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.