Monday, November 2, 2015

re Surfacing


There's a full-on tabla-nerd post below, but first...

I've been absolutely touched and humbled by the response to my previous post. I've tried to respond individually to everyone, both friends and strangers, who have sent emails, shared, retweeted and commented here, and on Facebook and Twitter, but I want to say thank you. Thank you for your support, your encouragement and your kind words. A lot of people have used the word 'brave', and I understand why... it's ok to say 'I broke my arm', but it is still not ok to say 'I'm suffering an affliction of the thoughts are working against me...I'm working against myself'. That needs to change. If I can play a small part in that, then the vulnerability of opening up about it was absolutely worth it. I'm not sure I was brave. I sure didn't feel brave posting that.

If you are suffering depression, you are not alone. We needn't be brave to talk about it, and to seek help. Recognize your patterns, and discern which ones are helping, and which ones are not. This is a challenge, because they often overlap:


Depression is a looping disorder. This is purely my definition. Thoughts repeat, get magnified, coloured by anxiety, gaining weight and momentum, spinning faster and faster until they occupy almost the entire bandwidth of your mind. It takes an incredible force to kick out of that loop, but if the wheel is still spinning, it's entirely too easy to be drawn back in. Easy...comforting even (as horrible as that is), because it's familiar. There's a strange satisfaction in worrying, perhaps an evolutionary survival skill that is, while not entirely obsolete, maybe not quite as necessary today as it once was to our ancestors. A wise friend once told me 'worrying is praying for what you don't want to happen'. That has kicked me out of a few loops over the years. Jot it down and use it if you think it'll help.

But! looping is fucking amazing if you're a tabla player. FUCKING AMAZING! How else to repeatedly play a single phrase 100 or 1000 times to develop the muscle memory and technique to reproduce it in the hostile, distraction-laden environment of a stage or recording studio? I'm a looping fanatic. At times one song is on repeat for an entire day while I work on something. Sometimes a week. I learn new music by listening it dozens and dozens of times. It's how I come up with ideas...the very fundamental process of my creativity. I can get a mental centrifuge up to 10,000 RPM in no time, spinning out idea after idea. (Though sometimes nothing comes) Kaida phrases loop in my head, and slow-morph, variation to variation, an incredibly satisfying process that is...whoops....EXACTLY like worrying and simmering self-criticism.

So. How to keep the good looping, and discard the bad looping? Hmm. This is the challenge, for me, anyway. You could, saaay...check your thoughts! But how often? 50, 100 times a day? That ain't gonna work. Thinking about thinking is part of the problem. Think about THAT for a second ;). Thinking about thinking. We are the only beings on earth capable of such a feat (as far as we know...though I think dolphins are probably self-aware, and definitely cats) and it's a blessing 90% of the time. It's huge, and deep, and makes us who we are to a large extent. But when it goes wrong, it is not a good scene. Maybe we're in the awkward teenage years of consciousness...gangly of mind. Again...mindfulness meditation, specifically mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is vital, if you have a looping brain that likes to chew on its own thoughts. That storm happening immediately in front of you will drift away with your breath, and suddenly appear much less severe, lose power, and eventually dissipate. Find a course, or a regular practice near you, and join up. It's incredibly simple once you know how, but the challenge is maintenance.

I'm not sure if I want this blog to become 52 Kaidas with a side order of depression, so I dunno how much more I will write on this topic. But i might write more.

I recorded this this past summer while I was housesitting for my brother and his family. A break from a routine environment is often inspiring, no?

Jhaptal (10 beats). Two kaidas I learned from Pandit Suresh Talwalkar on 2 different study trips to his Taalyogi Ashram in Pune.

Wait, whaaat? No lehara! (I asked Sureshji why he used vocal leharas in his work, rather than the usual sarangi or harmonuim, to which he replied 'it's like ants crawling on my brain!'. Ha. There's some escape-from-looping wisdom for you right there!). The drum grooves are from a sample library, which I edited into a 10 beat groove from an 8 beat one...recite jhaptal's right in there.)

The first kaida:
Dha - DhatiDhagena Dhagethinna Dhagena DhageThinnakena
GhenaDhatiDhagena Dhagethinna Dhagena DhageThinnakena

and the second:

Dha-trekeDhetete Kena DhatiDhagena DhageThinnakena
TrekeDhetete KenaDha - DhatiDhagena DhageThinnakena

(note how the second line is a kind of reverse/reply to the first...the opening phrase flipped backwards, like a question)

You'll notice I don't play all the bayan strokes...something I've started to do for 2 reasons:
1. less than perfect technique, aka a weak left hand
2. space, and a more 'drumkit' sound. When you listen to someone playing drumkit, the kickdrum is not all that frequent (unless you're listening to death metal). I'm trying to pick and choose which bayan strokes I play to lend a certain flavour of funkyness to the parts.

Fun exercise: play a kaida phrase, but completely open baya. Pick one stroke where there would be bayan, and add it in. LOOP! (omg) and repeat. Once it's settled, add another one, somewhere else. Continue until you've added them all in, or you've reached a cool density that floats your boat.

(all closed)
Ta-trekeThetete Kena TatiTakena TakeThinnakena
TrekeThetete KenaTa - TatiTakena TakeThinnakena

(add Dhe, and hammer it...boom!)
Ta-trekeDhetete Kena TatiTakena TakeThinnakena
TrekeDhetete KenaTa - TatiTakena TakeThinnakena

(add Dha - )
Dha-trekeDhetete Kena TatiTakena TakeThinnakena
TrekeDhetete KenaDha - TatiTakena TakeThinnakena


Every kaida will have a unique little development you can find, yet another layer in this incredible artform.

I'll leave it there for now. Thanks for reading, thanks again for the support and kindness, and be well.

PS speaking of looping.... one more:

I recorded this track waaaay back in the day (Feb 2010), but finally made a video with it, slightly remixed, with some added percussion. The video is a giant tabla LOOP (omg!)...a circle of tabla filmed with a GoPro mounted on an Ikea kitchen timer, rotating over the course of an hour, sped up to match the track length. The colours are out-of-focus christmas lights (which litter my apartment) layered underneath for an aurora borealis effect.

The setup

Uthan, Palta Theka, tintal, composed by Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri for a tabla ensemble at the Ali Akbar College of Music in San Rafael California back in the day, taught to me by Ritesh Das. This is one of my very favourite pieces of repertoire. The uthan is gorgeous, 3 speeds, with a monster tihai that repeats the same bol 27 times (DhaTunNa Ketete Dha-neDha-neDha-) starting from the 16th matra, running 16-16, 16.5-16.5 and sam to sam.

The palta theka has an incredibly subtle and beautiful development, gradual and sensual, developing from sparseness to dense groove in a really lovely way, with another monster tihai. The whole thing loops so damn well. *sigh*


  1. Wow Ed! I didn't see your previous post until I saw this one. Keep practicing your music and your mindfulness. If you need anything, I'd be happy to help even if it's just listening. You're an immense help to many, many others out there!!

    1. Thanks Salima! We chatted about this a bit very early in the journey... wouldn't mind a repeat at some point if you're down...

  2. Wow Ed! I didn't see your previous post until I saw this one. Keep practicing your music and your mindfulness. If you need anything, I'd be happy to help even if it's just listening. You're an immense help to many, many others out there!!

  3. posting this great read from The Guardian: Music-making and the myth of the tortured genius