Kodo drummers help modern technology blend with one of Japan’s most traditional instruments.
Taiko, Japanese drums, have a centuries-long cultural legacy. Often heard at Japanese festivals and religious ceremonies, their driving, primal sound occupies an important place in the nation’s hearts and ears.
Shizuoka-based Roland Corporation, though, is about to unveil a modernized version of the instrument. For the past year, the company has been developing an electronic taiko, and the working prototype is now complete.
Roland isn’t interested in riding roughshod over taiko traditions, though. Rather than handle the design completely on its own, the company partnered with Kodo, an internationally recognized taiko performance group and the most active ambassadors for Japanese drumming in the modern era.
While electronic pads for Western-style drum sets are already widely available, developing an electronic taiko presented several challenges. Taiko techniques involve striking various locations of the drum’s head and rim to produce a variety of sounds, and so the electronic taiko is equipped with three different vibration-detecting sensors that send a signal to the electronic taiko’s speaker when the drum is struck.
Taiko are also large instruments, and Roland’s electronic version is no exception. Based on the class of taiko called katsugidaiko, the unit is outfitted with a shoulder strap, allowing the musician to play it while standing and using the full power of his arms and hips.
The day when you can walk into a music store and buy an electronic taiko of your own is still a while off, but Roland’s prototype will be seeing action in the field at live performances on August 19 at the Earth Celebration art and music event on Niigata Prefecture’s Sado Island, where Kodo is annually one of the top draws. The instrument will not only be heard at Kodo’s own stage appearance, but also those of flamenco musicians and Japanese vocalists, showing that while taiko has a long and proud past, there’s still more to come in its future.