Interview: Kirstin Pauka talks taiko, Asian theater, cats, and the artist life

Kirstin Pauka, professor of Asian theater at UH Manoa

Kirstin Pauka, professor of Asian theater at UH Manoa

I recently had a fun conversation with Kirstin Pauka, professor of Asian theater at University of Hawaii at Manoa. Kirstin and I played together as members of the Kenny Endo Taiko Ensemble during my seven years in Honolulu. Throughout this time we went on concert tours in the US, Europe, and all over Hawaii. As I learned in the interview, Kirstin's entry into the taiko world was early, making her the senpai (most experienced) for all of us who trained under Kenny. There are some interesting taiko stories, but she also talks about her professorship and her recent multi-award-winning project "Battle of the Monkey Kings," a Balinese shadow theater production. I also asked Kirstin about working as a director and how to manage successful interdisciplinary collaborations, and other past projects such as "Randai" and "Taiko Drum and Dance." Check out the links at the bottom for video clips of the shows we discussed.

It was fun hanging out with Kirstin during my recent Hawaii trip, where I got to meet her new cat. Because it was so funny, I couldn't edit out the part of the conversation toward the end about cat shadow theater.


Battle of the Monkey Kings

Battle of the Monkey Kings

Battle of the Monkey Kings

Battle of the Monkey Kings

Battle of the Monkey Kings

Battle of the Monkey Kings


Kirstin Pauka is Professor of Asian Theatre at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA, full-time faculty in the Asian Theatre Program and Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies. Her primary area of specialization is theatre of Southeast Asia. She has done research on Randai theatre of Sumatra, and has published books, multimedia titles, and numerous articles on Randai and related topics. Dr. Pauka has produced and directed several Southeast Asian Theatre productions at UH Kennedy Theatre. In 2001, 2005 and 2011 she directed the US premieres of English language productions of Indonesian Randai theatre which included 6-month intensive artist-in-residence training programs with guest artists from Indonesia. Dr. Pauka has given workshops and lectures in Wellington (New Zealand), Sidney, (Australia), Padang (Indonesia), Amsterdam (Netherlands), St. Petersburg, (Russia), Stockholm (Sweden), Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Hawaii (USA), and Toronto (Canada). In Spring 2016 she directed a production of Balinese Wayang Listrik (Shadow Theatre) in collaboration with Balinese artists.

Kirstin Pauka has been studying kumi daiko with Kenny Endo for the past 24 years and has been a performance member of the Kenny Endo Taiko Ensemble for the past 22 years annd has toured with the Ensemble to Europe, Japan, and the US mainland.  Kirstin has received Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts apprenticeship grants with Endo-sensei in 2007-9 and 2015-16 to study edo bayashi. Kirstin is also a member of the African dance band Jamarek, who just released a new album: Fechal.

Video links
Battle of the Monkey Kings
Randai (2012)
Randai (2006)
Taiko Drum and Dance
 

Growing hops at home


Centennial hops ready to harvest

Centennial hops ready to harvest

Hop plant in April

Hop plant in April

Growing hops at home is extraordinarily fun. The shoots emerge from the ground in early spring and grow very rapidly until the cones (flowers) are harvested in August and September. Commercially, they are grown on 18 foot trellis systems, but the bines (technically not vines) can grow much higher. There are well over 100 known varieties, each with unique characteristics of aroma, flavor, bitterness level, and degrees of susceptibility to disease and insects. The world's historical beer brewing regions of England, Germany, Belgium, and North America all have specific hop varieties which are important in defining beer styles. In the United States, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho are the biggest producing states, although more and more growers are appearing on the scene to meet the increasing demand of craft brewers trying to keep up with the skyrocketing popularity of hop-forward styles like India Pale Ale (IPA). There are three conventional ways hops are used in brewing: early in the boil to add bitterness, mid to late boil to add flavor, and post fermentation 'dry hopping' to add aroma. A good brewer will carefully choose hop varieties to complement the malt characteristics of the recipe and fine tune the process to create something delicious.

