Friday, August 31, 2012

Ten Talas To A Disco Beat: Jhaptal

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you...something completely different.

Sita Sings the Blues meets Charanjit Singh in a psycha-tabla-delic dream.


It's been awhile since I've released a new track you can buy…so here's the Audio only version with that seductive BUY button. Pay What You Want, minimum $1 as per usual.

As always, I'll get down to the absurdly detailed nitty gritty of materials and creative process.

The Music

I first heard Charanjit Singh's album Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat a few years ago, and I fell instantly and rabidly in love with it. I have listened to this entire album on repeat on more than a few cross country aeroplane rides while on tour. A few tracks are in the top 20 most played in my iTunes library (#1, 6, 7 & 10). I even bought the vinyl. It's hypnotic.

Charanjit Singh made this album in 1982 in Bombay, apparently predating the invention of the genre known as Acid House by something like 4 years. Here are a bunch of links for you to investigate further if you wish: Track 1 on Youtube; and now you want to buy it, so go here: Bombay Connection; an article in the Guardian;  parts one and two of Geeta Dayal's awesome take on the whole thing; and finally an interview with the man himself. Psst!! Dudes in the video...I love that you went to his house! Can you convince him to make a new album? :D

Anyway…as soon as I heard the first track, I thought "I have to record tabla on this song!" and then immediately: "I'll record tabla on on ALL the songs! muahahahahah!!", and then… reality set in. The tracks are already so perfect and complete, there was just no way to improve upon them, not even with tabla (gasp!), so the idea went on a back burner and simmered. In the meantime, I went to India and studied with Pt Suresh Talwalkar on a Canada Council grant, and one Jhaptal Kaida he taught me leapt out as being PERFECT for a 1982 Vintage Bombay Acid House treatment (I'll cover the kaida fully in the next video post from the solo). But…all the tracks on the album are in 8 or 16 beat cycles, and the Kaida is in 10. Hmmm. Obviously, I need to make a version of one track in 10 beats…and then (forehead !!smack!!) it crystallized: Ten Talas to a Disco Beat! Remake every track in a different Tala, using the Ragas Charanjit Singh used on the original album. Not covers, not sampling, but new the style of Ten Ragas. A companion album, if you will. Of course, I don't have Tabla repertoire in 10 different Talas (rhythm cycles), nor have I ever made anything remotely like a primordial Acid House track in my life, but I'll cross those bridges when I come to them. Never let reality get in the way of a good idea!

Here's the Kaida:
Dha - Treke Dhinnagena
Dhagetete DhageTreke Dhinnagena

DhagenaDha Treke Dhene
DhageTete DhageTreke Thinnakena

Fast forward to September 2011, around the time I posted the bluster-y Year Of Jhaptal post I decided to try to tackle making just one track, using that Jhaptal Kaida. Track 1 on the 10RTADB album is Raga Bhairav, so I started there. First: bassline, then drums, then keyboards courtesy of Dylan Bell (not an easy keyboard gig as you can imagine…it took promises of beer and future recording/web design-y favours) and then I set about actually recording the tabla parts in June of this year. There are 19 or so tracks of tabla: 3 high D w Bayan (6 tracks), an A drum and a low D drum (just Dayans), all in unison; a few tracks of single hits on a high and low D Dayans w distortion (sounds like an electric guitar? it's tabla), plus the sundry Dtrkttktrkt and other filler tracks. The bottom end is completely eaten by the bassline so that's why you can't hear the bayas: The bassline is crushing them out of existence! Muahahahah! But, I'm ok with this. The bassline is more important here.

