LOUD is a Vancouver-based duo made up of taiko player Eileen Kage (formerly of Katari Taiko, Uzume Taiko and Sawagi Taiko and currently a member of JODAIKO) and guitarist Elaine Stef (formerly of Moral Lepers and Animal Slaves). The group was formed in 1996 by Kage, Stef and former member Leslie Komori as a means of exploring the place where the electric guitar and traditional Japanese percussion instruments can not only coexist but complement each other.
Even the most ardent taiko fans will acknowledge that taiko recordings rarely do justice to what is essentially a live art form. Not only are the drums difficult to record, once the visual elements are stripped away it is next to impossible to retain the essence of the performance. The lack of a melodic structure to hang onto in traditional taiko makes it all the more difficult to create a recording that is pleasing to the ears.
LOUD is the only taiko-based group I know of that benefits from the recording process (with the notable exception perhaps of Japan’s Leonard Eto) and indeed is more effective on CD than on stage. This is achieved mainly through throwing all taiko conventions out the window and treating the drums as a melodic counterpoint to the guitar, with tone taking precedence over all else.
Their new CD Echo and Flow is a striking piece of work that builds off the success of their first recording, taikoelectric. The recording studio allows the duo to really zero in on the sounds of their respective instruments. Kage plays with great sensitivity, treating her selection of drums as a sonic palate which she uses to create a complex, pulsing bed of rhythms. Stef’s guitar, which is sometimes reminiscent of U2’s The Edge, is the perfect foil to Kage’s taiko—her hypnotic, echo-laden arpeggios floating ethereally over top of the drums. The group’s website notes that the songs are created a through a process of jamming and this shows in the finished pieces which for the most part have no distinct beginning or end, but rather have an organic feel—the music washing over the listener in wave after wave.
Keeping with the water analogy, the ten songs on Echo and Flow run into each other seamlessly, creating an overall mood that shifts in subtle increments–ebbing and flowing, sometimes soothing, sometime stimulating, but always engaging.