Celebrity chef Herman den Blijker wanted us to stay all night. But we had other places to go, however beautiful (and ambient-music-inspiring) the accoustics in the high-ceilinged entrance of his place were.
What places? Why, restaurants, of course. The latest sensation in dinner music, guitarist Lukas Simonis, Peter van Bergen, and yours truly pack all the energy and most of the notes of your usual digestive-jazz combo’s full night into bursts of maximum 10 minutes, after which we quickly move on to the next place. The aim of all this on Friday 19 April was to give the dinner guests on the fancy Rotterdam Wilhelminapier a taste of what was going on at the Red Ear Festival for experimental jazz and environs.
One, two, three, go! Freestyle. No prior agreements about form, key, mood. Just act, and react. An intense form of working together, especially with people you haven’t played with before – will vocabularies match, will we “feel” each other enough to follow, contrast, complement each other? Do our repertoires of tricks and phrases work with the others’, do we inspire each other enough to find ways together, surprise ourselves, challenge and feed each other, and above all create interesting music?
Whether we succeeded? That I leave to you to decide, dear listener. But I had a fantastic evening.
On 2 November, my drumbiker trip Elephant Songs, a musical journey from South India to the Netherlands on an old motorcycle loaded with drums, was concluded with a beautiful evening at the Utrecht theatre farm rood|noot. A full house enjoyed fantastic Indian food cooked by Sanderien, Peter, Irene, and Suzy while watching a selection of filmclips of the trip or checking out the morning pictures (now also available as a fast-forward film clip: 255 photos in 55 seconds, with music from the show at Darbast, Tehran).
The second half of the concert was a return to older Amsterdam days, when I often played duo with guitarist extraordinaire Alfredo Genovesi – for improvised or set dance shows, with the Phillip Project, as part of a larger groups, or like tonight – just the two of us, enjoying playing together.
improvisation by alfredo genovesi & robbert van hulzen
The night before we had the honour to make an appearance on the great programme Virus, which is aimed at bringing “classical music” to a younger audience. Wouldn’t have been complete without us, obviously. We played three tunes for an enthousiastic studio audience, broadcast live at the Dutch Radio 4 and the internet. Tonight’s Elephant Ensemble featured Yedo Gibson (saxophones), Jornt Duyx (guitar), Marko Bonarius (double bass), and your humble correspondent (drums).
Not entirely sure what to do now the trip was almost over, I decided to to enjoy the early autumn light in beautiful Antwerp. From there, one cold and sunny morning I rode into the Netherlands to play with Rik van Iersel‘s Beukorkest at the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven. On my way there however there was something else I urgently had to take care of – legalising my bike.
No one seemed to really care I arrived at the registration office with my Nepali plates – and that was only the beginning.
Hmm, that front wheel has some play in the bearings. What’s the official margin? None. Rear wheel – same story. The indicators, do they work? Sometimes… That’s ok, on a bike this old they’re not compulsory anyway. What about the brake light? Uhmm… You’ll fix all this, won’t you? Of course. Then all that was left was verifying that this was indeed the bike that was described in its Nepali registration papers. There was some doubt whether the bike was as old as it pretended to be, the speedometer and a few other things looking too new in the opinion of the friendly offical. But in the end it was decided that matching frame and engine numbers sufficed, and the Dutch papers would be in the mail shortly.
I think I wasn’t really supposed to use the bike till then, but with my frontier insurance papers in my pocket I felt safe enough and rode into the centre of the Dutch city of lights, Eindhoven, to find a good coffee and subsequently the Burootje Beukorkest – a combination of art gallery and concert venue that was part of the Dutch Design Week.
I’d found Rik online when looking for musicians in the low lands, and he kindly invited me to come join the festivities in Eindhoven. As part of the Design Week, the Beukorkest was housed in one of a row of houses still under construction. As much art gallery as concert venue, with Heet Brood‘s toasties from heaven in the garden.
After a day of playing and hanging and checking out other activities in the festival, I curled up on the short sofa in our gallery. Frozen stiff I got up before dawn and embarked on the Coldest Ride Ever to the next adventure – first rehearsals for Isabella Green with Ensemble Gending and Dyane Donck. This Elephant Songs chapter will be concluded shortly with a party at rood|noot in Utrecht – food, music, stories, films. After that, many more musical journeys, meeting local musicians and playing with them, will follow, insallah.
