Improvisational gongs performed at the Orpheum

Photo by Derian Silva | Tatsuya Nakatani conducting and performing with his gong orchestra, Tuesday, Sept. 5.

Photo by Derian Silva | Tatsuya Nakatani conducting and performing with his gong orchestra, Tuesday, Sept. 5.

Photo by Derian Silva | Tatsuya Nakatani performing an improvised solo set at the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum, Tuesday, Sept. 5.

Photo by Derian Silva | Tatsuya Nakatani performing an improvised solo set at the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum, Tuesday, Sept. 5.

Derian Silva

Staff Writer

On Tuesday, Sept. 5, the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum held an improvisational gong orchestra performed by Tatsuya Nakatani as part of programming for the Improvisers Exchange.

The Improvisers Exchange is a local initiative at the Center for Advanced Study at the University of Illinois. It is looking to deeply investigate the field of music improvisation. It will do this over the next two years and will feature a multitude of artists and provide a space for scholarly discourse. This initiative was started by Jason Finkelman who is the director of Global Arts Performance Initiatives.

For the first piece of the series, Finkelman asked Nakatani, to show his world of improvisational work. He categorized himself as an artist that makes noise.

At Nakatani’s performance, there was a combination of gongs, drums and other percussion instruments. These elements were used in an improvisational way and none of them were used in their traditional way.

Nakatani finds many of the regular sounds available to him very boring and he much prefers to get to know the instruments he carries with him and what sonic possibilities exist with them.

An interesting noise that Nakatani discovered was made by bowing a gong. It started originally when he was using bows of cellos and violins. The only problem was that these bows were not strong enough and he would often break them. This led to him eventually creating his own bow, with a unique design that creates an equal vibration.

“It’s not about the sound, it’s about vibrations to me,” said Nakatani about the room he performed in.

For the gong orchestra, Nakatani asked Finkelman to pick a unique room to allow him to interact in an interesting way. This led Finkelman to choose the Orpheum’s very spherical room, with its interesting acoustics.

His improvisational work was not limited to percussive style of playing, however, it was also related to his gong orchestra.

A gong orchestra is an orchestra where the instruments are all gongs. Using gongs as the sole instrument forces an artist to be creative and Nakatani does not fall short of the mark.

At the performance, he had performers who were for the most part local musicians, some he had only met just two hours before. He used a unique conducting style that is specific to his gong orchestra.

Having done this so many times, Nakatani can understand how a person’s skills translate to playing the gong. This allows him to draw the potential out of someone who he may have just met a few hours ago and is now playing an instrument they have never played before or have never played in that way.

It is important that Nakatani can do this, because he improvises his performance with the gong orchestra.

“The thing I liked about the gong orchestra last night was when I was hearing frequencies combing and then hearing horn sounds, trumpet sounds and saxophone sounds,” said Finkelman about the performance.

That feeling was captured during the performance. Towards the end there was a buildup and the room felt very full. With each gong producing a different vibration, there was a multiplicity of sound. It was like summer cicadas humming in what seemed like infinite amounts.

Nakatani comes to Champaign-Urbana about once a year. For more information on the improvisational exchange and there upcoming performances, visit cas.illinois.edu/improvisers-exchange.