Miyake x UnitOne

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.

Miyake x UnitOne

Yahoo!  This was a fantastic show.  UnitOne has blossomed into an exciting addition to the taiko world.  The last few months of intense practice by these eight players and the tireless support of Katsuji Asano has produced an interesting assortment of pieces, well-performed.  During the show I took copious notes, but the things I wrote are mostly inconsequential... notes for individuals, song revision ideas, and set-list concepts.  If any performers / composers would appreciate that feedback, I'm happy to give it, but for this review I'll stick to the bigger picture...

What are the similarities and differences of Miyake Taiko and UnitOne?  What are their roles in the taiko world?

I assume Katsuji's interest in presenting Miyake Taiko alongside UnitOne stems from his love of taiko fundamentals.  He often expresses his desire to help the taiko world hit more powerfully and efficiently.  He has a keen eye for these details in LATI students and has a remarkably beautiful strike himself, though he's never seriously studied the music.  Perhaps Miyake Taiko and UnitOne represent his ideal of taiko skill.  Perhaps he wants to expose UnitOne's younger players to Miyake's life-long pursuit of strike mastery.  For me, the takeaway in seeing these groups back-to-back, however, is the realization that fundamentals are not enough to make great art.

Miyake was one of the first taiko pieces I saw.  I was a wide-eyed freshman at Stanford University and I loved the simplicity of Miyake's single rhythm.  I loved the power of the performers and the image of this music being performed on a far-away island.  This is a valid and beautiful kind of appreciation, and I felt a twinge of that tonight.  I love that these men dedicate their lives to a single rhythm and that Akio Tsumura has done this one thing for 40 years.  But I'm not able to be moved by these facts anymore.  The mystery of the far-away island is gone, and my ear desires more than volume.

Miyake Taiko's performance begins with a formal announcement in Japanese by the leader, Akio Tsumura.  I couldn't understand all of it but I caught references to the island and that these drums and this music are part of growing up in the culture of Miyake.  But the words don't matter... the tone is clear: this is "authentic Japan".  At this phase of my musical journey, this use of cultural context is a barrier.  When I'm told "this is the music of our island", and "this is the music of our family", up goes a wall.  I'm asked to appreciate the performance as "cultural", a no-touch zone of polite applause.  I can't say, "Why do they do that weird shime thing?.. where one player has to hold the drum for another player standing awkwardly and hitting the tiny drum so hard it sounds like shit."  I can't say that the "female" dancing seems sexist and juvenile.  I can't say these things because I'm afraid I'm offending tradition.

The Tsumura's use of "authenticity" suggests to me they are in fact afraid that their one rhythm is not enough.  And so they've reached to the cloak of "culture" and sprinkled in some audience-friendly additions.  They haven't gone the hard route of trying to move us through art and music.

But UnitOne has.  UnitOne has taken a bold step down the difficult path of making music.

As Miyake bashed away, I longed for the reverb of Isaku's solo shime and Yuta's voice.  As I tired of that single Miyake rhythm, I remembered Airi's confident use of dynamics and pauses.  The audience members laughed when the masked Miyake dancer sat next to them, but it was altogether different than the applause in UnitOne's Dokokara, when the rhythms and interaction between the players lifted us to a musical form of joy.  UnitOne's shishimai required complicated drumming and dance technique, but these elements served the larger artistic arc: emoting the lion.  Of course there are lots of possible tweaks to better achieve these ends but UnitOne's arrow is pointed in the right direction: sensitive, creative, musical taiko.

What are the roles for Miyake Taiko and UnitOne in the taiko world?

Miyake Taiko needs to travel.  If they've only got one song, then the goal should be to play that song in every major city.  And their performance is highlighted by being first-time visiters.  Their "connecting people through the powerful strike and deep sound of taiko" is bullshit, but they look really cool, they hit hard, and that's enough to get people excited about taiko.  And while I lament their use of "authenticity", it's no grave danger.  People will still try taiko -- like I did -- and later come to feel that "struggling to create art" is even more respectful than "preserving tradition".  Miyake Taiko can serve as taiko ambassadors.

I see two options for UnitOne.

1) Katsuji's group.
If Katsuji is to remain the main visionary, and his goal is remains "fundamentals", then UnitOne can dedicate itself to the challenge of refinement.  The goal would be to become the very best performers of these pieces, eventually setting the bar for how this repertoire can be played.

2) The members' group.
UnitOne restructures itself to encourage and foster artistic control in each of its members.  The group dedicates itself to continued exploration and risk-taking.

Option 2 is the only one I understand.  In my own playing, I run out of ideas for how to improve the things I know.  Every drill I've thought of, I've done, and at some point I exhaust my creativity to think of the next one.  I run out of ways to go more deeply, so I move horizontally.  I try the next new thing that floods me with ideas and hope that as I go in that direction I'm working my way up a gentle hill, toward someday being the player I want.  This the opposite of Miyake Taiko's approach.  I don't know if it's right, but seeing tonight's show, it feels like the better bet.