When I visited Berlin in 2007, I lived in my yellow camper van in the Volkspark Friedrichshain amongst other mobile-home dwellers during what must have the coldest spring since the banana war. Snowstorm on 21 March. The Kastanienallee in nearby Prenzlauerberg welcomed me with its squatted cinemas, small dance studios, open source computer workshops, independent cafés, and underground venues.
Now, five years later, a lot has changed. Cheap food is still widely available, but is now washed down with latte machiatos by people wearing designer shirts. The buildings look fresh and young mothers with clean children in carrier bikes check their friends’ moods on their iphones.
My friend Jeremy Woodruff and his family have been living in this area since 2005. With some musical friends, Jeremy started up the successful Neue Musikschule Berlin, which recently expanded and moved into a building in the Turkish area Kreuzberg – where he let me stay for the time I was in Berlin. At a lunch with the Klang der Krise thinktank of academics that Jeremy invited me for, a longtime inhabitant of Kreuzberg told me about the holy grail: menemen! At Kottbüser Tor, supposedly. She was right, and not only did I find menemen, also çorba and demlı tea. Home sweet home.
After my adventures at DIY Church Radio and the Pizza Suicide Collective, the official Elephant Songs Berlin was a rather exclusive affair. Old friend Ingrid turned up after musicians Jeremy and Oori Shalev had arrived, and she was and remained the only audience that night. The room belonging to Jeremy’s Neue Musikschule was cosy and warm, and I was excited to share the room with Tony Buck’s collection of drums from all over. After setting up and venturing out to stock up on wine and other essentials, we improvised on our drums and whistles for a most enjoyable hour.
And now, to paraphrase mister McEwan, get me out of fucking Berlin! I rode down the streets that had become my friends on my nightwalk from jazzclub Sounds the previous week, crossed the river, and then I felt the spark plug being blown out of the engine. I now know from experience that an internal combustion engine is all about compression. Ever tried to explode a blown-up paper bag that’s already got a hole in it? You hit nothing, no resistance. No explosion. Same thing happens when there’s a hole in the combustion chamber. A fix turned out to be fairly temporary, and I’m now stuck in a youth hostel in Steglitz, of all places. To be contintued. Somehow.
A surprising question. My drums and I had arrived at the Pizza Suicide Collective‘s Julian Percy Afterparty at Zur Möbelfabrik in trendy Prenzlauerberg expecting to find a selection of likeminded musicians to play an evening of good old-fashioned improvised music. Turned out these were all groups and projects with a clear Item they were going to Present in this squatter-chic venue. But no reason to be worried – I was very happy to find Taishi, whom I’d met earlier in the week in the DIY Church described below, willing to join me, and our Piece was a ten-minute improvisation with voice, electronics, and drums.
improvisation by taishi nagasaka & robbert van hulzen
A few days earlier, after we met during a pleasant coffeebreak around the Janowitzbrücke, Stein had invited me to his radio show DIY Church – his internet radio show that has been going for about two years now, every monday evening from 7 till 9. I brought my friend Jeremy – who not only composes and organises odd musical interventions for unsuspecting diners and the shopping public, but also plays just about any blown instrument – and with him and electronician Minuit Delacroix and vocalist / cucumber specialist Taishi Nagasaka we filled two nice hours with chatting, playing music that turned out surprisingly dubby, listening to the sounds of vegetables, sharing stories, and answering Stein’s questions.
Upon my arrival in İstanbul from Safranbolu, singer Sumru and yours truly met at the Kadiköy boat station. Lots of tea (what else), and we chatted and walked around and watched the sunset over the famous skyline of Sultanahmet across the Bosphorus – in Europe! Sumru found me a room in percussionist Burhan’s house in Mecidiyeköy, also on the other side. More offices and suits than tourists, but enough tea shops and the most important thing of all: fantastic coffee. A bike mechanic and a shop with a friendly cat-loving owner were my neighbours.
kadiköy by night * music by sumru ağıryürüyen, anıl eraslan, and robbert van hulzen
İ had walked into a European city at the height of the holiday season. Summer was at its hottest – İ thought İ knew damp heat from Madras, but İ don’t think İ’ve ever experienced anything like this. Dripping with sweat at all times. İ can’t imagine what it must have been like for those pious souls who followed the rules of ramazan – no water all day in this heat? How did their prophet come up with that one, in the Arabic desert?
