Eugene Taiko on stage at the 2013 Obon Festival in Eugene (all photos by Jerry Gleason)
Eugene Taiko is one of the hundreds of modern kumi daiko ensembles located across the
Eugene Taiko performs "Hachijo." That's me on the right.
Architect-blogger extraordinaire Bob Borson recently tweeted the link to his 2011 post “Harmony,” in which he wrote about the significance of music in his life, particularly during his formative years, and its influence upon his becoming an architect. Music likewise played a big part during my youth. Besides the obligatory piano lessons, I was also a quintessential band geek, mastering in turn the clarinet, saxophone, and ultimately the trombone. Regrettably, I left this side of my life in the rearview mirror when I entered college and architecture school. However, like Bob, my appreciation for music—its structure, process, and power to move us—would never really wane even though it would be many years before I could again describe myself as a musician.
Goethe famously described architecture as “frozen music.” Countless architects, musicians, philosophers, and theorists before and since his time have attempted to define the parallels and common structures of the two arts. A quick Internet search yields an equally vast set of results. Among the most articulate of these, the following quote from one of my favorite writers on architecture, Charles Jencks, stands out:
“. . . music and architecture have been intimately joined by a cosmic connection, the idea that they both are generated by an underlying code. This order, revealed by mathematics and geometry, was first espoused by Pythagoras who lived in southern Italy, and it led to many Greek temples designed on proportional principles revealing not only supreme beauty but the music of the heavenly spheres—either God or nature.
“As abstract art forms based on rhythm, proportion, and harmony, architecture and music share a clear cultural lineage.”
The website NEXT.cc provides another excellent essay on the congruities between music and architecture:
“Renaissance architect Leon Battista Alberti said that the same characteristics that please the eye also please the ear. Musical terms such as rhythm, texture, harmony, proportion, dynamics, and articulation refer both to architecture and to music. Rhythm in music is patterns of sounds in relation to a beat; repetition of elements - openings, shapes, structural bays- establish regular or irregular rhythm in architecture. Musical texture refers to layers of sounds and rhythms produced by different instruments. Architectural texture appears in different materials. Harmony is balance of sound or composition and balance of parts together. Proportion is relationship between parts; in music it is distance between notes or intervals. Dynamics is the quality of action in music or in a building’s facade or mass.”
Taiko drumming relies mostly upon rhythm alone to communicate subtle nuances and deep emotions. Additionally though, taiko is very much a visual art form and in this regard the parallels with architecture are reinforced. Choreography is an essential aspect of every taiko performance. So too are colors and patterns. As with every taiko group, Eugene Taiko rigorously emphasizes form or kata. We systematically practice to hone our technique. Our elusive goal is the attainment of formal perfection through outwardly smooth and simple means. Formal perfection, especially when achieved with seeming effortlessness, is also a Holy Grail for architects.
Ever since taking up taiko, I’ve mulled over what is common between taiko drumming and my love for architecture. I do think both pursuits appeal to me in ways that are more alike than different. Fundamentally, the beauty of both is grounded upon the foundations of tradition, their play upon order and structure, and the joy they are so capable of generating. I can’t imagine my life now without either.
(1) Translated from Japanese, “taiko” literally means “great” or “wide drum.”
(2) Fellow architect Ken Nagao formed Eugene Taiko the year before. He invited me to one of the group’s practices and I was instantly hooked. I joined as one of the youngest members of ET; I’m somewhat astonished by the fact that I’m now the oldest of the bunch. Taiko can be strenuous; most of the original members retired from the group because assorted physical ailments took their toll. I hope to stick with taiko as long as my body will allow me to.
(3) Both Kodo and Ondekoza have performed in
(4) Practitioners of taiko consider their drums living things, members of the greater natural world of which we’re all a part.. Eugene Taiko has christened each of its drums with names such as “Mizu” (water), “Kokoro” (feeling), and “