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Experience thundering rhythms on huge taiko drums, mysterious masked choreography with inventive lighting, muscular synchronisation timed to perfection, post-apocalyptic martial imagery and infectious belly-laugh humour, all in a spellbinding display of sheer athleticism. Feel the energy and experience the power of this unique performance. As the most successful touring taiko drum group on this continent, Mugenkyo have developed a spectacular, passionate style with music for the soul, fusing the traditional spirit with a contemporary look and sound to create a modern stage performance that has captivated audiences everywhere.
1) What does "Mugenkyo" mean?
Mugenkyo can be translated as "limitless reverberation" "sound everlasting" "endless rhythm". We named the group after our teacher's group "Hibiki Daiko" - Hibiki can also be read as "Kyo". The idea was that the reverberation of Taiko knows no boundaries and spreads throughout the world.
2) How traditional is Mugenkyo?
We play traditional instruments and we have a strong foundation in the traditional Taiko discipline. However, we are modern in our approach. We compose our own music and we are developing a uniquely European form of Taiko.
3) Is Taiko spiritual?
Taiko is originally religious and spiritual music, played in temples and shrines in Japan. In Japan, Taiko is still played at all kinds of religious ceremonies, however it is also played in every other imaginable venue and purpose. In Mugenkyo, although Taiko has spiritual meaning to individual members of the group, as a group we are mainly concerned with Taiko as a performing art.
4) Do you ad-lib in your playing?
Yes. We were very fortunate to learn the Hokuriku style, which is one of the few areas in Japan where improvising is part of traditional Taiko. In other areas of the country Taiko is far more rigid. Once we learned the traditional patterns, then we were given permission to mix them around - so this is a form of ad-lib within the structures of Taiko.
5) Have you ever mixed Taiko with other instruments or other disciplines?
In 2010 & 2011 we collaborated with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. In 2008 & 2009 we worked on a joint project with bagpipes, harp, fiddle, Indian song, tabla & dance. In 2004 we presented the show “Rinnetensho”, with taiko, dance, electronic music and projected visuals. We have also collaborated with rock musicians, Japanese sword fighting masters, and of course other traditional Japanese instruments such as Shamisen, Shinobue flute and even a Japanese choir!
6) Do you use western musical notation?
Taiko is traditionally taught using verbal notation: for example "Don Kara Ka Su Don Don". In Mugenkyo we still learn rhythms verbally, as we believe that chanting rhythms enable you to feel the rhythm with your whole being. However we do also use notation as a method of recording our songs.
7) What does all the shouting mean?
We shout "sup", "sore", "ha", "sya", etc. while we play. These don't actually mean anything. These are random shouts (not cues!) to let out our "ki" energy, and also to shout encouragement to the other players. They are similar to the "kiai" shouts in martial arts.
8) What are the drums made of?
The nagado drums carved from single tree trunks are made from keyaki - a kind of Japanese elm. The very biggest of the o-daiko (big drum) are made from African Bubinga trees. The okedo barrel drums are made from cedar.
9) What are the skins made of?
They're made of cowhide. In ancient Japan the original Taiko were made of badger's skin and other smaller animals, then they were made of horse-hide. Now you can get both horse and cowhide drums, although cowhide is far more common.
10) Do you ever break a skin?
In Japan a Taiko drum is said to last a lifetime. However, this was probably said before the days of professional touring groups! We expect our skins to last between 7 and 10 years. When they break, we have to send the drums back to Japan to be re-skinned.
11) How many Taiko groups are there?
There are about 20,000 groups in Japan - mostly community groups but with a handful of excellent top-class groups. There are hundreds of groups in the USA, and at the last count about 50 performing groups in Europe - of which Mugenkyo is the only professional touring group.
12) Who does Taiko appeal to?
It may be a cliché, but Taiko really does appeal to everyone. Taiko cuts across musical boundaries - we have performed at festivals for every kind of music - jazz, classical, rock, folk. Taiko really is the "people's music".
13) What do Japanese audiences think of Mugenkyo?
We perform in Japan regularly at theatres, festivals and events, as well as appearing on television and radio - and it's gone down a storm! Japanese people really appreciate the fact that we take Taiko very seriously & respect the art-form greatly.
14) Do women play Taiko in Japan?
