Friday, October 14, 2022

New kaida and the future


Greetings. It's been a pandemic-minute. 

I'm posting a full Delhi Gharana kaida today, with detailed, downloadable .pdf notes, and am looking for feedback re the future.

I'm considering starting a Patreon to share materials, not only for tabla players, but also for musicians curious about the vocabulary and grammar of Indian rhythm in general. 

Survey below, and video below that.



Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Habibuddin's Nest: interlocking tabla tarang

Greetings fellow travellers!

I hope everyone is doing well in this time of great upheaval and change, and are wearing a mask and washing your hands.

It’s been awhile, but I’ve been thinking about how to reignite this blog, and I have some ideas, so please stay tuned.

First up, I want to share a piece I recently released as part of a film called MUSHROOM. The complete film is available on Vimeo On Demand, and is a 31-minute journey of music, film, photography, sound design, dance and documentary, with a solid appeal to tabla players/nerds/geeks. 

The video below is part 2 of the film, and I’m making it available for free on this blog for educational and inspirational purposes.

The music is an interlocking tabla tarang, and the visuals are a virtual tabla museum.

Please watch, and I’ll break down the music below (fullscreen, headphones etc):

The soundtrack for the film is here, if you want to listen, or purchase (though I strongly recommend experiencing it with the visual component)

So, what’s happening with the tabla tarang? 

First, maybe, we need to discuss what IS a tabla tarang. We know what tabla is, and tarang means "waves" (and 'waves of tabla' is just about the best thing I can think of!)

Wikipedia says: "The tabla tarang (Hindi: तबला तरंग) is a melodic percussion instrument consisting of between ten and sixteen tuned dayan drums."

Here's Pt Kamlesh Maitra with a 12-dayan tabla tarang:

So, basically, a tabla version of a xylophone or marimba, where each drum would correspond to a single pitch... except! tabla has two pitches per drum: the open 'tun', and the harmonic 'na'. The tun is roughly a minor 7th below the na. So, if na is C, then tun is roughly the D below that. And when I say roughly, I mean it's sorta kinda somewhere around there, depending on a whole lot of factors. More on this later, and how it impacts the melodic and harmonic landscape of tabla tarang. 

If you want to pop out for a sidebar on tabla tarang, here's a video of Pt. Kamalesh Maitra, and a more contemporary take by Andy Skellenger

I haven't delved much into tabla tarang as a melodic instrument... I've only played with having a couple of drums clustered around a tabla set, and dropping the occasional na or tun in for flavour. 


I have been thinking about the layering possibilities of tabla tarang for a long time, and i finally dug into it, and I want to share the process, so...

Here we go!

Tabla produces multiple sounds, some pitched, some not. Some resonant, some not. Some can be modulated, some cannot. 

A tabla groove has multiple layers of sounds happening at once. Let's look at a simple dadra theka:

Dha ti Dha Dha tin na Ta ti Dha Dha dhin na

The na part is (  sound, - no sound):
• - • • - • • - • • - •

The baya pattern is:
• - • • • - - - • • • -

The tin/dhin part is:
- - - - • - - - - - • -

and the ti part is:
- • - - - - - • - - - - 
*the ti also acts as a mute on the preceding na, so is both an event, and the end of an event

I frequently get lost isolating individual sound patterns when practicing tabla. 'what's the na pattern? what's the baya pattern?' etc and what I wanted to do, my 'what happens if?' creative instigation was:

What happens if I take two different compositions, isolate the individual stroke/sound patterns, play them on different pitched drums, and carve out some sort of arrangement?

I chose two heavy traditional compositions that i learned when i was studying with Pandit Anindo Chatterjee in Calcutta in 1999/2000:

A tintal kaida by Habibuddin Khan, Ajrada Gharana (and this is a wonderful feature)

Ghe Ghe Te Te Ghe Ghe Te Te Ghe ne Dhene Dhin na Ge na
Na ge Te Te Ghe Ghe Te Te Ghe ne Dhene Dhin na Ge na
Dhene Dhin na Ge na Na ge Te re ki te Dhene Dhin na 
Ghe Ghe Te Te Ghe ne Dhene Dhin na Ge na Na ge Te te
and a tintal chalan by Wajid Hussain Khan, Lucknow Gharana:

Ghe Ta ge Ghe Ta ge Dhene Dha ge treke Dhin na ge na
Na ge te te Ghe Ta ge Ghe Ta ge Dhene Na ge te te
I chose these two compositions because:
a) they both start with baya only
b) they both feature dhene and dhinna
c) they both end with nagetete
d) they're both sublime, groovy and beautiful

If we look inside at the individual stroke patterns, we see this:

note that the first pattern is twice as long as the 2nd. 