Many musicians had left for summer, and a lot of venues were closed – but those remaining were eager and enthousiastic and we had happy, sweaty sessions in shorts and summer dresses. (Enjoy the post, including video, on the Gitarcafé jam with Sumru and Anıl; recordings of the shows at Kooperatif and Nina’s will be up shortly – come back or subscribe to new posts.)
The nights were marginally cooler. Nights filled with tea, walks, and nargile in Kadiköy with Sanderien, who turned up on a fantastic surprise visit. Nights of playing music and smoking and drinking in Beyoğlu with cellist Duygu and saxophonist Meriç in Duygu’s flat in the Kurdish area (video and audio recordings coming up, check back later or subscribe) – didn’t matter what time it was, no one complained. Easygoing or not wanting trouble? Nights of jamming with Özgür of Karagüneş fame recently, who found a studio in Tünel where he now lives and works (recordings of these sessions coming up too). Nights of catching up with video editing duties in my Mecidiyeköy room, the fan, our golden calf, turned up to the max.
Gigs all done. Ramazan is over, crossing the bridge is no longer free but sets off irritating alarms. Time to move on, after almost four hazy weeks. İ rode out of İstanbul after a few last espressi at Nero’s and managed to leave the highway without triggering too many toll sirens; onto the İstanbul Caddesi to Edirne through green hills & prefab Tim Burton villages. Called it a day in Pınarhısar; good çorba and pide. After that I thought İ’d sleep but the music at the gypsy-or-whatever wedding-or-whatever next door has too many cool grooves. Half awake till morning azaan – Lee Perry style, endlessly bouncing between high buildings, the dogs joining in en masse but soon abandoning their efforts to keep up. I really should get some sleep.
One of the aims of my trip elephant songs is meeting musicians in places I travel through on my journey from South India to Amsterdam. As I explained in the five-minute-film I made to introduce the project, when collaborating with people in this way, playing together at such short notice, it is not about coordinating big elaborate forms, complex themes, or cleverly schemed developments. All of those may occur, but in spontaneous ways and as individual voices. We’re trying to have a conversation, exchange thoughts, not stage a classic play.
On most previous occasions, we did work out a structure, some themes, a raga, groove, or mood to inspire and sometimes guide us, maybe just give us a starting point. In Istanbul on the other hand, I’m meeting a lot of musicians who are into playing without any arrangements at all – like I used to do a lot in Amsterdam. Amongst the most versatile and imaginative musicians I met were cellist Anıl Eraslan and vocalist Sumru Ağıryürüyen. I had the good fortune of spending an afternoon with them at the Gitar Cafe in Kadiköy, across the high scary bridge, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. (Yes, I live in Europe these days.)
Sumru and Anıl play together more often, despite the fact that Anıl is based in Strasbourg at the moment. They have a fantastic album called Sert Sessizler / Harsh Consonants out on Baykuş Music; check also their video – great textures, samples, whistling, voice, cello in all the ways you’d imagine and a few more. For the album, it seems the editing room is as much an instrument as the recorded events, reminiscent in methodology (though not necessarily in sound) of Henry Cow‘s Unrest.
In elephant songs, I generally try to avoid working with existing combinations. Of course musicians often know each other – I meet them through each other after all – but playing with a new combation of people greatly reduces the risk of people playing their usual stuff, with my drums as just an extra voice that may not actually make such a big difference. I knew Anıl and Sumru work together more often (hadn’t heard Sert Sessizler yet though), but the way we interacted felt totally three-way. I wasn’t playing with a duo, this was three people meeting on new ground – of course all bringing our own preferences and tricks, our histories and our dreams.