In ancient times women were not allowed to play Taiko, because they were considered too polluted to play the sacred instrument! However this is no longer the case, and since the 1950's there has been a huge growth in the number of women playing Taiko. Now there are many all-women's groups and mixed groups, in fact there are probably just as many female Taiko players as male.
15) Where can I learn how to do this?
We run workshops from our base: the Mugen Taiko Dojo, in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. The Mugen Taiko Dojo is UK's first purpose-made Taiko drumming centre. Workshops are advertised through our newsletter and website.
***** Three Weeks
“Combining their powerful drumming with fiercely energetic stage presence, the Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers are an almighty musical force… Showcasing their innovative taiko drumming, the group deliver an intense, playful and unique performance using a combination of bells, gongs, hand-held drums, flutes and a number of enormous odaiko drums”
***** Fest Magazine
“It’s not just a banquet for the ears – there’s also an impressive visual component to the show. The group exploit the hypnotic symmetries in the frantic movements of the musicians, using glow-in-the-dark drumsticks, masks and ribbon dancing under UV lights to dazzling effect. Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers show is one of discipline, power and intensity. Exotic enough to sustain interest and set itself apart from the majority of Fringe shows, while not being so esoteric as to alienate the audience, this theatrical performance is fiercely impressive.”
"Mugenkyo perform Taiko with manifest skill and awesome relentless energy. Having learned the ancient drumming techniques from Japanese master Kurumaya [Mugenkyo] showcases its musical presentation in totally modern style, making the esoteric thoroughly pop. Splendidly exploiting the theatrical potential of their intensely forceful drumming and mesmeric heat of the rhythm, they leap from drum to drum, dance around them with mini cymbals and handbells, and strike vivid gestures with choreographed force…Mugenkyo sustains its appeal right to the climax, winning thunderous applause."
"This latest show is something else. It is, unashamedly, drumming as theatre, but also drumming as an almost religious experience… exhilarating to behold. Even if you've seen them before, you'll be gobsmacked."
The Glasgow Herald
" ***** If ever there was a musical incarnation of raw physical power, Taiko drumming has to be it. Mugenkyo have brought their energetic Taiko performance to Edinburgh, receiving whoops of joy from its audiences. Taiko drumming is as much a physical spectacle as an aural one; the drummers use calculated, disciplined movements... Your whole body begins to reverberate as the soft patter of raindrops grows into a deep rumble. Just when you think it could not get any more powerful, it doubles in intensity.
This show is not one to be missed."
Edinburgh Evening News
“A display of drumming that would have left poor Ringo breathless. Martial arts met musicianship with intricately choreographed and hugely dramatic routines. The performers showed not only mastery of the instruments but immense physical fitness. It takes strength and stamina to play some of these drums, particularly the massive Odaiko drum that dominates the stage. The real surprise is the flexibility of these instruments which were both moody, sensitive, hypnotic and rousing.
It was electrifying stuff and hugely appreciated by a lively audience. For virtuoso drumming, this was hard to beat.”
The Stafford Sentinel
" **** The members of Mugenkyo, Europe's only professional Taiko drumming group, perform with what seems an unlikely combination of reckless abandon and metronome-like precision. Armed with wooden sticks, they whack their drums - which range from small, bowl-sized instruments to others the size of boulders - in a combination of synchronised movements reminiscent of tai chi. But there is nothing tai chi-like about the sound: a heady, relentless and rigid beat over which complex counter-rhythms are steadily added. From a soft pitter-pattering evocative of a slight rainfall to a thundering, eardrum-bursting shudder loud enough to wake the gods, these musicians display a remarkable control, with not a beat out of place anywhere."
"To play this music you need to be seriously dedicated, not just to its musical disciplines but absolutely physically fit. This is not music for wimps. A tour de force of both music and stamina…
If the tour bus is parked in your neighbourhood my advice is go to the gig and don't take the cotton wool."
Avant Jazz Magazine
"In the hands of Mugenkyo, Japanese taiko drumming becomes a totality, taking in everything from music to performance… Rules were made to be broken, and Mugenkyo do it with panache, not only with their costumes and startling choreography, but also the drums themselves.."
“Almost spiritual…the energy exhibited by the performers was thrilling to behold.”
Aberdeen Press & Journal