Thursday, August 25, 2016


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Wabi-sabi is a Japanese aesthetic that can be defined as "flawed beauty".  It's the art of imperfection.  A crack in a cup gives the cup more personality; an aged book makes the book more interesting. There's a lot more to the definition, but for purposes of this post, that will do.

In taiko, we tend to like things to look as much alike as possible.  We strive, in kumi-daiko (ensemble drumming) to have people play as one.  The default seems to be to achieve perfection where everything looks and sounds perfect.

But would that be a good thing?

At the SJT studio, we have one of our original taiko, an ex-whiskey barrel with one head removed.  It looks old, the metal rings are still attached from it's boozier days, and we rarely ever play on it.  The sound from it, however, is unique.  It's not bright and punchy like any of the other taiko I hear - not just in our collection, but in other performances.  The attack is very loud and crisp, the decay is quick but deep.

Many years ago, at either our 20th or 25th anniversary concert (I forget which), we used another of our original taiko that was also without a second head.  The sound was unique and chosen for a takebue piece.  Because it didn't look as nice as we'd like, we draped it in a cloth for the performance.  Without that drum, I think the song would have lost a lot of its musical quality and been another flute+drum piece.

So consider, while we strive for perfection, that perfection isn't the only goal.  Quality doesn't always mean flawless and sometimes beauty can be found in the differences between things.

(If you like this post or the idea of wabi-sabi, I highly suggest looking online for pictures or even articles on the subject!)

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