That's the session...all 36 tracks:1-17 are virtual instruments
NOT samples (also not old Roland gear)
 and 18-36 are all tabla
Enter a solid week of editing just the tabla parts. Then a frustrating wandering-in-the-woods period where I had so many ideas that didn't work…Suba Sankaran came over and we co-wrote melodic lines for each variation (lovely, but not quite became all about the melody), a vocoder track with the vocal percussion version of the main tabla parts ('Dha treke Dhinna Gena Dhagetete' etc), w the melodic lines or baseline or keyboard parts as the triggers (I couldn't make it work to my satisfaction), a different set of effects on each tabla track! for each variation! (what are you freaking crazy? do you know how LONG that would take??) aaaaand so on, ad naseum. So….it went back in the subconscious slow cooker for a few weeks. Fast forward again to editing the videos from the Jhaptal solo. The next one in the queue is that very same Suresh Talwalkar Jhaptal Kaida, and I thought 'what if I released that video, and THEN the Ten Talas track! Holy synchrorhythmity Batman!'
na-na na-na na-na na-na DHA DHA!

Enter a kind of manic period over the past few days where I looked at the track again, stripped everything back to the basics, and lo and behold…it was all there already. I just needed to slash and burn: this this this this and thisDELETE. Finish editing, and mix. Done. Sometimes a break is all it takes. I mastered it this morning.

Which brings me to the video part…

Much like Ten Ragas, I was positively frothing with glee when I first saw Sita Sings the Blues. Here are some links: You can watch it online for free (and you really really should), or download it (I have a 4 gig HD copy and a 15 gig copy I used for editing, all free and legal) right here; here's Roger Ebert's review; and here's an interview with creator Nina Paley in Wired. I am in awe…Nina Paley is my freakin' hero: she animated the entire 81 minute movie by herself, on her home computer. Keep that in mind while you watch. Here's what she says about it:

Dear Audience,
I hereby give Sita Sings the Blues to you. Like all culture, it belongs to you already, but I am making it explicit with a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. Please distribute, copy, share, archive, and show Sita Sings the Blues. From the shared culture it came, and back into the shared culture it goes.

You don't need my permission to copy, share, publish, archive, show, sell, broadcast, or remix Sita Sings the Blues. Conventional wisdom urges me to demand payment for every use of the film, but then how would people without money get to see it? How widely would the film be disseminated if it were limited by permission and fees? Control offers a false sense of security. The only real security I have is trusting you, trusting culture, and trusting freedom. 

Whoa. Did she...did she say remix??

So….I wanted to remix parts of the movie. This idea was simmering for even longer than the Ten Ragas idea. Once I started the final push to finish the track, it was clear a video had to go with it. I'd already done some of the heavy lifting making video projections for the Jhaptal solo using SSTB, so it only made sense. I started on Tuesday, finished Thursday, and looked like Gollum at the end, I'm sure, complete with mutterings and preciousssings and cursessssessss. Please note: 99% of what you see is Nina Paley's work. I just chopped it up, squeezed it through kaleidoscopes, ran it spɹɐʍʞɔɐq, grabbed single frames etc etc. I did throw a few easter eggs in there, and those are my hands on the drums, filmed during the recording.

Oh yes, and there are explosions. Lots and LOTS of explosions. With pretty colours. On Sam. Because, really....Sam should be punctuated by explosions of pretty colours, don't you think? That's how I see it anyway.

So…there you have it, a creative time-travelogue of sorts, starting in 5th century India (Ramayana), with stops in a tabla practice room in Delhi sometime in the early 1900s (the Kaida), a Bombay recording studio 1982, an animators apartment in New York in 2007 ending up in an Artist's Co-op in Toronto in 2012. I take no credit for creating ANY of this. This is a perfect example of what Austin Kleon is talking about here.

I'm not going to promise that I can complete the album, as this one track took over my life for significant chunks, but it was really fun to make, and I have material in mind for an 11 beat version...

