies made me cry.


Part 2 -- Oct 17 2020


This was an improvisation within a predetermined structure.  The layering was less interesting to me than Sengoku but I really liked the drumming with two different bachi here.

Fue Take Ni

In the introduction of this piece, Kaoru deftly explained bits of the Tale of Gengi and how both his name and the flute enter into the story.  I found myself impressed with Kaoru the person -- knowledgeable, bilingual.  Interestingly, that mindset of admiration wasn't helpful for getting into the piece.  Perhaps an introduction that is more mysterious, and more questioning than explicative.


I had the same experience here, where Kaoru very sweetly talking about his love for his partner overly exaggerated the "sweetness" of the piece.  The opening koto parts are amazing, plucked and strummed melodies layered into a delightful groove.  I realized at that moment how I'd been craving a pulse.  The kane and taiko parts sounded great and Kaoru is so good at playing along to the click in his headphones without the playing losing any life.  He felt totally in control of the rhythms and everything was cohesive.  The Japanese and English lyrics were too sweet for me but that's so subjective I hesitate to even say it.

Notes for self

  • The technical challenges of streaming are rough and really interfere with audience enjoyment.  Think of how NDT did it.  Find professionals.
  • When using looping, watch Binkbeats "Heartbreaks" again to get ideas for breaking up monotony.
  • Remember how Kaoru's live drumming never clashed with the looped tracks.  Practice isn't enough to get there.  Record and listen back relentlessly!
  • As host, no need to comment on the last piece.  "Beautiful!" etc.  Just move into the next question.