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Pyrotech Percussion

MARCHING TO THE BEAT OF YOUR OWN DRUM

Tucked away in a quiet corner of Tokyo lies Sugai Percussion Instrument Factory, a small home and workshop where Hajime Sugai has dedicated over 15 years to creating a unique musical instrument he calls the "propanota." Here, Sugai's passion for percussion and artistic flair combine to produce soothing songs and reverberating sounds.

A slit drum is a percussion instrument with ancient tribal roots throughout Asia and Africa. It's a simple instrument made with a hollow chamber, and cuts (slits) along the frame create different hums and pitches when struck. Hajime found the hums of a slit drum therapeutic and aspired to build his own—a course that changed his life forever.

The traditional slit drum is made from wood, such as bamboo. Yet, Sugai wanted to improve the design with a metal frame—specifically, from a gas cylinder, pressurized containers designed for gases. A pyrotechnician by trade, Sugai had access to plenty of gas cylinders used in pyrotechnics. While working at a fireworks factory, he had previously toyed with creating instruments from gas cylinders but didn't have the proper skills. He took the idea to metalworkers, but they couldn't produce the invention he had envisioned. So Sugai did what he had always done and learned to do it himself.


During the day, he made fireworks, but he learned metalworking at night or on holidays and perfected his instruments. After two years (at the age of 40), he resigned from his company and dedicated his life to making and selling musical instruments, including his creation—the propanota—a name Sugai coined from "propane" gas cylinders and musical notes.

Opening his own shop was a big decision. Even at 30, he only had a vague idea about what he wanted to do when he started working at a fireworks factory. Now, he was 40 and starting something completely different. Sugai knew even after a series of failures with the design and scales, this was his calling.

Today, Sugai no longer uses gas cylinders to make his propanotas, which he admittedly found taking apart a risky business. The cylinders need to be safely depressurized before use. His modern propanotas use different materials, such as iron.


The propanota creates gentle tones that echo throughout the environment. Indeed, the traditional slit drum is often used for communication between tribes. The propanota's metal frame and the rounded disk shape strengthen the effect. Sugai believes it's an instrument that feels intuitive, something you can pick up and play without a background in music or practice. The sound of the propanota is soothing, and the term "healing" naturally springs to mind upon hearing it. However, Sugai says if he focused solely on creating "healing instruments," his potential would be limited. Above all, he says he's a percussionist and lover of music.

Sugai’s true goal is to spark curiosity and fun. Through workshops, he provides an opportunity for visitors to explore their creativity and fashion their own propanotas, reminiscent of his own experience years ago when his idea ignited like a firework.


Sugai Percussion

3-8-7 Shiratori, Katsushika City, Tokyo 125-0063

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