Tag Archives: taiko

Christine Calfas, tiny taiko, big WHOOP

By Bob Hicks

That’s WHOOP, all upper-case. Small word, big noise.

Last time we wrote about Ten Tiny Taiko Dances it was first-gathering time, when everyone involved was meeting and hatching ideas. It was sort of like the first real date after the speed-dating hookup: everyone was pumped about the possibilities, but also just a little nervous and not sure what to do next.

Time flies. Today, as Mr. Scatter basks temporarily in a sunny little subtropical village dotted with palm trees (locals call it “San Francisco”), he realizes that suddenly this audacious collaboration of Mike Barber‘s Ten Tiny Dances and Portland Taiko‘s big bad sonic boom of drumming is almost upon us: Performances are at 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the Winningstad Theatre.

Who’d’a thunk Barber’s devilish little squeeze of a dance format (Ten Tiny Dances is performed on a 4-by-4-foot platform) would go out on a date with the extroverted Japanese American drumming of Portland Taiko? Christine Calfas, for one.

Christine Calfas in her attic studio, preparing to WHOOP.To see how this oddball matchup was shaking down, last Sunday afternoon Mr. Scatter putt-putted over to Calfas’s attic Studio 297.

We scrambled upstairs with crushed-mint iced tea and a highly attentive gray cat named Govinda, then sat by a low platform with a laptop computer on it and a drum set — it belongs to Joe Trump, Calfas’s musical collaborator on her tiny dance, WHOOP — in the background.

Against the wall, neatly arranged on a futon on the studio floor, an array of black-handled knives glinted softly in the light.

“I’ve been working with blades as images for a while,” Calfas explained, including a piece for last summer’s Richard Foreman Festival. WHOOP, she added casually, will include 88 knives (is it coincidence that this is also the number of keys on a piano?) “plus nine more knives, plus two circular saws.”

Continue reading Christine Calfas, tiny taiko, big WHOOP

Bang the drums loudly (Take 3)

Photo: Rich Iwasaki, copyright 2003

People talk about how making a movie is mostly about standing around and waiting.
But all performance arts have those quiet times — the quiets before the storms — and before a recording session it’s a busy quiet. You’re not just getting yourself ready, the way you routinely do before any performance. You’re making sure the instruments and recording apparati are just right, too.

One night not too long ago I drove out to the theater at Clackamas Community College near Oregon City, where the drumming ensemble Portland Taiko was in the last stages of recording its newest CD, and it made for one of the more intriguing hurry-up-and-waits I’ve sat through in quite a while. I was invited not as a working journalist but as a friend of the company: I’ve recently joined Portland Taiko’s board, marking the first time, after decades of observing arts organizations, that I’ve taken a hand at actually making decisions to help one do its work.

Recording sessions are funny things, and this one, for the CD Rhythms of Change: The Way Home, which will be released in August, is no exception. In order to get those precious moments of surging, melting sound, everything has to be prepared just so. Which generally means laying down an undergrowth of electrical wires, erecting a small forest of microphone booms, placing and re-placing baffles and makeshift mufflers (an old blanket might do the trick), arranging and rearranging the positions of players and instruments so that sometimes the people playing can neither see nor hear one another. The focus is up there, above the seats, behind those glass doors in the booth. That’s where everything has to balance and play right.

On this night the ensemble is getting ready to record  a piece called Slipping Through My Fingers, by artistic director Michelle Fujii, that features not only the array of drums that are central to taiko but also a violin, which alternately leads and counterbalances the sound. Except that most of the drummers can’t actually see the violinist, Keiko Araki, who is standing far stage left, hidden from view by a mini-wall of sound-directing barriers.

The drums range from a little bigger than trap size to the looming odaiko, a fatter-than-a-bass drum sitting on a gorgeous wooden stand. All of these hand-fashioned drums are beautiful, from their stretched skins to their burnished wooden finishes to their finely polished metal stays and tuners. But on this night, beauty — that is, visual beauty, which is of no consequence to a sound recording — doesn’t count. Most of the drums are wrapped inelegantly in white T-shirts to keep any metal parts from rattling. (You’d also better not cough, and your shoes had better not be squeaky.)

Continue reading Bang the drums loudly (Take 3)