Mugenkyo: ‘Document’ (Live) DVD Review

Having thoroughly enjoyed Scotland-based Mugenkyo group’s powerful taiko drumming live in concert, I wondered what the DVD could offer that the live performance didn’t. After all, my home speakers simply can’t do justice to the massive odaiko drum’s rumbling vibration – which as an audience member you can physically feel in the pit of your stomach.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find the DVD riveting in rather different ways. The closer view afforded by the camera work focuses attention on player’s mesmerising, stylised hand and arm movements. ‘Hibiki’ uses the complex cross-hands tsubame-kaeshi style; ‘Nagareboshi’ movements represent shooting stars. Equally captivating is the sheer exhilaration and enthusiasm evident on the player’s faces!

You can also really appreciate the atmospheric play of light and shadow. Colour is used to enhance the mood, and spotlights throw dramatic shadows against the backdrop. In the modern ‘Chronos’ masks and streamers are lit by UV-light to create a spellbindingly spooky effect.

The inherently theatrical nature of taiko is highlighted in this format. It’s interesting to consider that the postures the drummers adopt are not strictly necessary to play the instruments.  Rather, they are a traditional part of the presentation and a complement to the sound. Performers are fit, but dexterity trumps brute strength. Toned abs, however, are definitely required (see the drumming posture of ‘Yatai Bashi’ to fully appreciate!).

I loved the shinobue flute solo by guest Nobuko Miyazaki in ‘Ushioi Uta’. The Japanese bamboo flute has a haunting, reverberating sound which I do prefer to the Western flute featured in ‘Shibu Rokku’.

Overall, this compelling compilation of footage from the 2012 autumn tour demands your full attention. It’s worthwhile viewing, whether or not you’ve had the chance to see a live Mugenkyo show. Turn the lights off, grab some rice crackers and totally immerse yourself in the experience.

Track to Try: Uchiwahaha

See the Mugenkyo Taiko website here.

Review by Vanessa Villalobos (first published in Songlines Magazine #96)

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