Thank yous are in order:

Dylan Bell for his Bomb-tastic keyboard parts
Suba Sankaran for writing a ton of (unused) melodic material and inadvertently teaching me a lot in the process
and both Suba and Dylan for letting use their livingroom as a recording studio
Santosh Naidu for convincing me to be as accurate as possible in recreating the drum and bass sounds
Gurtej Hunjan for showing me how to program the 808 drum machine in Logic to get those sounds
Jai Pahuja for patiently listening to me plan this project out for years
Andy Krehm for mastering it on short notice (we used 1/2" reel-to-reel tape in the mastering chain...exactly what Charanjit Singh would have mixed down onto! very excitement! unless he mixed down onto 1/4" tape, which is probably more likely)
Nina Paley for making Sita Sings The Blues, and writing back to me re proper credits (swoon) and generally being an inspiration
Charanjit Singh for going way way outside the harmonuim box and making an awesome record that's both traditional and cutting edge even today
Boing Boing for introducing me to both Ten Ragas and SSTB
Pandit Suresh Talwalkar for teaching me the Kaida, whipping my technique into shape, and showing me a lot of very cool tabla tools and techniques
Freya Sargent for embracing and encouraging the creative mania!

PS I'm kind of agonizing over whether this is actually a cover version or not. I don't think it is, and here's why: The Raga itself is not copyrightable, nor did Charanjit Singh invent it, the drum grooves and tempo are different, all the keyboard parts are completely different, and while the bassline is close, it's pretty different too…different rhythm, different time cycle, and different note order. But….I'm 100% sure I'd recognize it and go 'Charanjit Singh cover!' if I heard it, so that casts a teensy weensy seed of doubt. Anyone care to weigh in?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Jhaptal Solo, Live, Part 2

Part 1 is here

Part 2:

This section has 2 compositions: A Peshkar (that flows into a Kaida), and another Kaida: the famous Delhi Kaida everyone knows and loves, albeit in Jhaptal. I learned both of these from Pt Suresh Talwalkar in Pune during the formative start-from-scratch-but-in-Jhaptal phase of my life.

The Peshkar starts in Tisra (triplets) and man, did it ever take me a long time to feel this comfortably.

Dhin - - Dha - re Dha - Thin - Na - - - -  is the basic phrase*.

The end of the phrase is where the romping and frolicking happens:
…Dhin - Na - - - -
…Dhin - Na - - - Kre
…Dhin - Na - Takita
…Dhin - - Terekite

It hangs out in triplets for awhile (I kinda rush through it actually…nerves perhaps), and then morphs (hopefully) seamlessly into Chatusra (4s), using almost the same phrase (the gaps are slightly different), which is always a bit of a mind bender. That 3s to 4s transition is so cool that you could groove out on it for a few cycles and not bore anyone, as far as I'm concerned. And then it morphs again into a really awesome Kaida with a deeply cool Tihai.

I have a 'special moment' the first time I try to step into the Kaida, but hey…these things are permitted as long as you get it right the second time. I get it right the second time. (My actual thought process was "Doh! ok ok FOCUS man! Gosh." …simultaneously channeling Homer Simpson and Napoleon Dynamite and almost making myself laugh).

The Kaida is heavy on Dha, and I have a Tintal version of this Kaida from Pt Anindo Chatterjee that I really must spend some more time with. When I learned it, it was so hard to play that I kinda shied away from it, but now it may be time for a revisit. I digress. I only touched on a few of the Jhaptal variations here, but when I record the whole thing, I'll try to play all the variations. And get this: there's an entire Rela section at the end!

Looking at the closeup video, i'm not playing Terekite right in the centre of the Gab, which I really should be at this speed. Bad Talawallah! The sound is quite different when you nail the centre. Note to self: play in the centre! It's funny how the wide and relaxed focus I have in practice sometimes gets restricted in concert (or when I'm nervous). I simply have less mental bandwidth to work with, so some things fall outside the available range. Though when the music is really flowing, and therefore I'm relaxed, there seems to be almost unlimited bandwidth, and those moments are why I play music, ultimately. It's a meditation I guess….shutting down the analytical left side of the brain, and letting the intuitive right side fill the space. That feeling is really without compare.

Ergo: more practice! Embed the physicality so deeply that it doesn't fall apart at the big moment, or require a lot of thinking to pull off, and you can listen to, and play with, the sound.

AND…the more you perform, the easier it gets. More practice, more performance, less thinking, more music.

Enough self criticism for the moment. The trickster-y Thun (pause) before the downbeat is some superfine funkyness IMHO. That's pure Suresh Talwalkar right there.

