Negotiated Moments: Improvisation, Sound, and Subjectivity
This chapter addresses the fraught interface between improvisation and women. While critical studies of improvisation in jazz have offered powerful progressive ideals of social transformation, they rarely acknowledge the overwhelming presence of men who improvise and the silent majority of women who don’t. The chapter focuses on improvised solos in taiko, the contemporary tradition of Japanese drumming now firmly established in North America. Asian Americans literally play themselves into visibility and audibility through taiko, but musical mastery, skill, and authority are always gendered and raced. The practice of improvised soloing in taiko is embedded in transnational circuits of gendered and racialized desire. The author addresses how, when, and why taiko players improvise; how improvisation acts out deep values and contradictions; how it is loved by performers and audiences alike; and how ideas about gendered mastery are carried forward in improvised solos in unthoughtful ways.