The traditional drum ensemble Kodo hails from Japan, but the performers’ international acclaim speaks to how eloquently they communicate to people of all languages with their percussion prowess.
Since Kodo made its resounding debut at the Berlin Festival in 1981, the group has given more than 6,000 performances in 50 countries on five continents, according to its website. Notable appearances have been at the Nobel Peace Prize 100th anniversary concert and during the official national anthem of the 2002 FIFA World Cup KOREA/JAPAN.
The group will bring its “Kodo One Earth Tour 2019: Evolution” to Eau Claire on Saturday for a performance in Pablo Center at the Confluence’s RCU Theatre.
Kodo communicates through language barriers for a simple reason, said Yuta Sumiyoshi, one of the main composers of “Evolution”: Its art relies on a common thread of humanity.
Sumiyoshi spoke through interpreter Koji Miyagi by phone recently after the group had arrived in Boulder, Colo., for a performance. As he explained, one of the natural human instincts is to hit. “That is actually one of the tools which transcends national boundaries or history,” Sumiyoshi said.
While that makes all of Kodo’s performances appealing to a wide audience, Sumiyoshi also noted elements that make “Evolution” especially profound. For one thing, the name accurately reflects how the group has evolved through the variety of music performed.
“In this production we have one of the oldest (musical pieces) that Kodo has been doing,” he said. “At the same time, we’ve been doing very new stuff … and we’ve been composing many works for this production.”
Kodo’s instrumentation for “Evolution” also has extended beyond the sound of the traditional Japanese taiko drum. In fact, they’ve incorporated Western instruments such as the timpani, concert bass drum, snare drum and tom-tom, he said.
Considering the group’s globe-trotting concert itinerary, Sumiyoshi was asked if audiences from the varied corners of the world differ in how they express appreciation for Kodo performances.
“It’s totally different between the countries we have been touring for the past decade,” he replied. “To talk about this specifically it’s going to take many hours but … it is different (depending on) how people perceive music or the varieties of their perception and also how they interact with music culturally or historically.”
As for the U.S., he continued, “I would say audiences in the States tend to like to express the energy with the performers simultaneously while the show is going on.”
To be at their best for the show, the performers need to stay fresh physically and mentally, Sumiyoshi said. As he put it, staying physically refreshed requires some muscular training — but only up to a point.
“We’ve been doing a lot of running and exercise,” he said. “At the same time a very important thing for the performer is to be in a very natural state, and the reason why is there’s also a limit when you use a muscles. You get tired after a certain point, and when the muscle gets tired the sound becomes weaker.”
Another way Kodo members ensure their powerful, rhythmic sound reverberates through performance halls is by embracing their travels, Sumiyoshi said. “(W)henever we travel to a new city we go outside take a look at the city and see what the city is like, see what the people are like and feel the new city with our five senses.”
In a blog post at the start of the year, Kodo ensemble leader Yuichiro Funabashi wrote that the previous year marked a shift toward younger Kodo performers taking up creative reins. Asked if it’s a balancing act to honor Kodo’s traditions while incorporating younger artists into the productions, he said striking such a balance allows the group to stay true to its spirit.
Describing the Kodo spirit as “striving for this one desirable sound,” Sumiyoshi said they achieve that goal through members’ interaction. “And that has never changed at all,” he said. “We have to keep changing to protect the Kodo spirit.”