05 May Creating ROTATIONS
(thoughts from Jason Matsumoto about the creation of Ho Etsu’s first album: ROTATIONS)
R O T A T I O N S celebrates the long and sometimes cyclical path we’ve taken in our taiko travels. As we rehearse, create and collaborate, we revisit moments of learning, each time with a greater understanding.
One album, many milestones.
Throughout my taiko career, I’ve been fortunate to cross paths with experts in many styles, traditions and techniques. I’ve gained knowledge about group leadership from some of the best, and love exposing Ho Etsu to new teachers to enrich our understanding of composition, song structure and musical depth.
But I credit my very first taiko teacher for developing my most important taiko characteristic. Her support gave me the confidence to keep creating new things. Every idea was welcomed. Self-expression was applauded. Looking back, this was probably a life lesson as much as a taiko lesson. So thank you, Mom! You are as much a part of this music as I am. Milestone one.
For Ho Etsu, this album is a moment to reflect on our progress. Years ago, we set out to transform our “group” into an “ensemble”. Each member took up this challenge with conviction, dedicating themselves to improving our sound, progressing technically, and writing music with heart. It took serious commitment, and our ensemble is filled with beautiful people who always strive to be better. Ryan, Emily, Dana, Donny, Tiana, Alexa, Jamie…thank you! Milestone two.
Leading up to the concert, Ryan and I visited Shoji in LA to start work on what would become Parallax. Through this process – sitting in the On Ensemble studio, drinking triple-shot americanos and working out sound combinations late into the night – I started to understand how a composer like Shoji can harness creativity in a focused way. We were making music that represented who we were. And it was clear that risk-taking was expected. We wanted vocals. We didn’t know exactly what we wanted, but we knew voice was part of the piece. Monastic Japanese chanting? Or non-descript vocal melodies? What about lyrics in English? “English lyrics…sounds really hard,” said Shoj, pausing momentarily. “We should do it”. So we did it. Mas Baba, Eien Hunter-Ishikawa and Sumie Kaneko are unbelievable musicians and you’ll hear their contributions all over this CD. But beyond the music, Ho Etsu built lasting relationships with some wonderful people. Milestone three.
Our artistic partners amaze me. Ben Standage, who convinced me that we should mic every drum for the performance, brought a depth of foresight and sound engineering talent that pushed this CD into existence. Lydia Fu provided the illustration and architected the album’s layout. She worked tirelessly to nail the artistic vision. I asked her to consider the case itself as a standalone piece of art. Holding it now, I’m humbled to know that the music we made has been represented so beautifully in the physical world.