Tatsuya Nakatani is seemingly always on the road.
Not only is his acoustic percussion show completely improvised, making each set a unique experience, but he applies the same explorative techniques to his career, as he embarks on a journey to Alaska, with a stop in Penticton at the 557 Artist Block along the way.
The 46-year-old creative artist and percussionist originally from Osaka, Japan came to the U.S. 22 years ago. He has released over 60 recordings in North America and Europe and has played at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. as well as the John F. Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts, among many more.
He lived and worked, learning English as a second language, day by day when he came to America.
“It’s definitely hard,” Nakatani said, admitting that he is still learning the ins and outs of the language.
When the Western News caught up with Nakatani, he was on his way from Minneapolis to play a show in Montana, driving 1,000 miles with his unique gear in tow.
He is often travelling, almost constantly since the ‘90s he said, with this latest trip headed for Alaska bringing in new adventures and challenges.
“I’ve never driven there. I’m very much looking forward to coming to new places and having new experiences,” Nakatani said.
He started playing drums in his high school band which evolved into an exploration of different genres and different styles including jazz and contemporary music. In the ‘90s he became more interested in fleshing out sounds and performing his own brand of music. Gradually developing his own method of performing, viewing music and sound from unorthodox angles, he now constructs long-form, improvised music which he said tells a story. The show is 100 per cent acoustic bringing out different elements of percussion.
“It’s called percussion, but people imagine percussion instruments like Latin percussion, bongos, symbols, but I do it a different way. I use a conventional drum kit, kind of, but I’m very selective of each item,” Nakatani said. “There are so many different sticks and metallic objects and I make different sounds.”
He experiments with all sounds, using an entire range of unconventional ways to make music whether that be through traditional or created instruments.
“You can do so many things with sound,” Nakatani said.
He has a bit of a reputation as a bowed gong player, hand-made bows like one would see a cello player use.
“The gong, people kind of only think of ‘bwang’ getting hit by a mallet, it’s a funny sound and everybody loves it, but I (use a bow) on them. I make handmade bows,” Nakatani said.
Nakatani is able to make harmonies with the longer and gentler sounds created by the gongs, large, hand-hammered Chinese gongs, making different notes and textures, with a notably different way of creating sound.
“I can sing into the gong, instead of just hitting it,” Nakatani said.
Nakatani also employs Japanese Buddhist bows, specially carved sticks and once and awhile he uses kitchen utensils.
“All of these instruments are carefully tuned and matched in sound depth, to balance my family of percussion instruments,” Nakatani said.
Each show is completely unique, improvising on stage every time he performs. While in his younger days he would explore creating new sounds, but now he is very much in control of the improvised work he creates.
“Sometimes a surprising new sound will come out, but I know exactly what I’m playing,” Nakatani said.
He does this by harnessing control of “Ma,” the Japanese word for space, distance or silence.
“I have found that Ma complements sound itself,” Nakatani said.
Asked why he gravitated to the improvised method, Nakatani wasn’t really sure.
“I have no choice actually, it chose me,” Nakatani laughed. “I’ve been playing for 30 years in music. I’m on this path and just doing things, improvised was the choice because I’m good at it I think.”
Tatsuya Nakatani comes to the 557 Artist Block on Aug. 16 with local openers the Wedman Zappa duo. Doors open at 8p.m. and tickets are $10.
Tickets are available online at www.pentictonartscouncil.com.