I made a pattern for each one:
Habibuddin Khan composition:
Theme, Variation 1, Variation 2, Theme

Wajid Hussain composition:
Theme, Theme, Variation 1, Theme

I recorded in layers, starting with the Habibuddin Khan kaida (Th, v1, v2, Th):
-the 'tun' part, on 9 different pitched drums, at single speed (so, 9 takes, 9 tracks)
-the 'na' part, on 9 different pitched drums, at single speed 
-the baya parts, on 7 bayas, at single speed
-just the na and tun parts, at double speed, on all 9 pitches
-the baya parts, at double speed on 7 bayas

Then, the Wajid Hussain chalan (Th, Th, v1, Th):
-the tun and na parts together, on 9 different pitched drums, at single speed 
-the baya parts, on 7 bayas, at single speed, incl the 'tak' of Ghe ta ge
-the tun and na parts together, on 9 different pitched drums, at double speed 
-the baya parts, at double speed on 7 bayas

Remember though, each tabla has 2 pitches, so while the harmonics of the drums (na) were tuned to (ascending) 
C, D, D#, G, A, A#, C, D, D#

there are a whole second set of notes in the tun-pattern, and none of them are in tune with the notes in the na-pattern, so this set of drums creates its own harmonic universe. You could redo this piece exactly, but with a different set of drums, it would sound quite different simply because the relationship between na and tun is unique from drum to drum. 

My notes:

note that the patterns are all different lengths, and nest within each other, hence the title

Once all the parts were recorded, I did subtractive editing to remove parts (like carving a statue out of a block of stone), and shape a progression. and yes, the edit was an absolute beast and took hours and my computer squealed frequently. 

on a tech-nerd level: I also rented/borrowed a pile of gear so I could record each drum with a different microphone and preamp combination:

the 9 pitches of tabla & 7 baya with mic & preamp config
also on a nerd level, panning was very important, and with so many tracks, I had to make a panning map to keep track:

The tempo is very VERY slow... 17.5 bpm, so slow that the whole piece is only 6-cycles long. 

The lehara is a combo of organ samples and an incredible bass vocalist by the name of Kurt Sampson. I was inspired by a Phillip Glass piece called Koyaanisqatsi which you should go listen to RIGHT NOW! Then find the film and watch that. 

The video was made during lockdown, and I set up my kitchen table as a photography workbench and photographed/videoed every drum in my apartment, as well as that retro lehara machine and my repair tools. That tripod is taped and locked down, so every drum appears accurately in relation to every other. 

Oh! AND... the video is dedicated to tabla makers, those artisans of wood, copper, iron and skin.

I think that's it, but I want to leave you with a challenge, if you dug this:

Try an interlocking tabla tarang.
-pick a pair of compositions (could be same tala, or different talas)
-pick a set of tabla pitches (could even be just 2, because 4 notes!)
-track just the na pattern on each pitch at single and double
-ditto tun, tete, terekite, dheneghene etc
-then baya
and see what happens.

As I mentioned, I have some ideas for this blog, including not only deep dives into traditional tabla, but also contemporary approaches, creativity in general and some guest posts. Drop me a line if you're interested in anything in particular, or if you have an idea.

Habibuddin's Nest was created with the generous creation and production support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts.

Until next time,

PS please watch the film! People seem to like it... here's a word-cloud derived from reviews:

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Tihai: Endings are Beginnings

I find myself home early from a gig, and energized, so I want to talk tihais. There's a video below if you just want music.

A tihai is a rhythmic pattern that repeats three times, often, but not always, landing on the sam (downbeat) of a tala (rhythmic) cycle. Unique to Indian classical music, both north and south (where it is called a mora), a tihai has 2 main features: the phrase that repeats three times, and the gap between the phrases.