We are treated to some more loveliness from Rattan, and then: Cunning drum switch! Wasn't sure how I was going to do this actually…glad it worked out. Hence the weird nodding…I'm thinking: 'ha! ok phew…that potentially embarrassing moment is done.'

Which reminds me…a big low tabla is the bomb to practice on. You have to work so much harder to get definition, finger placement involves serious travel, and the gab is usually massively thick, so you have to really nail it to get any 'pop'. Good for technique, and you'll really notice a difference when you move back to a small, higher pitched drum.

The next Kaida is the famous Delhi Dhatete (or Dhatita) Kaida that I recorded in Tintal, and wrote about here.

The Jhaptal version adds another DhaDhatete to the Tintal version:
Dtt Dtt DDtt DDtt DgTnkn

Pssh! Easy! You're just adding a phrase to make it into 5! Yes, BUT! The cool thing is how it opens doors up for a whole different set of variations/improv tools. The breakdown is 3, 3, 4 and 4, 6. Both add up to 10. You can start playing around with 5s, and it really gets interesting: 5, 5, 4, 6 etc. Again, I played it safe and only touched a few variations, but there's a ton of possible transmogrifications: DDDtt, ttDtt, Dtttt for 5s, DgTnkn can become ttDDtt for the 6s (not to mention DttDtt), so mix and match, and some wild and wonderful combos happen. Just remember: 2 Tetes in a row? Accent the 2nd one, HARD: teteTEte. It hurts, but it sounds very cool and adds definition. Also: Delhi Gharana = 2 finger Tete. No cheating!

The theme happens single, then tisrafied (334, 334, 46) which is my (not terribly scintillating) contribution to the proceedings, then double.

грязной Гарриет: "I know what you're thinking.
'Did he play six Dhas or only five?'
Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement
I kind of lost track myself"
Sigh. Once again, I almost blow a tire, recover, and kinda stagger into the Tihai, where I almost crash and burn completely! :P The Tihai is, quite simply, a beast. Tihais within Tihais within a Tihai…it's the Russian Stacking Doll of Tihais! A single error in this Tihai, and it's off to the Gulag for sure.

I should have played it again, and if it wasn't such a lengthy beast, I probably would have.

I have a visualization system for monster Tihais like this that involves a map of the whole Tihai in cells (see pic below) that light up as I move through them to help me keep track. Doesn't help when one of the bulbs flickers… but most of the time it works, I swear! I need to work on this Kaida more before I try to record the whole thing. But I will.


Internalizing a tihai like this, so it's felt really clearly, so the gravity of Sam exerts an inexorable pull, and the strokes flow in an aesthetic, rather than logical way, is something I'm always working on….though maybe I shouldn't be. It's more about turning things off than concentrating harder, but the visualization is helpful to get through when that's not happening yet. Plus I think that visualization can be a tool for creation, improv, performance, if your brain works this way.

Get your Tabla Geek on, Episode 2:

*Tisra Peshkar bol breakdown! Uh-huh uh-huh.

Dhin - - Dha - re Dha - Thin - Na - - - -

3, 3, 2, 2, 5 which is a nice round 15.

The beat is subdivided in double tisra (6 subdivisions/beat), giving us a total of 60 subdivisions in one cycle of Jhaptal.


So…play that phrase 4 times (3rd time Khali) and you're off to the races! Of course it goes offbeat every other time, which is a whole other conundrum.

ok, I think that's it for this video. The next one has one of my all time favourite Kaidas. Stay tuned. It's a doozy.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Jhaptal solo, live, Part 1

Dear readers!

So….remember the big 'Year of Jhaptal' plans? Heh. Yeaaaaah (sheepishly scuffs his feet).

Here comes an entire tabla solo in Jhaptal!

On Aug 21/12 I performed a 1 hour solo at a très cool spot called Musideum in Toronto. The entire thing is on video, and here's part numero uno:

That is Rattan Bhamrah on Esraj, and he's SO awesome to play with, I really can't say enough. You might remember him this video, or maybe this one, or this audio clip.

