Sunday, September 15, 2013

Bass Veena and Tabla demos

Hi folks,

Quick post with a pair of demo videos I made recently with bass veena player Justin Gray.
What's bass veena you ask? Crossbreed a Rudra Veena and a fretless bass and there you have it. No sympathetic strings, but there's a Swarmandal on board, and a pair of chikari strings, so it has a very cool hybrid sound. You might remember the bass veena from this 12-minute festival of weirdness here.

Not much to say except it's fun to make these super-short demos, but challenging as well...from alap to final tihai in 4-5 minutes is hard! O.o...but, with the abysmally short attention spans of most people* today, a demo video longer than about 4 minutes is simply not going to get watched. I will post a concert video as soon as we capture a good one.

The first video is in Raga Kedar, and has a short alap, a gat in vilambit tintal, and a 2nd gat in drut tintal. There's a one-cycle kaida in the vilambit: hellogoodbye!

The 2nd is in Raga Charukesi, and dives straight into a madhya laya tintal gat, followed by a gat in drut tintal. I play a kathak paran to finish the madhya laya section: Kttk tun tun nateteTa...

Justin would like to thank his Guruji Shantanu Bhattacharyya, and I am always very grateful to all of my teachers over the years. This artform is pretty much impossible without expert guidance.

Thanks for watching!

*present company excluded...if you're reading a tabla blog, you probably have not only abnormally-long attention spans, but pathological levels of patience as well. :)

PS I shot a video of Justin talking about the bass veena at the Cycles project in March...perhaps I should dig that out of the ol' harddrive...hmm. Soon.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Another solo in Chartal Ki Sawari...longer this time

Hello all,
New video from a concert I played the other night with sitarist Chris Hale:

You might recognize some of the material from these previous posts, but there's a bunch of stuff I haven't played or recorded before. Compositional types abound: mukra, paran, kaida, gat & chakradar. With lots of recitation.


I learned most of the material I play here in a workshop with Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri, and it's all so very beautiful...the way the compositions follow the contours, and especially the sawari (little 'ride' on the last 3 beats of the tala) is really a joy to practice and play. I hope I do it justice.

Tabla has basically 2 types or extended families of composition: improvised, and fixed. I ramble on about the improvised forms (peshkar, kaida, kaida-rela, rela etc) a lot on this blog, so now it's time to focus on the short forms: mukra, gat, paran and chakradar.

I think of these forms as poems...rhythmic poems. One does not tend to improvise on them, though it's common to re-compose, or elaborate on one particular composition to put it in a different tala, or to just make a series of them that are all related. Some compositions have probably hundreds of versions, and every tabla player knows one you've never heard before. Still...they're fixed, not improvised.

The performance practice, unlike the long-forms, is to recite the composition first, then play. The poetry of these compositions lies equally in both realms... the vocalizations, if done well, can stand alone, are very lyrical, and can really illustrate the phrasing, grammar and flow, while the playing part operates on a completely other, abstract hear a set of words (bols), then a musical or sonic representation in which you can 'hear' the words, but the real magic is that the drum sounds will set up accents and patterns that are not audible in the spoken language. One composition might, for example, have a progressive use of the open 'tun' stroke (open RH drum sound): 'tun' can be played alone (tun, di) or combined with open or closed baya (thun, dhin, dhen) and are grouped in combinations with a dizzying array of 'words' or longer phrases: dheneghene, gedighene, dhenegheran-ne, dighene, teteketagedighene, dhenetage, takedhene etc etc and when this happens, it's almost like another level of reality is exposed...the Matrix of Tabla! omg. Did I just go there? I really did. Tabla players DEFINITELY took the red pill ;)

So...the forms:

Mukra is a short composition, usually made up of bols from Pakhawaj. I think of mukras as small flourishes leading into sam...they're not usually a main-course type of composition, but can be very beautiful nonetheless. There is usually a tihai at the end of a Mukra. Mukra means 'face', but I'm not sure how that relates to tabla...perhaps it's more of a glance, or a glimpse of a face? Maybe a mischievous flare of the eyes.

Paran: compositions made up of pakhawaj and/or dance bols, including an ending tihai. Some of these bols are super obscure and cool... 'tunga', for example is pretty awesome, as is this entire phrase:
Ta--watun-ga-wa-tun-ga-dugga dugga tun-ga

Parans can also include entire words, and can take the form of prayers or invocations to Hindu deities. (see if you can find the album 'Masters of Tala -Raja Chatrapati Singh Pakhawaj Solo' for some AMAZING parans... wow)

Chakradar: basically a thukra or a paran (including tihai) that is repeated 3 times (aka Chakradar tihai). So, kind of a giant SUPER-Tihai. The real fun is that there are sub families of Chakradar, with carfully math'd out placements of 'dha' in relation to sam (1st beat). I'm not sure how to explain these at the moment...and besides, they deserve their own post. Later.

Gat: the king of tabla compositions (in certain Gharanas/styles anyway). Gats are super complex poetical forms that often (but not always) do NOT have a tihai. They're so cool, they don't even need a tihai. ;)

Gats often have virtuosic combinations of strokes (they can be quite long...blistering streams over many cycles), can change speeds (eg from chatusra (4s) to double tisra (6s) to misra nadai (7s) etc) all in one composition. There are gats that repeat each bol 2 or 3 or even 4 times in a row: dhenegheran-ne dhenegheran-ne gherenagedhene gherenagedhene etc;, there are gats that rhyme the ends and beginnings of phrases (i.e. finish with a tun, start with a tun, finish w a dhet, start with a dhet etc); the same phrase in 3 or 4 different speeds and on and on. Super rich creative soil, the gat. I do a couple gats in this solo.