This isn't going to be a scholarly article, just my observations, impressions and philosophy of tihais and all things cyclical. There will be minimal math.

A rhythmic pattern that repeats three times...that could mean, at its shortest: Dha Dha Dha
or, theoretically, a pattern that takes 3 years to complete.

Simple tihai:
Teteketagedighene Dha -
Teteketagedighene Dha -
Teteketagedighene Dha

Tihais can have tihais within them:

Teteketagedighene Dha - Teteketagedighene Dha - Teteketagedighene Dha - - -  - - - -
Teteketagedighene Dha - Teteketagedighene Dha - Teteketagedighene Dha - - -  - - - -
Teteketagedighene Dha - Teteketagedighene Dha - Teteketagedighene Dha

They can be's a tihai with 9 tihais within it:

Teteketagedighene Dha Dha Dha - ne Dha Dha Dha - ne Dha Dha Dha - - -  - - - -
Teteketagedighene Dha Dha Dha - ne Dha Dha Dha - ne Dha Dha Dha - - -  - - - -
Teteketagedighene Dha Dha Dha - ne Dha Dha Dha - ne Dha Dha Dha

Or, to use an example from the previous post, 27 tihais in one, with a bit of shorthand:

{DhaTunNaKetete Dha - ne Dha - ne Dha -
DhaTunNaKetete Dha - ne Dha - ne Dha -
DhaTunNaKetete Dha - ne Dha - ne Dha - - -
DhaTunNaKetete Dha - ne Dha - ne Dha -
DhaTunNaKetete Dha - ne Dha - ne Dha -
DhaTunNaKetete Dha - ne Dha - ne Dha - - -
DhaTunNaKetete Dha - ne Dha - ne Dha -
DhaTunNaKetete Dha - ne Dha - ne Dha -
DhaTunNaKetete Dha - ne Dha - ne Dha - - -  - - - -  - - - - } *3

So, that's a huuuuge tihai, made up of three smaller tihais, and each of those smaller tihais is itself made up of three even smaller tihais, and each one of THOSE tihais contains an even smaller tihai! Wild. Indian music was drilling down into particle physics before we even had a microscope on this planet.

Here's a graphic illustration of that:

This monster tintal tihai runs 16-16, 16.5-16.5 and 1-1

So. Math.

If you're in tintal, a 16 beat cycle, and you want to play a tihai that takes 2 tala cycles to complete (starting and ending on the 1st beat of the cycle), you have 33 beats to work with (16x2,+1...the downbeat of the next cycle). You can play an 11 beat phrase (11x3=33) and it will work. Tihais do not have to start from the first beat of a cycle though. They can start from anywhere. Nine. Three. Fourteen-and-a-half. 7-and-two-thirds. Doesn't matter, as long as your math is sound. There are people who can better explain the mathematics of tihais. It's not my speciality.

What I am interested in, though, is the concept. Of tihais, and of cycles.

Endings are Beginnings, Beginnings are Endings

Tihais are both beginnings and endings. Sure, you can play a tihai to finish a kaida, but it also marks the beginning of the next rhythmic cycle, the next chapter. Within a kaida, or an improv, tihais can mark chapters...the end of one section and simultaneously the beginning of the next section.

You've probably heard the expression 'When one door closes, another opens'. The full quote, by Alexander Graham Bell, is:

When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.
-Alexander Graham Bell

Which might be profound, depending on your mood. I certainly find it useful when big, painful changes happen.


Rhythmic time in Indian music is based on cycles. A cycle begins, and at the exact moment it finishes, the next cycle starts. One complete rotation of the earth makes one day. The earth orbits the sun, a process that takes 1 year. Our solar system is itself orbiting the centre of our galaxy, which takes about 230 million years. Google tells me that apparently our Milky Way Galaxy is not really orbiting anything, just drifting around aimlessly, but I bet you 230 lakh rupees it's drifting around in a certain raga that we haven't heard yet, in a great a cosmic alapana ;)

Plus I bet the entire universe is spinning. Everything is cycles. Light is cycles. Sound is cycles. Matter is made up of particles that are vibrating...more cycles. Maybe time itself is a cycle. This is heavy:

So. Tihais are cycles within cycles. You could theoretically play a tihai that took 3 years to complete. Call a year a cycle. It'd be a 12 beat cycle, with each beat taking a month. Let's choose January 1st as the downbeat, sam (even though March 21st, the 1st day of spring, is a better downbeat IMHO). Let's also pretend each month has 28 days.