When I played with a band called Schors a few lifetimes ago, we used to play “singles”: an improvisation of three to four minutes, one idea, concise and, in one way or another, catchy. I’ve been using that approach with many improvisers since, and this is what happened when we did a version with the 8 August trio.
In the summer of 1998, Amirali Ghasemi started the Parkingallery, an independent project space in a former garage in the north of Tehran (expanded in 2002 with an online gallery). One good Friday, at the opening of Amir Bastan‘s Worn Out Mirrors (Friday is Opening Day in Tehran), fellow percussionist Arash Lotfi informed me that we would perform in the space that coming Sunday. We asked oud player Kaveh Kamjou to join us, and, surrounded by Amir’s rorschach-art, we played an evening of improvisational music to a, given the short notice and no advertisement, surprsingly large crowd.
Our preparation for the show was a few hours of jamming in the afternoon, trying out different placements in the space. We worked on some tunes, grooves, improvisation ideas, and had another cup of tea before the audience started arriving. If I ever make a film out of the footage I collect on this trip, you’ll see that Arash also plays the ney beautifully. I can only wonder how he used to play the setar, before the accident that ruined one of his fingers, exactly three years ago these days.
One of the pieces was a percussion duo, featuring Arash on the lab chang, a Persian mouth harp.
Walking into my favourite coffeeshop Café Un the other day, I was told – with many apologies – that they were closed. But when I asked if I could stay and listen, three faces opened up into big smiles; I shook a round of hands and sat down to enjoy some lovely music on setar, daf, and tombak. Over the following days, setar-and-barman Sadegh introduced me to a lot of recordings of Persian traditional and fusion music while fixing me many espressos using his own custom blend of coffees, surrounded by coolly glamorous photographs of the likes of Bob Dylan, David Lynch, and Iranian artists whose names I haven’t even begun to manage to memorise yet. Even the ayatollahs look hip in grainy black-and-white.
Kodum guri hasti? Where the hell have you been? Riding around the desert for weeks, with burnt lips and sand up my nose, that’s where I’ve been. Very happy to be in a city again. Busy streets, a different smell on every corner – jasmin, kebabs, sewage, fresh bread, old sweat.
Kodum guri hasti? The expression comes to mind often when trying to navigate the city too. The literal translation is beautiful: which grave are you in? Apparently it’s quite rude. And so is the traffic – while in pedestrian life you may spend ten minutes waiting for each other to pass through a door, once they’re in their cars, Iranians are ruthless. Being in Tehran involves many hours of fighting through and getting lost in a vast network of highways – life doesn’t get much more urban than that. Especially enjoyable when driven around, Kurdish music drowning out the rattle of the airconditioning, by grinning Aylar, throwing the wheel around and dancing on the pedals like a ballerina driving a rollercoaster.
Just like the cafes move comfortably between Tom Waits and Alireza Ghorbani, historical and contemporary culture from all over the world inform cosmopolitan Iranian culture. At least at my, possibly naïve, first sight, there doesn’t seem to be a struggle for domination – whatever is useful, is used. Bad news for authenticist purists as well as for those who think western pop is the answer to everything, good news for all of us who just want to create and enjoy an interesting and interconnected life without worrying too much about the ideology of its backgrounds. And despite obvious problems, cultural life is diverse and thriving in Tehran – cafés, galleries, restaurants, parties. On one of my first days in the city, artist and independent curator Amirali Ghasemi whirlwinded me through a variety of North Tehrani galleries and then got me into an officially sold-out concert of Tehrani folk-fusion heroes Pallett.
Kodum guri hasti? Wherever I was, it wasn’t on a concert stage and I’ve been missing it. I guess it’s what happens when you decide to travel from South Asia to North West Europe on an ancient tractor, these things tend to take time. But I’m happy to have some playing opportunities here again. I had the joy to play a nice concert at Amirali’s Parkingallery last Sunday (videos will be up soon), and am currently preparing two evenings of music at Darbast at the Mohsen Gallery next week, involving the Pallettis and Soheil from the video below, among others. Of the many informal playing sessions at people’s homes, the one at the house of musician & film composer Ali Samadpour and visual artist Negar Farajiani was a particularly enjoyable example – a great night of eating, playing, drinking, talking.
dinner music meeting with ali samadpour & family, amirali ghasemi, soheil peyghambari, martin shamoonpour, aida khorsandi, and robbert van hulzen (4 june)
On Thursday 26 April, a fantastic selection of musicians from the Lahore rock and fusion scene joined elephant songs for a great show at True Brew Studios, Lahore. The evening was recorded by Jamal Rahman and Fatima Shah, and later mixed by Floris van Bergeijk. Jawad Shahid and his crew filmed the event.