Gats are also improv friendly...there are Gat-Kaidas, for example, where the body of the gat becomes a theme for improv. Amazing.

So, here's a time'd, absurdly detailed breakdown of what's happening in this solo:

0:00-2:15 Chris plays alap in Raga Jaunpuri (introduction of the raga, or melodic mode) *at 0:23 I get my list of compositions...basically a sheet that reminds me what I want to play, and in what order, as it's easy to forget in the heat of the moment, for me anyway. The entire compositions are not written there...just the first lines, so I know what's what.)

2:15-2:20 I give Chris the tempo

2:20 Chris starts the lehara (from beat 9) and I mark the first sam, and then adjust my mic stand, which is too low :P

tihai into the next cycle at 2:33, where i show the audience the 11 beats (I've talked about the tala cycle before starting, so now they can hear the pulse and the sawari in action) Chartal ki Sawari is broken down 2-2-2-2-1.5-1.5, and those 1.5s give the last three beats a very cool feel...the Sawari, or 'ride'.

2:43 theka, introducing the baya on beat 9

2:52 mukra (note how he tihai follows the sawari at the end of the tala *swoon*...but then again, ALL the tihais do that!)

3:02 first full cycles of theka (Dhin terekite Dhin na Thun na Kat Ta, and Chris improvises for a few cycles, still setting the mood.

3:58 Paran (my adaptation of something I know in tintal), followed by theka, and then a variation of the theka Swapanji taught that is very similar to Ektal (a 12 beat cycle, and an example of a subtle sense of humour ;)

4:34 Paran (from Swapanji), followed by Theka

5:00 Kaida (everything following this is from Swapanji unless noted), starting with single speed, introducing double, then full double, finishing with a tihai and theka (there always theka! the tabla version of idling, or grooving...won't mention it again)

7:26 Gat, recited a couple time then played. This is a Di Padi Gat, meaning that each phrase is played twice, flowing right into...

8:18 another Gat, that finishes with a phrase in Tisra nadai, right into...

8:52 a sort-of-kinda rela I made up on the spot, and barely survive...this is the tabla equivalent of drifting in a're skidding and sliding, still moving forwards, somewhat in control, but maybe not entirely :P My notes simply said 'improv on tisra gat phrase'

9:41 Mukra, recited and played a couple times...lovelovelove this composition! Din Din NaNa kitetake....and those 'Nas' are open Na's...on the rim of the drum, not regular types...mos def a pakhawaj bol.

10:39 Paran, recited and played a couple times...the tihai is some very challenging technique...many many repititions at slow slow speed to get it right, and keep it intact at top speed: Dha - kitetake din . ghere Dha

11:20 Gat. MONSTER Gat. 2 cycle beast of a Gat. Very beautiful composition, but hard. Recite, playplayplay. I kinda break the rules here btw...Gats are supposed to be played Bhari/Khali (like a kaida..version with bass strokes and then a version partially without bass strokes), but I wanted to try to play all the compositions 3 times in a row, you know, just to make it harder O.o

12:33 Paran, and one of my favourite parans ever! Swapanji taught us 3 different tihais for this...i'm playing the simplist one...the hardest one is crazy technical mountain climbing and I can't play it...yet. working on it. This composition is NOT about tunafish, despite what you might think.

13:32 Chakradar (aka super tihai) this one starts out with a couple phrases of 7, in 11 beats...7-11, get it? *facepalm* None of these are easy, but the 2nd palla (repeat) of this one starts on the offbeat, and crosses sam on the offbeat and finishes with a tihai in groups of 5, so yeah...hard. One of the most fun to recite though.

--speed increase--

14:59 Gat...sort of... this is an adaptation of a tintal Gat I learned from Pandit Anindo Chatterjee (I play it at 5:46 if this recording) and my version isn't really all that super...I actually met with Anindoji in Toronto the night before the concert, and he made a very nice chakradar version, but I couldn't get it stable enough to pull off in concert that quickly, so I reverted to my version. *sigh* Next time.

at 15:12 I launch out of the ending phrase of the gat into a Adjrada-y groove, then into a kitcheri-y* version of the Farukhabad Chalan-Kaida I recorded here and this is another wet-road drifting session...I could've played a lot longer, but I could feel the traction slipping, so I bailed into a tihai. Yup...I believe in honesty! ;) *kitcheri-y because I'm mixing in strokes not in the original composition.

16:41 Paran (I talk about this on the video). Some challenging baya work here, and I tag a tihai onto the end that is not part of the original composition Swapanji taught (apologies!) BUT! it IS made up of bols from the original composition, so hopefully that smooths the infraction somewhat.

17:40 final Paran, and it's another 2 cycle beast, crossing sam in the middle of a phrase, and with a tihai that is so precarious that a 1/4 beat error is unrecoverable. I was going to say fatal, but you can always ditch the main 'chute and go to the backup 'chute...i.e., revert to theka and try again! ;)
I tag a tihai onto this composition as well, just to really give it that 'final tihai' feeling.

and if anyone actually read all that, and followed along, get yourself a Tabla Geek patch and sew it on your kurta!

OH! aaaand, i would like to give major props to Chris Hale for his wonderful playing...this tala, and especially this tala with these rhythms is NOT easy to keep lehara for. Awesome job Chris! *Kran* hi-five.

That's all for now, thanks for reading, listening, and oh, hey! if you like what I'm doing here, feel free to buy a track, or an album...everything is over here on Bandcamp.

tata, dinginatoms