Artistic Director of TaikOz Ian Cleworth discusses the ensemble’s latest project ‘pulse:heart:beat’.

Percussion ensemble TaikOz have been bringing traditional Japanese drumming to Australian audiences since 1997. Playing on authentic Japanese taiko drums, they have been described by the Sydney Morning Herald as “energetic, hypnotic and elemental”. On Friday, TaikOz are presenting pulse:heart:beat at City Recital Hall Angel Place in collaboration with Synergy Percussion. Their Artistic Director Ian Cleworth tells us a little about what audiences can expect.

The program includes a lot of musical styles. What's the biggest influence?

Our ‘pulse:heart:beat’ program is a celebration of rhythm – rhythms that are drawn from all sorts of genres and musical spheres. It’s a riot of rhythmic colour!

For pulse:heart:beat, TaikOz is collaborating with Synergy Percussion. How is it combining traditional Japanese percussion with modern percussion?

Although the roots of taiko lie in Japanese culture – aspects of which can be traced back centuries – taiko performance today is very much a contemporary mode of expression that has moved into the international sphere. All the TaikOz members are well versed in traditional aspects of taiko playing, but we also have a wide combination of other musical, dance and cultural backgrounds that informs our music and performance. TaikOz adds a certain element of drama and dynamic energy – not to mention a huge dynamic range – to Synergy's amazing palette of sounds and fabulously complex rhythms, so the combination is very much a synergistic one!

What makes the taiko so versatile?

Although taiko are not overly complex in their construction, many of TaikOz's instruments have been lovingly hand-crafted by one of the most distinguished drum makers in Japan – the Asano Taiko Company, who in 2009 celebrated 400 years of making taiko in an unbroken lineage! They are made from the finest and most beautiful natural materials and possess a really warm and earthy tone. The thing about taiko, though, is that the variety of styles of playing – some dating back centuries – are bewildering in their number and complexity of technique. Each style informs both the movement and the rhythmic languages, which makes us very versatile, indeed!

Your piece Awakening is featured in the program. What was it inspired by?

In my piece I’ve tried to make effective use of the taiko's huge dynamic range. Curiously, the deep, resonant tone of the big taiko can have a somewhat mesmerising and calming effect on the listener, and I'm hoping that this combination of focussed ‘centeredness’ and emotional ‘inexorability’ will rouse something of an awakening of the mind and the spirit in the listener.

How do visuals by artists like Tokyo Love-In and Chris Wilson enhance the performance?

We've avoided the idea of our music functioning as a soundtrack to the film. Rather, the visuals, which comprise all manner of abstract, animated and natural images, have been made and edited with the aim of maintaining a ‘dialogue’ with the sound. There are some incredible images on display – some extremely seductive and beautiful, others angular and complex – and I think we've come up with some terrific music that sometimes matches and compliments, and sometimes works in opposition to the visuals.

What directorial challenges did you face with the inclusion of film and animation?

The film makers have responded to our music each in their own way, which has given us a wonderfully kaleidoscopic result. I can't wait to see it all come together on the big screen at Angel Place – not that I'll have much time to look!

TaikOz perform pulse:heart:beat with Synergy Percussion at City Recital Hall Angel Place, June 28 & 29