We started the evening with a group of musicians you may remember from the music meeting on the rooftop of my hotel a few weeks earlier: maestro Akmal Qadri and his son Ali Abbas on bansuri, Kashif Ali Dani on tabla, and myself on drums – joined for the occasion by guitarist Danish Khwaja of Poor Rich Boy fame.
With rockstar bass player Sameer Ahmed of co-Ven fame and electric sitarist Jamil Rakae we played a beautiful jazzy world set, for lack of a better term. (Can someone with better pr skills help me out here?) Video of this and the other tracks will be up shortly, check back or subscribe to updates. For the time being, enjoy the audio, as stream or download.
Here’s a glimpse of what we finished the show with – featuring Danish Khwaja, Sameer Ahmad, Kami Paul, Raavail Sattar, and yours truly.
On Sunday 15 April, I was visited by Akmal Qadri and his son Nazar Abbas and tabla player Kashif Ali Dani. We enjoyed tea and music on the pleasant rooftop of Sajjad Hussain’s Lahore Backpackers.
I met Akmal and friends again yesterday, when we rehearsed for the show at Truebrew Studios tonight, set up by Jamal Rahman and Raavail Sattar. It’ll be a get together of musicians and friends that I was fortunate to meet here in Lahore. We’ll play in four different line-ups – and whichever other configurations happen. The musicians playing tonight are Jamal Rahman, Sameer Ahmad, Rakae Jamil, Masaki Okamoto, Danish Khawaja, Kami Paul, Fahad Khan, Akmal Qadri, Nazar Abbas, Kashif Ali Dani, and myself.
Spent the best part of my last night in Madras stuffing my life into the few (…) bags I can take on the bike – I always end up packing at night, which is why I prefer to leave in the morning: just in case, it gives you the extra hours that were originally set aside for sleeping. (Of course having to catch a train or plane is a better incentive to get things done than having to ride a bike, so I left in the late afternoon after all, just in time for sunset coffee on Elliot’s Beach. Read more about the beginning of my drumbiker journey to northwest Europe (started, of course, by going straight south) in bye bye broadlands.)
After the 4 or 5,000 kilometres it took me to get from Katmandu to Madras, the counter is now at 31108. Let’s see where it’ll be when I pull onto the driveway of my little Amsterdam railroad house.
I never made it to the beach – in Mamallapuram I’d told myself I’d go in Auroville, but once I arrived the bike’s needs seemed to be more important than my beach boy aspirations and I ended up in a mechanic’s sidewalk-garage for the better part of the afternoon. He charged me the princely sum of 100 Indian rupees to play with the idle screw on the carburettor a little, telling me the contact breaker points were ok. While I’m still not sure of the latter, the bike does run better now. It’s funny, I’ll happily tear apart a gearbox and put it back together perfectly, but the precision work of tuning the bike by turning a few screws a couple of degrees is fully over my head. I guess I’ll learn – I guess I’ll have to – but for now I was happy watching the mechanic’s practiced fingers do the job, meanwhile admiring the bike he was restoring and chatting to a Frenchman who’d been in Pondy for 20 years and owned four Taurus Enfields, the diesel model. An amazing 6 horsepower bike – the upside is it runs forever on a drop of decommissioned cooking oil.
After Pondicherry, the ECR, the East Coast Road, was less busy and even more pleasant. Around a month before I left, a cyclone had hit the Indian east coast. We’d felt it in Madras, and in Auroville and Pondy the effects had been huge (Auroville got its electricity back just a few days ago) but around Cuddalore, the storm’s centre 30 kilometres south of Pondy, the wreckage was unbelievable. It’ll be a long time before there are grown trees again in that region.