Here's our tihai:
Teteketagedighene Dha - Dha - Dha - - -
Teteketagedighene Dha - Dha - Dha - - -
Teteketagedighene Dha - Dha - Dha -  - -  - -
Teteketagedighene Dha - Dha - Dha - - -
Teteketagedighene Dha - Dha - Dha - - -
Teteketagedighene Dha - Dha - Dha -  - -  - -
Teteketagedighene Dha - Dha - Dha - - -
Teteketagedighene Dha - Dha - Dha - - -
Teteketagedighene Dha - Dha - Dha

January 1: Te
January 7: te
January 14: ke
January 21: ta
February 1: ge
February 7: di
February 14: ghe
February 21: ne
March 1: Dha
March 14: Dha
April 1: Dha (1 month vacation! you deserve it)

Totally absurd (but someone should totally do it! 52 Kaidas challenge!) BUT! my point is that it's all perception. We measure our lives in the tala of the year. Your childhood a peshkar, teenage years the kaidas. University, maybe relas. Starting a family, gats. The older years, the poetry of parans and chakradars. And we all have a giant final chakradar tihai coming. Which will begin the next cycle.

When you're playing tabla, or any music, you could think of it in this way. Stages of life. I'm FINALLY getting to the video, if you haven't thought 'dude has finally lost his MIND!' and closed the browser window already.

This is a peshkar/kaida/rela that I learned from Pandit Suresh Talwalkar, and i want to do a cycle-by-cycle breakdown. I've wanted to do one of these forever! Maybe open the video in a separate window, and resize things so you can see both the video and the blog at the same time if that's useful. Or just listen.

Cycle 1: Theka, an intro phrase from khali (9th beat) then a tihai from 13¼
DhaDhinna (Dhatunna) DhaDhinna (Dhatunna) DhaDhinna Dha

Cycle 2: Peshkar theme 1, with a variation introduced on the 4th repeat, from 13

Cycle 3: Theme 1 again, with a variation from 5-9, then a tihai from 11⅞
Dha - kreDhaDhinna Dha ( - - terekite)
Dha - kreDhaDhinna Dha ( - - terekite)
Dha - kreDhaDhinna Dha  ... introducing terekite, foreshadowing theme 2...

Cycle 4: Peshkar theme 2, with a variation again introduced on the 4th repeat, from the 13th beat

Cycle 5: Theme 2 again, with the variation from the previous cycle from the 5th beat, and a tihai from 114/8 
Dha - kreDhaDhinna Dha - (DhagenaTerekite) [underlines denotes double]
Dha - kreDhaDhinna Dha - (DhagenaTerekite)
Dha - kreDhaDhinna Dha

Cycle 6: Peshkar theme 2 again, variation from 5, and a tihai from khali (9th beat)
KreDha - KreDha - Dhin na KreDha - KreDha - Thun na Dha -
KreDha - KreDha - Dhin na KreDha - KreDha - Thun na Dha -
KreDha - KreDha - Dhin na KreDha - KreDha - Thun na Dha

Cycle 7: Peshkar theme 2 w variations from 5 and 13 (i call this an idling cycle... prepping for tihai)

Cycle 8: Peshkar tihai:
{Dha - terekite Thin Na - - Dha - kreDha Thin na - -
                                               Dha - kreDha Thin na - -
                                               Dha - kreDha Thin na Dha - - - } *3

Cycle 9: Kaida! Theme, introduced without baya, with a variation & baya introduction from 13

Cycle 10: Kaida theme, full, with a variation from 13

Cycle 11: Minor variation (Ghe na instead of Dha - ) with a Dha Dha variation from 13

Cycle 12: Ghe na variation from 1, Dha Dha variation from 5, filled version from khali and a tihai from 13 (sort of..there's an intro phrase)
ge Dhatidhagena Dha terekite DhatiDhagena Dha - (kena)
                                                 DhatiDhagena Dha - (kena)
                                                 DhatiDhagena Dha

