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Tool - Lateralus - Koto Ensemble Version

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Uploaded on Nov 29, 2009

Hard to believe this was five years ago today.

I proposed doing this at a group meeting in Jan., 2009 and spent most of the next ten months working out and fine-tuning the arrangement. It's hard to overstate the intellectual, technical, psychological and artistic challenges that were involved in working out how to play this on such a limited instrument, and in getting the other people in the group to understand and/or feel it. We only had a few rehearsals and never even once got all the way through it without stopping or making serious mistakes. Check the rehearsal video, the final soundcheck we did just before the concert, to see the closest we ever got.

The performance was also full of mistakes, as lots of people have seen fit to bother pointing out in the comments, and there were flaws in my arrangement that weren't obvious at the time, but somehow we transcended that and played something profound and authentic. I don't know how we got there but listening to it now I still feel like we touched something higher, whatever you want to call it. I know what I was feeling while playing this, especially during 7:30~7:34, and over the years since then I've been amazed by the number of people who have left comments saying they felt the same thing. Last week I happened to read a quote by Mark Rothko that says exactly what I felt about this performance:

"’I'm interested only in expressing basic human emotions — tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on — and the fact that lots of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I communicate those basic human emotions… The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them. And if you, as you say, are moved only by their color relationships, then you miss the point!”

This was the only time this was ever performed live. A year later we recorded our second CD and tried to do "Laterlaus" in the studio, but although the arrangement had been ironed out and it was technically better it didn't work. No feeling, no transcendence. Call it the magic of the live moment, of disappearing into something. I pulled the piece from the CD and quit the group after the sessions were over.

I moved to Japan in 1997 to study koto after learning to play in university, and as of right now this performance is the most-viewed koto video on the internet. I'm proud to say I think this was the best thing ever done for koto by a non-Japanese.

--Brett Larner, 11/27/14

Original comments:

I arranged Tool's 'Lateralus' for 8-piece koto ensemble. Here's the first performance, by Soemon in Tokyo, 11/27/09. Check out the rehearsal version video as well. Kazue Sawai was in the audience at this performance.

I'd like to dedicate this one to my oldest friend Eric, who first introduced me to 'Lateralus.'

The first 6 steps and the 15th step (6=1+5) of the Fibonacci sequence for the numbers 0 and 1 feature prominently in the structure of this piece:

(0-1) -1-2-3-5-8-13-21-34-55-89-144-233-377-61­0-987

This is reflected, for example, in the rhythm of the second section, 9/8-8/8-7/8, 987 being the 15th step of the sequence, as well as in the structure of the 3rd section. While the underlying rhythm of this section is 5/8 (the 6th step of the sequence is 5+8=13), the lead melody progresses back and forth through a series of phrases of length 0 to 13, again the first 6 steps of the sequence plus the root numbers, separated by pauses of length 1 to 5, the 1st 4 steps of the sequence. Together the melody phrases and rests form the image of 2 interlocking spirals. The lyrics of the song at this point also reflect the mathematical structure, the first words being 'black then white,' i.e. 0 and 1. The lyrics later in the song make use of extensive spiral imagery.

In my arrangement I tried to incorporate this element of the original composition as much as possible. There are 8 instruments in the group, 6 koto and 2 bass koto. The 6th step in the sequence is 13, which is the number of strings on a koto. The 2 bass kotos together have 34 strings, 34 being the 8th step of the sequence. In the first 9/8-8/8-7/8 section the 8 players are subdivided into 2 groups, one of 5 and one of 3. The groups play the 9/8/7 figure 3 times, with a variation in the 3rd iteration subdividing it into 3=2+1. The 2nd time through the 9-8-7 figure the groups themselves subdivide into smaller groups of 3+2 and 2+1 for 2 iterations before subdividing again in the 3rd iteration (3=2+1 again).

There is so much more, but, as the lyrics in the 4th section say, "Over-thinking, over-analyzing separates the body from the mind." It rocks, and that's all that really matters.

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