In Chidambaram, I had a refreshingly touristic stop: after tea and a bottle of water, I visited the Thillai Nataraja Temple, leaving the bike with all its luggage in the care of the proprietor of the teastall.
After leisurely exploring the temple, which is dedicated to Shiva as the cosmic dancer Nataraja, whose dance created the universe, I was very happy to wave at all the tourists filing into their buses, climbing on my bike, and leaving on my own, with no one telling me what to do where and when. Just before Thanjavur I stopped for a delicious South Indian pure-vegetarian meals (doesn’t matter if you order one or one hundred, it’s always “meals”) and afterwards walked over to a tea lady a few hundred metres down the road. She used a beautiful contraption involving a brass urn and glowing coals but would let me take photographs.
My original plan had been to ride along the coast to India’s southernmost tip, Kanyakumari, and go to Trivandrum and further up in Kerala to play with musicians there. However, with gigs in Bangalore and Madras continuing into the middle of the month, time was running out – and I didn’t find musicians in Kerala yet either. I need a producer! (And a cameraperson, pr hero, accountant, fundraiser, mechanic, and sound technician.) Then Ranvir Shah told me about the Sacred Music Festival, organised by his Prakriti Foundation in Thiruvaiyaru every spring, and invited me to come along and play there. Followed three days of concerts and being shown around the temples and countryside of the area, including a great lunch (oh I’ll miss South Indian food) at a restored traditional house, now open for tourists.
On the second night of the festival, I had to honour of playing with nadaswaram artist Mylai S Mohanraj and his group of nadaswaram and tavil players. Unprepared and without much discussion (music being the only language we both spoke), I added my grooves to their powerful temple songs. Newspaper The Hindu noticed.
The next morning, after a dawn visit to the Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur, I rode on – direction northwest, from now on. Redneck in stead of sun in the face.
While I was grumpily attempting to whack the replacement rear subframe into the right spot on my bike so that it would line up with all the appropriate holes in the frame, a short Russian with a razor-straight fringe till just above his eyes started talking to me. The combination of my mood and his complete lack of English kept the conversation fairly superficial, but I did gather he was part of a group or band, which also featured a clarinet and/or saxophone player.
When later that evening I found myself at a birthday party for no one’s birthday in particular, organised by five confident and comfortable girls who in no time fully colonised the top floor terrace of Hotel Broadlands, Egor the saxophonist turned up – with the saxophone he had bought in an antique shop somewhere in Madras.
The first official episode of Elephant Songs played in Bangalore for two weekends in February. We kicked off at the famous B-Flat in Indiranagar.
The next weekend, we came back for a show at the beautiful Plantation House and at the Fireflies Music Festival. Musicians were Maarten Visser on saxophones, Keith Peters on electric bass, Robbert van Hulzen on drums, and at Fireflies we were be joined by guitarist Amit Heri.
A few days ago I had an enjoyable hour of chatting and playing on Yugi Sethu’s talkshow, in the company of friend & multi-talented singer Yogeswaran Manickam, also known as Yoga. The show is scheduled to be broadcast next Saturday, 21 January, and will be available online too. We talked about music, about India, about motorcycles, and of course about how all those things and more combine in my upcoming trip. We also discussed the origins of the name Elephant Songs and what that phrase means to me.
When afterwards I switched my phone back on, I found an urgent message: if I’d be interested in a recording session the next day? Yes please thank you very much – and then of course the question what to do there forced itself on me. I had’t planned to start the Elephant Songs adventure till mid Feb, but I guess this trip will be all about grabbing opportunities when it presents themselves, and there’s already a few more exciting things coming up before riding to Bangalore to play at the Fireflies festival on 19 February as my first post-Chennai stop. Call it an extended prologue.
On the evening (night, on the Indian schedule) of Friday 13 January, Maarten and yours truly took drums and saxophones to the beautiful VGP Studios on Mount Road, where we met Yoga and organiser Jai Shankar Iyer and studio magician Greg Simmons with his team of eager Australian sound engineers. The spaces looked like bank safes, with big heavy doors. The recording room doubled as home to a number of unmatching parts of filmsets and whatever was hidden beneath its wonderful red carpet redefined the term “sprung floor”.
