Jablonski, Marek (Michael)

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(iv) Instruments.

The two hourglass hand drums (tsuzumi), the larger ōtsuzumi (also ōkawa) and the smaller kotsuzumi are the most prominent instrumental accompaniment. The bodies are made of wood, usually cherry, which is carefully lacquered. Each has two horsehide heads that are stretched over hoops and then lashed to each other. Before each performance the ōtsuzumi drumheads must be heated and dried before being lashed tightly against the drum body, thus creating its characteristic high, hard crack when struck. The ōtsuzumi player often has a newly-heated drum brought to him midway through a play in order to maintain the sound. The kotsuzumi drumheads, on the other hand, are more loosely lashed against the drum body and require moisture to create their fuller, reverberating sound; this is maintained by sticking pieces of traditional paper on the back drumhead, which the player dabs with saliva and blows on throughout the performance.

When played, the ōtsuzumi is held on the left lap and struck horizontally with the right hand, while the kotsuzumi is held at the right shoulder and struck from below with the right hand. Their drumstrokes are combined with drum-calls (kakegoe) to form a variety of patterns that may accompany the chanted text or instrumental sections featuring a flute melody. The drum-calls serve as signals between the drummers and the singers (or the flute) to keep everyone together; they can also signal changes in tempo or dynamic. With a few rare exceptions, the hand drums perform together in all metred rhythmic ones and many unmetred segments (see §(v), below). The ōtsuzumi tends to be the leader of the two, since its drum-calls and its strokes are more forceful.

The nōkan (or fue) flute is the sole melodic instrument. Made of bamboo, it has a narrow pipe (nodo, literally ‘throat’) inserted between the blowhole and the first finger-hole. This upsets the normal acoustic properties of the flute pipe and is responsible for its ‘other-worldly’ sound quality. It is used in both metred and non-metred rhythmic styles in instrumental entrance music and instrumental dance segments. It is also played in free rhythm (ashirai) along with the chanted text to heighten or expand emotion. When played in unmetred segments, the flute plays set patterns improvisatorially. The melody of the flute has no specific pitch relationship with the melody of the singing, although there are some similarities in the general melodic contours of the two.

The taiko barrel drum (see Kumi-daiko) is the final and fourth instrument of the ensemble, struck from above with two thick cylindrical sticks. It is used in just over half of the plays in the traditional repertory, and then mainly in the latter half of the performance. Plays that use taiko tend to feature non-human characters such as gods, heavenly beings, demons and beasts. As with the two hand drums, the taiko player employs drum-calls which intermesh with the drum-calls of the hand drums. These also serve as signals among the drummers and to the singers or dancers.

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