Cycle 13
: Now the kaida becomes home base, and rela phrases (of 7 & 9) are introduced, from beat 7, and then again from beat 15
The rela phrase is
Dha terekite TakeDhinneNaNaghene (7)
Dha terekite Dha kitetake DhinneNaNaghene (9)
(I'll use only the numbers from here on in)

Cycle 14: Kaida, rela from 3, kaida, rela from 7, kaida, rela from 11 through to sam
or, A 7-9 A 7-9; a 7-9, 7-9, 7-9
(lower case 'a' means khali)

Cycle 15: A 7-9, 7-9, 7-9; a 7-9, 7    {7 Dha - 7 Dha - 7 Dha}

Cycle 16: A 7-9, 7-9, 7-9; 7-9 7-4-4   {9 Dha - - 9 Dha - - 9 Dha}

Cycle 17: 7-9, 7-9, 7-9, 7-9; 7-9, 7-6    {9 Dha -kat- 9 Dha -kat- 9 Dha} 

Cycle 18: final tihai: 7-9, 7-4-6   7 Dha -ne 7 Dha -ne 7 Dha - (ge- din - ne)
                                                     7 Dha -ne 7 Dha -ne 7 Dha - (ge- din - ne)
                                                     7 Dha -ne 7 Dha -ne 7 Dha

Sooooo. The 1st 18 years of the life of a tabla composition. Lots of drama from 14-18, just like everyone. Note that there are 10 tihais in this progression, one used to start the whole thing going, then others to transition between sections, as punctuation within sections, and to end the piece (and start the next cycle).

That's Rattan Bhamrah on esraj, and this was a concert at Musideum in Toronto, July 8, 2014, as part of my Music:India series. 

Najia Alavi
On a sad note, the main camera was operated by a lovely woman by the name of Najia Alavi. She responded to my call for a volunteer to run a camera in exchange for a pair of tickets. We'd never met. She did an awesome job, as you can see, and we kept in touch periodically. Najia passed away, suddenly, tragically, in May 2015. RIP Najia.

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*

Saturday, October 24, 2015


It's been 16 months since I've posted on this blog. I'm writing this post because I was touched by a comment that arrived today: well as an email I received after a recent performance.

I want to explain why I haven't been posting, but first, some music and visuals:

I'll talk about the video and the tabla material below, but I want to share something first.

About 3 years ago I slipped into a very deep and debilitating depression (and frankly, I'm still not entirely out of it, which is worrying). We all ride our own sine-waves (or hey, cycles!) of mood, up and down, round and round, but this was completely new, completely different. I wasn't aware of what was happening for a long time...well over a year I think. I suspect depression is unique to each person, as individual as our voices, or the art and music we produce. Mine manifested as a lack of inspiration, an absolute voiding of all self confidence, creeping hopelessness, increasing isolation, and overwhelming anxiety. As the self-critical voices grew louder and more persistent, it was all I could do to get out of bed in the morning, let alone produce anything artistic. I fought it, periodically struggling to the surface...mounting the Cycles project in some of the very darkest days, putting on a concert series at Musideum, travelling to India twice to study, and again on tour with my band Autorickshaw, performing dozens of concerts, worked on dance and theatre projects, recorded a new solo album, but most of all, created dozens of video works. Almost all my video work, in fact, has been produced in the last three years, over 70 videos of my own, not to mention dozens more concert and music videos for other artists. Video and photography have been one of the few anxiety-free areas of my life in the last three years, and I gladly dove into the sanctuary and freedom of expression of creation in those mediums.

I obviously have not been as debilitated by depression as some people are...people who simply cannot work, or require pharmaceutical or hospital intervention. For this I am thankful. But I feel as if I'm operating at about 25% capacity on any given day, though some days are better than others.

This blog was a casualty of that period. In fact, tabla was very nearly a casualty of that period. I contemplated stopping many many times. I started studying tabla because I loved the sound, loved the deep musical language and traditions, and needed discipline in my life. I've done it for 25 years now, though I still hesitate to call myself a tabla player. I'm unsure, even today, whether I have anything of worth to offer in the world of tabla. My repertoire is relatively limited, my technique not even close to the level of professional players in India. So, tabla became a source of great anxiety. Practicing was a battle to shut out the clamour of self criticism, and stopped being enjoyable, peaceful, and healthy, except for very rare occasions when everything lined up and all I could hear was the music. Practicing used to be joy, and it became a painful prospect I avoided at all costs.

