Stuck between two mountain ranges on a small land mass in the Japan Sea, the inhabitants of the only plain on Sado Island deal with their share of hard living. Siberian storms sweep in during the extended winters, relieved only by short, hot summers. If that isn't enough, Honshu (Japan's main island, i.e., civilization) is a good three hours away by ferry. Homeland to the exiled a thousand years ago, Sado became a hot spot for gold-mining and traditional folk arts such as noh in the 1600s. Nowadays, tourists pan for gold, numerous noh theaters are still active, and festival performers of many stripes call Sado home -- the most well known being taiko ensemble Kodo. Its members and apprentices reside in the communal town of Kodo Village, actually 25 acres of forested land fashioned into a practical space to live and work -- at least for the few months of the year when they're not touring Japan or elsewhere.
Since 1981, when its international debut at the Berlin Festival provoked encore calls for an hour, Kodo has been spreading the word and sound of taiko -- traditional Japanese drumming -- around the planet like evangelists. Using a varying range of Japanese percussion, including the nearly 1 ton o-daiko, which is crafted from the solid trunk of a tree, and instruments such as flutes, cymbals, and bamboo xylophones, the ensemble's members move from the ferocity of pounding thunder to the serenity of a tiny fountain trickle, from the explosive and energetic to the quiet and retrospective.
Kodo, whose name translates to both "heartbeat" and "children of the drum," performs at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at Zellerbach Hall, Bancroft & Telegraph, UC Berkeley campus. Sunday's performance is a "Family Fare" show; tickets are half-price for children 16 and under. (Note: Kodo claims babies have been lulled to sleep by the vibrating sounds of taiko.) Tickets are $20-40; call (510) 642-9988.