Thursday, September 15, 2016

Japanese taiko vs. North American taiko

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Ooh, controversial topic, right?  Nah.

I was just thinking to last week when Yurika was playing YouTube clips of taiko groups and I couldn't see them, just hear them.  For different clips, she asked if I thought it was a Japanese or North American group, and I was able to tell each time.  But how?

Well I'm going to start by saying this post isn't about judgement or rating.  It's going to be objective in the hopes that people reading it will consider aesthetics and factors they may not have noticed before.  I also want to say that while many of the things I note below may be true, they are not in any way exclusive to either region.  And finally, I'm not going to guess right each time, it was just a fun game.

1.) Kiai.  This is the easiest way for me to tell which of the two types of taiko I'm hearing.  Japanese kiai tend to sound like Japanese words with Japanese phonetics, and often - not always - use more hara in execution.  NA taiko often has kiai that are heavy on the "s" sound, and the vowels often have English phonetics.

2.) Patterns.  Often, NA taiko has a lot of polyrhythms and syncopation.  It's not like this is uncommon in Japanese taiko, but I find it's not as prominent.  Again, not a judgement, just an observation.  I think it comes from the Western ear and the music people listen to growing up.  With Japanese taiko, you get patterns that are not always in a predictable meter, that still have a flow.  For example, you might get two measures of eight followed by something in six, then something in four, then back to eight, or something in fourteen...ish.

3.) Repetition.  Somewhat related to the above, but I feel like there's more repetition in patterns and sequences in Japanese taiko.  Listen to a song like Miyake, Hachijo, or Zoku and you get a LOT of the same pattern...and then some more of it.  Listen to pretty much any NA taiko song and patterns are changing fairly often, especially in solos.

Those are the main three aspects I notice, but rather than go into a few others I can sometimes notice, I want to stop there and ask you what you notice when you listen to taiko music.  Can you spot differences, accounting for different levels of skill?

And let's not forget that taiko goes well past Japan and North America!  How do South American groups sound different than European groups than groups from Asia?  It's not that you have to judge, I just think it's a great tool to just have that awareness that there are differences, then the skills to hear them!

Even if you disagree with my points above, even if you can point out songs or groups that prove me wrong, at least you're being aware of those aesthetics, which is my goal for this post in the first place!

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