Hop plant in August on 12 foot bamboo trellis

Hop plant in August on 12 foot bamboo trellis

I've grown multiple varieties in the past, but this year I planted Centennial in the backyard. Centennial has a fairly substantial grapefruit and somewhat candy-like sweet aroma which I've heard compared to fruit loops cereal, along with medium bittering potential. One of the best known beers brewed with this hop is Bell's Two Hearted Ale. If you will be brewing with your own hops, it’s important to get your rhizomes from a source that can guarantee the variety. Many home brewing supply shops will sell them in early spring and they are also available by online order. I got my rhizome at the local nursery, which had a large selection of desirable varieties. Professional growers have told me that it takes three years for plants to reach maturity, where the root system is established and the harvest amount reaches full potential. I was pleasantly surprised that my first year plant produced more cones than I expected. Like anything, doing some research is recommended to ensure the plants are happy. My top two resources have been The Homebrewer's Garden (Joe Fisher and Dennis Fisher) and Homegrown Hops (David R. Beach). I also recommend Fresh Hops and Left Fields Hops for ordering online and for good information about hop growing.


Harvested August 28

Harvested August 28

This year I harvested on August 28. One of the most challenging and important skills involves learning how to judge peak ripeness. Pick too early and the hops are grassy, vegetal, and have low flavor and bittering qualities. Pick too late and skunky, oniony aromas appear. Fresh hops are fragile and need to be used (in the highly seasonal 'wet hop' or 'fresh hop' beers) or dried immediately. I used a door screen propped on some boxes with a fan blowing over them. If the humidity is low, they will dry in a few days, but I usually finish drying in a dehydrator at its lowest temperature setting for several hours. Then the hops are vacuum sealed and frozen, as warm temperature and oxygen are the top causes of deterioration. This year the final yield was 396 grams of dried hops. The amount needed for one batch of beer depends on the style, but I expect to get about 5 - 10 batches out of the 2016 harvest. The tricky part is not knowing the exact alpha acid content (bittering potential, which is given on commercially grown hops) so it takes some experimentation to dial in the recipe and process using homegrown hops.

I would encourage anyone interested to try growing your own hops. You can ask around to find out which varieties do well locally, although Cascade is one that is known to be very hardy. The best-known beer with Cascade hops is Sierra Nevada pale ale. For non-brewers, hops can be used to make tea or a hop pillow since they contain compounds that make you sleepy. And a little bit of online research will give you some ideas on how to use hops as a cooking ingredient. I also need to mention that hops are very toxic to dogs (and likely cats) and there are numerous accounts of sad endings from homebrewers who found this out too late. Please be careful. Never give beer to dogs.

Hops ready to dry

Hops ready to dry

Hops drying

Hops drying

Interview: Mike Penny talks shamisen, taiko, viral videos, and the Kubo movie

I recently had a fun conversation with Mike Penny, a fantastic shamisen player based in Los Angeles. I was introduced to Mike by our mutual friend and colleague Kyle Abbott of Bachido, and when I started to check out his online lessons, youtube videos, and eclectic array of music, I became more and more intrigued to talk with him. One of the reasons I can relate to Mike’s approach to music is his ability to incorporate a diverse mix of influences, from European classical music to odd-meter Balkan music to Frank Zappa to the traditional style of Tsugaru shamisen. In the interview, we talk about how Mike got into shamisen as well as his involvement with Bachido, playing with taiko players, creating his many viral videos, and the controversy surrounding the new movie Kubo and the Two Strings. He sent me some of his music and I have included them in the recording. The titles in the order you will hear them are: Sou Da Ne, Leavin’ Fo’evah, It’s a Good Day, and Gan Barou.


About Mike
Mike Penny has received several awards for his innovative performances and compositions using the Tsugaru Shamisen. In 2007, he received the Japan Foundation’s Uchida Fellowship which allowed him to study with one of Tokyo’s most highly respected Tsugaru shamisen instructors, Toyoaki Fukushi. Mike has given hundreds of public performances and continues to perform regularly as both a solo artist and in various ensembles. He has become well known through his many viral video performances on YouTube, and has gained a following for his unprecedented style of shamisen playing which combines traditional and extended techniques in a variety of musical contexts including jazz, Balkan folk, Western classical, and popular music in a fusion of both east and west, past and future. In addition to performing and teaching private shamisen lessons in his hometown of Los Angeles, Mike is also heavily involved with Bachido.com, the online international Tsugaru shamisen community which holds semi-annual international shamisen camps around the world at which Mike participates as an instructor.

With Mike Penny in Hollywood, July 2016

With Mike Penny in Hollywood, July 2016

My most important bachi & sticks for taiko

My most important taiko sticks

My most important taiko sticks

I am constantly on the search for new bachi and drumsticks at local drum shops, big music stores, Asano Taiko US in Torrance, Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten in Asakusa, or the marketplace vendors at the North American Taiko Conference. Japan is my favorite place to go shopping because it's very common to see a digital scale in the drumstick section for picky people like me to precisely match a pair of sticks by weight. There are many different materials used to make sticks, including bamboo, kashi (oak), hickory, maple, birch, hou (magnolia), and hinoki (cypress). In addition, you can find a wide variety of mallets, brushes, and other alternative sticks made by a number of different companies. Considering the enormous variety of drums, cymbals, and percussion instruments available to us, it might be easy to understand my obsessive search for the best stick for each application.