So. Why am I telling you this?

So you will maybe recognize the signs, in yourself, or in someone you know. My tools are: •Mindfulness meditation: simply observing your breath has the amazing ability to push anxiety away so you can get a good look at it (and it's never as bad as you think when it's not clamped on your face, blotting out your vision).
Exercise: work out. It will help you sleep, it will release endorphins that will make you feel good.
•Eat well. Eat yoghurt. There's is a growing body of scientific evidence that our gut biome (intestinal flora, bacteria) has a pretty strong effect on our mood.
Skin contact: if you don't have a lover, get a massage. We are not solitary beings, despite what modern western society would have us believe. We need other people. Depression is isolating. Loneliness is dangerous. Physical contact is important.
•Finish things: the artistic mind often makes grand plans, dream impossible dreams. Don't stop doing that, but also make micro works of art you can complete in a short time. Work on one kaida, even if it's just the theme, 1 variation and the tihai, and record it, perform it for a friend, or just perform it for yourself. The sense of accomplishment will make the next project seem less overwhelming and impossible.
•Talk: This, most of all, is why I'm telling you this. Don't hide what you're going through. That will only increase your isolation. Mental health problems are rife in the world, yet still have massive stigma attached. Tell your closest friend, or a family member. Someone you trust, who loves you, and wants you to be happy. They can be a major source of energy to help you climb out of it. If a friend comes to you seeking help, please don't say 'ah, it'll pass', or 'pull yourself out of it!!'-something you'd never say to someone with a broken bone or a disease. Any contact is incredibly important, so simple conversations, even online chats, may actually be life may not realize it, but you're making a difference. Reach out, and recognize when someone is reaching out. Be costs nothing, and means so much.

ok. I think that's it. Thanks for reading. Comments welcome.

Onto the video above.

I've posted the audio of this here before, but now it has that has come out of some of what I've been going through. This piece is in Chartal Ki Sawari, that uber-lovely 11-beat tala with the swing at the end. This material is all traditional Lucknow repertoire I learned from Pt. Swapan Chaudhuri, which I've recorded and posted before, a number of times. The bassline is based on the Jaunpuri gat Chris Hale and I perform together...I'm honestly not sure if it's still in Raga Jaunpuri at this point, but in any case, the tabla is traditional even of the presentation and accompaniment is not. That is Ben Riley on drums, Justin Abedin on guitar, Rich Brown on bass. There's an extended 'even tabla players get grumpy' 11-minute version here, with Chris Hale on Sitar:

In closing, I will endeavour to post more regularly...I have a few things I've made in the last little while that are tabla-centric, and while I'm tempted to post them all at once in a big multi-post, I'm going to wait, and spread them out.

Thanks, Anonymous commenter, for sparking the pilot-light. It's amazing what a few kind words can do.

be well,

PS re 'Surfacing'...a video I made this summer during a rough patch:
Water is life's mater and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water.
-Albert Szent-Györgyi
Music improvised by Autorickshaw and guests sometime in 2005, with:
Kevin Breit-guitar, Rich Brown-bass, Jonathan Goldsmith-keys, Ed Hanley-tabla, Suba Sankaran-voice, and Debashis Sinha-percussion, at Puck's Farm, Schomberg, Ontario. Recorded and rough mixed by Walter Sobczak. Thanks to Frazier Mohawk.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Palta Theka, Palta Theka, Rela


Quick post with 3 new videos plus a bonus!

First up:
2 Palta Thekas:

1. Jhaptal Palta Theka

Recorded during the Cycles Project, this is a mashup/arrangement of palta thekas I learned from Pt. Swapan Chaudhuri, Pt. Suresh Talwalkar and material from Sri Karaikudi Mani, with some of my composition as well. More detailed post on this recording here:

Lots of phrases of 5, but the only strokes used are: Dhin, Na, Tin, Tun and other words, pretty much the strokes of Jhaptal theka: Dhin na Dhin Dhin na Tin na Dhin Dhin na

Palta Theka is basically an improvisation on the strokes of the theka, happens right off the top of a solo, and, because it uses the strokes of the theka, has a huuuuuge scope for improvisation. You can do's the of tabla, if you will.

