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Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2001



Trying to describe the sound of Gocoo, the 13-member taiko ensemble led by Kaoly Asano, I am driven to geological comparisons: the rumble of tectonic plates shifting; the rhythmic pulse of surf on rock; and pure, primal eruptions of magma. This is music you feel more than listen to.

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At a recent concert at Musashino Daigaku, the floor literally shook from the wave of bass energy, as layer upon layer of tuned drums -- augmented by didgeridoo virtuoso Goro -- wove a tapestry of rhythms on top. Given that taiko is traditionally a male activity, it's good to see that most of Gocoo's members are women, displaying a sinewy ferocity to match any male group.

While Gocoo's sound lies in traditional roots, this is not concert hall music, but music to move to, as attested by the band's frequent appearances at outdoor raves. Asano has purposely fashioned Gocoo to appeal to younger audiences skeptical of stodgy tradition.

This could be dismissed as gimmicky if Gocoo weren't so damned good. Several years of constant rehearsal has resulted in a sound that's free-flowing but tight, seemingly improvisational, but subtly arranged. Asano describes the group's creative process as "organic."

"It's not like working from a score," she says. "We start by imagining a basic structure and begin drumming really simple phrases. Everyone throws in some ideas and we start to flesh it out. Then we elaborate on those parts and continue to take it to another level. It's really time-consuming -- it can take us six months to a year to whip it into shape."

On a recent U.S. tour, the band spent two weeks playing on Native American reservations, an experience that has seen them hit new heights of power and intensity in their performances. "What I'm always aiming for," says Asano, "is when we strike those drums, what results is not 13 sounds but one. That's my passion -- to connect through spirit in sound."

Gocoo, with Goro, will perform Dec. 9, from 7 p.m., at On Air West in Shibuya, Tokyo. Tickets are 3,500 yen in advance (available from Ticket Pia or Lawson's); 3,600 yen at the door. For more information, call (03) 5458-4646.

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