Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Karnataka 2

A couple of years ago I was working with the Chitraleka dance company and they commissioned me to compose music for their new production. They retain strong connections with south India, I spent a few weeks in the capital of Carnatic music, Bangalore, where I had my pick of top session musicians. It was a great experience - I met so many lovely people. Here are my hosts - Balu (S.V.Balakrishna) famous mrdangam player, Vasudha Balakrishna, a classical singer, with their son and budding mrdangamist, Pranav, and Chitraleka (left).
Here are a couple of tracks from those sessions....

Meetings with remarkable men

Actually not Gurdjieff, but another great philosopher-composer-mystic, Jacques Charpentier whose music has interested me for decades. Born in 1933 he spent a couple of years in Calcutta in the early 1950s and became fascinated by Indian classical music, long before the hippy trail, The Beatles and Ravi Shankar. On his return to France there were long years of study with Olivier Messiaen, then a succession of posts at the Paris Conservatoire, then with the government as a minister for culture.

Yesterday I had the honour to meet him at his home in Carcassonne, and we talked. Two hours flew by. I heard amazing stories about his life, his time in India as a 20-year old pianist, his first meeting with Messiaen, who after listening to his enthusiastic accounts of Indian music for an hour, said to him quietly "Mais vous êtes un Occidental". His magnum opus for piano - the 72 Etudes Karnatiques - is among many other things an acknowledgement of Messiaen's wisdom. Each étude is a self-contained composition using one of the 72 parent scales of South Indian music the melakarta but there is nothing 'Indiany' about them.

Another tale concerned a mission he was sent on by President Giscard d'Estaing in the mid 70s to meet with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi about setting up a centre for Franco-Arab culture in Tripoli. Gaddafi was by all accounts a funny, intelligent and very cultured man. Such a pity he was also a brutal dictator.

Here is no 67 of the Etudes Karnatiques...

Sunday, 26 August 2012

6s and 7s #1

The Cerbère soundscape obsession started in April 2009. On the 6th and 7th to be precise, thereby initiating a series of site-specific and date-specific pieces using found sounds, in this case from a 1920s inspirational concrete hotel, Le Belvedère du Rayon Vert - sounds of wind whistling through metal balustrades, rattling windows, trains, and improvisations on the semi-derelict piano. Subsequent pieces were also collected/assembled on the 6th and/or 7th day of the month. Sixes and sevens, an old English saying to denote a state of confusion, seemed appropriate as that is a state I often feel as an artist - where do we go next?  

Cerbère 21:8:2012

Cerbère 21:8:2012
An assemblage of found sounds - disused metal pipes in an old tunnel underneath Cerbère railway station, Ezra singing a note to try out the strange resonance, plus aforementioned driftwood balafon.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

more strange sights and sounds from Cerbère

Chance encounter with two members of rare coastal-dwelling Mediterranean tribe who play their strange music on crudely-made driftwood balafons....

Cerbère, un peu plus tard....

A bit later that evening after the pause - three dances in each half...In this selection, having heard the tune just a couple of times, the dancers are getting into their stride. They seem to have sussed where the music is going, and it's not that straightforward. There's a formula for beginning and ending and a 'surprise' 2-bar break for the flagiolist thrown in somewhere, an asymmetrical framework of sections called curts (short steps) and llargs (long steps)

Cercle Cerbère

Just returned from a couple of days on the Côte Vermeille, in this last town before Spain - a constant source of wonderment and inspiration. Big SNCF depot with all kinds of scraping, hissing, squealing and clanging, plus the sounds of nature, cicadas, sea, chickens....
This visit we found to some real folklore. The shady 'place de village' was, we were told, made in a circular shape to accommodate the evenings of Sardanas (no, not sardines, must turn off this predictive text) - traditional Catalan circle dances which old and young alike join in, though being French as well as Catalan there is probably a slight reluctance on the part of the male population to dance with such dainty steps. The circles should be boy-girl-boy-girl but the boys here were rather outnumbered. The 11-piece band cobla have some very distinctive Catalan instruments - 2 tible and 2 tenore - raucous oboe/shawm-type instruments and the leader who plays 2 instruments simultaneously - a flabiol - small flute - and a tambori - a tiny drum strapped to his arm.
When the band start up each number it takes a while for the dancers to take to the floor. This is because they're busy figuring out what the musicians are up to, the structure, the time divisions, etc which dictate what dance steps are appropriate. As soon as they have it sussed they begin to form little circles which then grow in size. Camera had a bit of difficulty focussing in the low light....

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Ladrang Mugirahayu

Not La Java Javanaise

I don't know if Boris Vian or Serge Gainsbourg ever played the gamelan, or where indeed this peculiar way of speaking came from. Just returned from the Saint-Lizier Festival teaching Javanese music to a group of extremely talented young musicians. They were there to perfect their virtuoso piano-playing and vocal skills, but all took part in the gamelan group every morning. Being the 150th anniversary of Debussy's birth it was the idea of festival director David Lively to show some of the influences on his music, and the encounter with Javanese gamelan music at the Great Exhibition of 1889, according to many musicologists, was a decisive one - the multi-layered floating textures, rootless whole-tone scales, sonorous gongs in the bass, rippling pentatonic patterns, may never have happened otherwise.

First excerpt is part of an exit piece or bubaran - the Hudjan rain Mas gold of the title is to wish everyone 'much wealth' as they leave, and is therefore, understandably, a firm favourite with Javanese audiences.
The other, entitled Ladrang Mugirahayu features the great American soprano June Anderson together with her student Nana Sawaushi.
Many thanks to all the students and teachers, to David, Gilles super-administrator person, for such a great week, and the technicians who moved the gamelan around with such good humour.

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