Exploring the limitless possibilities of the traditional Japanese drum, the taiko, Kodō are forging new directions for a vibrant living art-form. In Japanese the word “Kodō” conveys two meanings: firstly, ‘heartbeat’ the primal source of all rhythm. The sound of the great taiko is said to resemble a mother’s heartbeat as felt in the womb, and it is no myth that babies are often lulled asleep by its thunderous vibrations. Secondly, read in a different way, the word can mean ‘children of the drum’, a reflection of Kodō’s desire to play their drums simply, with the heart of a child. Since their debut at the Berlin Festival in 1981, Kodō have given over 2800 performances on all 5 continents, spending about a third of the year overseas, a third touring in Japan and a third resting and preparing new material on Sado Island.
After more than a decade of living in a converted schoolhouse, Kodō finally obtained 25 acres (100,000 m2) of thickly-forested land on the Ogi peninsula in the southern part of Sado island, and in 1988 the opening ceremony of the village was held.
In keeping with Kodō’s dedication to preserving traditional arts, the first structure, the main office building, was reassembled from the timbers of a 200 year-old farmhouse that was scheduled for demolition. It has now been extended and includes communal cooking and dining areas as well as a library devoted to world music and dance.
Since then, a reception building (also a reassembled farmhouse), a dormitory building, a studio and most recently a new rehearsal hall have been added. In addition to these main communal buildings, married members of the group have been building family homes on surrounding land.
Taiko (太鼓) means ‘drum’ in Japanese. Outside Japan, the word is often used to refer to any of the various Japanese drums and to the relatively recent art-form of ensemble taiko drumming. Taiko drums have been developed into a wide range of percussion instruments that are used in Japanese folk, ritual and classical musical traditions.
Taiko, in general, are stick percussion instruments. With the exception of the kotsuzumi and ootsuzumi, all taiko are struck with bachi. They have heads on both sides of the drum body, and a sealed resonating cavity. Taiko are also characterized by a high amount of tension on the drums heads, with a correspondingly high pitch relative to body size. This high tension likely developed in response to Japan’s wet and humid summers when most festivals take place. Many taiko are not tunable, and a drum with high head tension would counteract the slacking effects of humidity.
Taiko are categorized into 2 types of construction. Byou-uchi daiko (鋲撃ち太鼓) have heads nailed to the body. Tsukushime-daiko (付締 め太鼓) have heads sewn onto iron rings, which are then laced to each other around the drum body. Byou-uchi daiko are typically hollowed out of a single piece of wood. The preferred wood is keyaki (欅) due to its density and beautiful grain, but a number of other woods are used. Byou-uchi daiko cannot be tuned, and their sizes are limited by the diameter of the tree they are made from. The typical byou-uchi daiko is the nagado-daiko (長胴太鼓, long-body taiko). Nakado-daikos are available in a variety of sizes, from 12 to 36 inches (head diameter). Nagado-daikos over 36 inches are also available, but they are referred to as ōdaiko (大太鼓, ‘great drum’). The largest ōdaikos (with a length of 2.4 m, a maximum diameter of 2.4 m, a weight of 3 tons, made out of a single piece of wood from a 1200 year old tree) are too big to move and permanently reside inside a temple or shrine. Tsukeshime-daiko are available in a wide variety of styles, and are tunable. This style of taiko is typically tensioned before each performance. The tensioning system is usually rope, but bolt systems and turnbuckles have been used as well. Tsukeshime-daiko can either have stitched heads placed on bodies carved from single piece of wood, such as the shime-daiko and tsuzumi, or stitched heads placed on a stave-construction body such as the okedo-daiko.
“Traditional rituals recast as theater, and contemporary thoughts about ancient instruments both figure in Kodo’s performance, which includes ancient and modern compositions. Yet with tense, angular postures, with stylized, frozen gestures and, in one playful piece, with animal-like scampering and slithering, Kodo reminds its audience that, above all, its music is a matter of flesh and blood, wood and stretched skin. Kodo can raise the roof, but the group can also show extraordinary finesse.” – The New York Times, USA