Ed Hanley-tabla, voice, udu (heavily auto-filtered to sound like a kickdrum), shaker, programmimg, recording, mixing
Larry Graves-Green Egyptian Parade Drum
Lisa Patterson-Duduk
Mary Ellen Moore-voice
Adam Ogilvie (age 2.5)-bell

The video is part of the early morning train ride from Mumbai to Bhopal on January 9th. It was super foggy and mysterious, so I clamped the GoPro outside the train and let it run for awhile.

2. Tintal Palta Theka

Two palta thekas in one post? Anyone still reading/watching a definitely a tabla nerd. *hi5*

I was a bit leery of sharing this video here... I'm working on a solo *solo* show, and this was an experiment: can I do a set of tabla solo w only my drums and my iPhone. So, I'm running 3 apps here: a drum machine called FunkBox, a generative music app by Brian Eno called Bloom, and iTanpura. Lame? Cool? not is what it is.

I recorded this Palta Theka on my Tintal album, so nothing new...there's a post about it here:

3. Rupak Rela with slooooow motion !

I got offered a solo *solo* tabla gig at a local food and beer fundraiser in the CBC Atrium in Toronto, and I took it because a) it was a challenge: let's see if I can keep non-tabla nerds entertained for an hour, and b) because hey! tabla solo gig!

This is something I've been working on for awhile, an adaptation to a tisrajati rupak rela Pt. Suresh Talwalkar taught me a couple years ago. I posted about this here:

BUT! I filmed it at 120 frames per second, which means slow-motion playback action was possible! So, the 2nd part of the video is slow motion action (where ugh! my technique looks so sloppy!!). I kinda dig the super low pitch sound of tabla at 25% normal speed though...


Aside from tabla, I'm also a photographer, and here's a brand new video with some of the photos I took in Bhopal when I was there in January, set to 2 versions of Autorickshaw's song City of Lakes (all proceeds to the Bhopal Medical Appeal, which funds the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal, which offers free healthcare to survivors of the 1984 Bhopal Gas Disaster). The BIG version of this song, with the much heavier video is here:

OK, that's all for now, thanks for reading!

OH! almost forgot: if you're in Toronto, I have 4 shows this summer, including a tabla solo on July 8th:
Facebook event w info:

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Music:India Summer Series


Concert news:

I'm presenting a 4-part concert series at Musideum this summer in Toronto called Music:India

photo David Courtney
July 8th is tabla solo night, and I'm planning 4 mid-size solos in Rupak, Jhaptal, Chartal Ki Sawari and Tintal. (7, 10, 11 and 16 beats). Esraj wizard Rattan Bhamrah is accompanying, and I think we will do one solo with Tar-Shennai, which is SO COOL: an esraj with an old-style mechanical gramophone amplifier and horn attached: Haunting sound. Here's a playlist of the Jhaptal solo we did at Musideum in August 2012:
July 29th is North/South dreamteam night: Vocalist Suba Sankaran (Autorickshaw vocalist and the daughter of mrdangam maestro Trichy Sankaran), sitarist Christopher Dicran Hale, bass veena player Justin Gray and I will present an evening of classical/hybrid/fusion. This will be the first time we've all played together, but I've no doubt it's going to be a lovely combination. Here's a playlist of vids I've done with each person separately:

August 1st I'm accompanying sitarist Rajib Karmakar in an evening of classical music. He's a fantastic player, and I'm really looking forward to this.

August 29th is mad experimentation night! remix/electronics/abelton wizard Matt Miller and I will be doing...I'm not sure what, exactly. I will be playing tabla, and he will be doing things to my tabla. That's all I know. I don't have a video for this, but here, this is appropriate:

and HEY!

This blog just crossed 100,000 pageviews! ok ok, I know view-counting is tacky and doesn't mean much when Skynet ..I mean Google.. has a brazillion bots crawling the web poking around your TCP ports, but hey, when I started this blog in 2009 I never thought it would reach 1000 views, let alone 100,000, so, yay! TIME FOR TABLA CAKE!

This...!  is a tabla cake. Just look at it. TABLA CAKE!
PS: i just updated the Live Videos and Artsy Videos  pages w new videos.