We start with a lovely Alap from Rattan, and then move into an improvised tabla introduction that probably (…ok, definitely) breaks all sorts of rules. The material is drawn from a Peshkar I heard (but didn't formally learn) while I was studying with Pt Suresh Talwalkar in Pune, a Palta Theka I learned from Pt Swapan Chaudhuri and some Khanda Nadai material (quintuplets*) I learned from mrdangist Karaikudi Mani in Chennai. Any rule breaking is 100% my doing. So….it's a bit of a mixture, but I wanted something really slow and mellow to start the solo. It's maybe easier to extend the playreallyfastattheend part of the solo, so it was a personal challenge to extend the slooooow unfolding of things.

I decided to play the first couple of sections on a low tabla as I think it suits the material, plus those low drums sound so earthy and nighttime-y. Higher tabla comes into play later. The baya is clay, which doesn't sustain quite as well as metal, but it won the 'which baya?' shootout the day of the show.  Plus it's made of clay! More old-school earthy factor! All three drums are made in Kolkata by Mukta Das via Kala Kendar in Toronto.

I tried to cover as many types of repertoire as I could in the solo. Here's what's coming: a proper Peshkar->Kaida, a few Kaidas, Kaida-Relas, Relas, a Gat, some Parans, an Amad and a few Chakradars. I covered as many gharanas as possible as well: Lucknow, Farukhabad, Delhi, Punjab and Ajrada (though this last one is possibly not accurate). I'm not sure i know any Benares gharana material actually….hmm. Unless I do and don't know it? Possibly.

There's material from almost all of my teachers: Pt. Suresh Talwalkar, Pt. Swapan Chaudhuri, Pt. Anindo Chatterjee, Subhajyoti Guha, Sri Karaikudi Mani and my first tabla teacher, Ritesh Das. Disclaimer: Some of it isn't native Jhaptal, but adaptations of Tintal material, and I'll talk about how that works when it comes up.

I did a little talk at the beginning of the show (not sure I'll include it in the videos, as I rambled a bit, and even said 'blah blah blah' at one point 0.o!!) in case there were tabla newbies in the audience, and it was an interesting challenge to try to talk about this incredibly complex and obscure artform in a concise way. I came with a simple way of describing a solo that I think works:

A tabla solo is a series of percussion vignettes that all take place in a rhythmic cycle with a fixed number of beats, accompanied by a looping melody that marks the time. The solo unfolds gradually, moving through different types of repertoire, from slow to fast, long to short, improvised to composed, simmering to explosive.

Sounds a little less intimidating than "ONE HOUR DRUM SOLO!! Three THOUSAND Six HUNDRED seconds of reallyreallyfast drumming!! w00t!" Which, let's face it, is not for everyone.

Then I went on and on and on forever trying to explain the cyclical nature of time in Indian music, the concept of tihais, the role of the lehara, types of repertoire, gharanas, bhari/khali, tabla language, drumheads made of goats and iron and rice…  oh my. Yeah… not going to include the pre-show talk.

The goal, of course, being to introduce a wider audience to what I think is one of the richest percussion languages and traditions on our lovely planet earth.

I'll be piling the videos on as fast as I can edit them so keep an eye out. You can always sign up with the Feedburner email thingy (on right side over yonder->), which will let you know when a new post arrives, or do the Facebook 'like' thingamajig.

percussively yours,

*In this episode of Get Your Tabla Geek On:

Quintuplets (5 subdivisions of the beat). Time to transmogrify!!….if you play a phrase of 4 quintuplets** it will take 4 beats. If you then play the same phrase straight, i.e. 4 subdivisions of the beat (aka Chatusra), then it will fit into 5 beats. And vice-versa of course….take any Chatusra Jhaptal material, play it in Khanda Nadai, and you'll be in Tintal!

So…one beat per line….eeeeeverybody recite along and clap on the first word in each line!