What are some of the factors involved with stick selection? This can be a deeply personal topic and each musician will have their own hierarchy of criteria. Here are mine:

1. Sound – the most important consideration. Sometimes it's a simple decision and other times it's necessary to compromise and make it work for a number of dissimilar instruments.

2. Feel – the stick needs to feel comfortable and work for my playing style. I check out the length, diameter, weight, finish, and balance to narrow down my choices.

3. Wear and tear – I make sure the sticks will not cause damage to the instruments. I also match the sticks to the instrument so that I don't have to replace broken sticks constantly.

4. Tradition and uniformity – there are times when it makes sense for an ensemble to use the same sticks in striving for uniformity of sound and visuals. I also consider traditional sticks with historical significance.

One of the workshop topics I have taught is called Taiko Sounds and Sticks, where I introduce ways to get many sounds out of one drum as well as discuss and demonstrate the common materials and dimensions of taiko sticks. My goal is to convey the depth of this topic and share my knowledge so that the participants leave with a foundation in stick selection details. It's a fun moment when someone hears the subtle difference between two similar sticks when I play them side-by-side on a drum.

This photo shows the collection of sticks I currently use. It is very close to the stick recommendations in my article called Ten Useful Sticks For Taiko Players. There are additional sticks I use depending on the situation, but these are my most important ones. The sticks labeled VF RH 36cm is a marching snare drum stick (Vic Firth Ralph Hardiman) that I cut off and sanded. This hickory stick works well in a mixed-taiko set up and has good sound and durability on rims and cymbals.

Taiko sticks labeled

Taiko sticks labeled

Old bachi from my childhood

Old bachi from my childhood

This other photo shows two pairs of sticks from my childhood. The smaller kashi bachi were given to me by my first taiko teacher Saburo Mochizuki, and I used them to play the Sukeroku Daiko repertoire he taught to our youth group in Saitama. The larger hou bachi are from a Miyake Taiko summer intensive I took on Sado Island at age 11, taught by Kodo members.

Workshops

Ten Useful Sticks for Taiko Players

Asano Taiko US

Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten

Japan Percussion Center

Interview: radio professional Paolo Pietropaolo talks music, taiko, culture, and audio

Paolo Pietropaolo

Paolo Pietropaolo

I recently talked with my friend Paolo Pietropaolo about ethnomusicology, taiko, radio, audio, and cultural immersion. Paolo is a freelance journalist, broadcaster, and composer who hosts radio shows and has produced award-winning documentaries. We met in Vancouver, BC shortly after I relocated there, and immediately I could sense how like-minded we were. Paolo and I have had many interesting conversations over the years and I think his passion and thoughtfulness come through clearly in this recorded interview. Paolo's body of work is impressive in quality and diversity, and I especially appreciate his attention to detail. You can find his radio documentaries at the links below and I would encourage everyone to check them out. Paolo sent me music samples from his tinnitus documentary we talked about so I have included them in the interview. He told me they “consist mostly of recorded electronic hums (ie, my fridge, computer, etc.), processed hums, keyboards, bassoon, and various other electronic musical elements.”


About Paolo
An inveterate baseball fan as well as a musician and composer, Paolo has spent much of his life trying to explain the intricacies of the arcane to the uninitiated. After one year of undergrad science at the University of Toronto, Paolo gave up on his marine biology dreams in favour of that most secure of career paths: music. Shockingly, this strategy somehow worked when a taiko drumming gig led to a career in radio. Since 2012, Paolo has been the host of In Concert, the award-winning classical music performance program on CBC Radio 2. Paolo is a Peabody-Award-winning audio documentary producer, sound designer and writer/broadcaster passionate about building bridges through storytelling. He is also a two-time winner of the Prix Italia, most recently for The Signature Series, and previously for the documentary series The Wire: the Impact of Electricity on Music.

Links
Twitter: @paolopp
Website: paolopietropaolo.com
Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/paolopp
CBC Show: cbcmusic.ca/inconcert
The Wire documentary is archived here: http://bit.ly/1pBEv9l
Kiyoshi Nagata's taiko ensemble: nagatashachu.com