Tatsuya Nakatani shakes the foundation
Gong Orchestra resonates with beauty and power
Four months ago, Japanese free-improv percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani performed at Eyedrum with avant-garde rock legend Eugene Chadbourne. The show is still vividly resonating in my head. Not because of the music created by the duo, but almost solely because of the bombastic drum and cymbal work performed by Nakatani. The active percussionist has been a fixture in the New York City improvised jazz scene since the late 1990s, playing in groups with Billy Bang, Roy Campbell, Sabir Mateen, and many others. But it's in the solo and duo setting where Nakatani shines. During his duet with Chadbourne, the drummer played with a full set, including a large cooler of bells, sound-making toys, and household items, but it's easy to get the impression that he could captivate an audience just bowing a cymbal for an hour. He definitely falls in the "not to be missed" category, but for those poor souls who did miss it, Nakatani is returning with an even more impressive spectacle.
This time around, not only will Nakatani present a solo set, but he will be showcasing the Atlanta debut of his Nakatani Gong Orchestra (NGO). The NGO was formed in 2011 with the idea of Nakatani touring and conducting local musicians on gongs of various sizes and shapes. While this scenario seems like it could be prone to chaos, the result is anything but that. The Orchestra's sound comes together like a meticulously planned ride through a Tarkovsky landscape: a slow, hypnotic journey that draws listeners into the full glory of sound itself. "The important things are quality of sound instead of skill," Nakatani says. "It is better to make a nice sound and blend into the Gong Orchestral sonic village. I request some non-musician players as well. They sometimes do better than musicians."
For the Atlanta show, Nakatani tasked Eyedrum Board Director and promoter Robert Kee to function as curator, picking 11 players who will have no previous interaction with the conductor other than practicing with Nakatani on the day of the show. Kee echoes Nakatani's vision for the orchestra: "It's more about them (the players) being able to follow instructions, listen, not try to do their own thing. It's very much conducted/directed by him. I would not say the gong orchestra is improvised at all."
As Kee is familiar with the work of local 20th century classical outfit the Chamber Cartel, he chose Cartel member Caleb Herron to participate in the NGO concert. Local Balinese-percussion enthusiast Grady Cousins and percussion innovator Klimchak will also perform, with Benjamin Shirley, Victor Pons, Brandon Dodge, Isaac Anderson, Olivia Kieffer, Katy Gunn, and Cecilia Trode rounding out the cast of players.
A video of the Orchestra's Seattle show from 2011 reveals Nakatani conducting performers using a complex series of hand movements and gestures, like a commander leading a secret military team on an audio assault raid. The attention paid by performers and audience members alike is intense, and the sound is focused, save for the few moments where everything spirals into a vortex of sound. If footage from the Seattle show is any indication of what to expect, the Nakatani Gong Orchestra will be an experience not just to be seen and heard, but to be felt.