Khanda Nadai (5 subdivisions/beat)
Taka Takita
Taka Takita
Taka Takita
Taka Takita

4 beats.

Chatusra Nadai (4 subdivisions/beat)
Taka Taki
ta Taka Ta
kita Taka
Takita Ta
ka Takita

5 beats.

(Use DhatiDhagena instead of TakaTakita, or even Dhin-Dhagena DhatiDhagena GhenaDhagena DhatiDhagena if you want a more north-y flavour).

This works for pretty much anything: phrases of 3, 5, 7, 9 and so on. So, transmogrify away! 

PS I filmed with 4 cameras…I had a 5th that didn't record, and you can see me tinkering fruitlessly with it in the video. It was going to be a really cool shot looking up the Esraj from below. [sadface]  BUT…my video projections seemed to work, though someone, bless their nerdy nerdy mind, did notice that the kaleidoscope plugin I used in FCE gave the images 8 sides instead of 10! The horror!! Ten sides would have been ideal of course, but I couldn't figure it out. More about the video projections in a later post.

PPS Making sure quintuplets was the right word, I checked a couple places, and I love that they're referred to as 'irrational rhythm' in western music. Lol. No wonder tabla players are so temperamental!! In other news, Irrational Rhythm is a great album name. Just sayin'.

PPPS I am available for concerts, lecture demonstrations and workshops as well as classes, both online and in person. Drop me a line.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Tabla Solo concert, Aug 21st, Toronto & update

Concert announcement and update on recordings:
I loves me some retro technical illustrations...
I will be performing a tabla solo on Tuesday, August 21st at Musideum in Toronto, accompanied by the awesome Rattan Bhamrah on esraj. Here's the facebook event, and here is a preview for my last solo concert:
The tabla is by far the most hypnotic, and expressive percussion instrument you will ever witness live. The term "tabla" actually refers to a set of two drums, one tuned higher, called the 'daina' that is actually tuned to a note that is related in some way to the raga being performed, and a lower pitched drum called the 'dagga'. The complex patterns and phrases played routinely on the tabla are mind-boggling! Try counting along if you dare... Hanley will be joined by Rattan Bhamrah, who will play the esraj, an Indian stringed instrument that is played with a bow. Bhamrah will likely be present largely to play a "lehera" for Hanley: this is a repeated phrase associated with a raga that is essentially 'looped', in order to serve as a stable 'marker' to be juxtaposed with the pyrotechnics delivered by the tabla player.
Jhaptal will be on the menu, including material from Pandit Suresh Talwalkar, Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri and Sri Subhajyoti Guha...peshkar, kaida, rela, paran, thukra and chakradar.

Hopefully, I will get video of the entire concert, so stay tuned!

Recording update:

I have four tracks in progress, and will post as soon as I can get time to record the accompanists and finish the mixes. A tintal peshkar/kaida/rela, tintal kaida-rela and  jhaptal kaida from Pandit Suresh Talwalkar, and a solo in Chartal Ki Sawari (11 beats) incl. kaida, gat, paran and thukra from Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri.

What I've been up to:

It's been an interesting year so far: I played a tabla solo in January; premiered a Tabla Concerto composed by Dinuk Wijeratne with Symphony Nova Scotia in February (the CBC recorded the concert, and I'll post a link once the on-demand recording is up), review: 'Ed Hanley is a remarkable player, both in his musical thoughtfulness and his technical virtuosity.'; played a bunch of gigs with my band Autorickshaw, incl. trio, quartet and sextet concerts, plus our 70s Bollywood show; played a few gigs with banjo player Jayme Stone; recorded with vocalist Lenka Lichtenberg; toured with devotional ensemble Aradhna; did a couple weeks of school workshops with grade 6-8 students at 2 different schools; a Brazilan-Indian collaboration gig called Bombay Brazil (video); a couple gigs with choirs, including one at Toronto's Massey Hall (always dreamed of playing Massey Hall! w00t!); and finally, completed work on Persian percussionist Naghmeh Farahmand's solo album, which I produced, recorded, edited and mixed.

until next time,