I’d called Yoga after the talkshow, and he agreed to join the evening. I knew a few of the things he does, but also realised there is a lot I don’t know about him and I had no idea how he would approach this session. I’ve been playing with Maarten since he invited me to join oto.3 on my last visit to India, about a year ago, working with him in that group and in other combinations, including a weekly duo gig at a mediterranean restaurant near the Harley showroom. I don’t think Maarten and Yoga ever played together, though they’ve know each other for a long time and have both often worked with Paul Jacob. The latter, in an article in The Hindu, said something that very well describes part of my motivation for Elephant Songs: “What we create together is far more powerful than what I or any single musician can achieve on his own. We live in dark, difficult times of ethnic violence and power struggles. Music can do much to educate us, bring people together, make us feel our common humanity.”
We took our places in three corners of the studio, facing each other, and after Greg finished setting up the mics, the first elephant songs were recorded.
Maarten brought a graphic score that he titled rolmops: with dots, lines, and squiggles he instructed us how to play our ways through a somewhat defined structure. We did three takes, getting more and more into it; Shane Choi filmed the largest part of the third take with his phone.
Yoga came with a beautiful lullaby that started with soft call and response phrases and then went into a gently rocking waltz. It was great to feel how we all played comfortably, in our own ways with our own instruments and backgrounds, at the same time listening to one another and creating music together.
I’d worked all day on an idea that ended up being called date shake, in honour of the fantastically refreshing frozen-milk-drink they serve in the juice parlours on Triplicane High Road.
When looking for information on Armenian music a few days ago, I’d learnt about their tetrachord system (or understood the information that way, I will never hold Wikipedia responsible for my haphazard interpretations). The system seemed to be about the intervals between the first four notes of a major scale, which are repeated from the fifth note up. Then treat that top half as the bottom half of a new scale, and you’ve modulated a fifth up. Playing with this I constructed a piece that keeps jumping around different major scales, in constant ambiguity as to whether the four notes start or end on the tonic.
In the studio, it turned out that elaborate structures and large collections of notes don’t necessarily lead to enjoyable listening. We ended up playing only the first two sections of my piece, the ones that consisted of an idea, an instruction, rather than a detailed score. Yoga’s melody had worked very well, because he just sang it and Maarten and I joined in. I, on the other hand, couldn’t sing my melody very well (having constructed it only hours ago). A good lesson: next time I’ll bring stuff I know well, that I can explain well, and that I have a clear idea for. Take it from there, make it our own once we get the basic thing. The project is called Elephant Songs after all, so let’s bring songs indeed. Also Maarten’s more workshop-like approach had worked well, that’s also a way to treat (part of) a session.
However, despite the insecurities originating with the feeling I wasn’t prepared well enough, I am very happy with this session. A good start to an intriguing project, with great musicians in a beautiful space. I’ll try and make this chapter complete by organising a show that will also launch the tour, updates will follow. Then the next stop: Bangalore! Two or three shows in the second weekend of Feb, including the B-Flat on Friday 10, and then Fireflies on 19. To be continued!
After editing the footage of riding through Nepal, included in mountains! please? iMovie was no longer the intimidating dark cloud that had stopped me from putting up clips of the oto.3 concerts in Amsterdam in the early summer. So here it is, enjoy!
And all those who missed those shows, don’t worry because new opportunities are around the corner! To begin with, we played at the wonderful Plantation House in Bangalore last month – dressed in fine shirts provided by designer & maker Shalini. Yesterday, Tuesday 20 December, we performed at the launch of basement21, the newest & hottest artists’ collective in Madras, South India, concluding a two-day programme there. On Monday 19, German / Belgian choreographer Arco Renz showed his work and discussed how his constant travelling all over Europe and Asia affects his work – and how it doesn’t, people being people all over the globe. Tuesday night was opened with short dance films (different from documentations of dance shows) from the Yellow Line Project, presented & discussed by Preethi Athreya, who made one of the films.
For more info on oto.3, including audio recordings and more video, check out the official page.
Dancer Irene van Geest and myself were honoured being asked to curate a Monday Match, a night in the montly series of music & dance improvisation at the Amsterdam Bimhuis.
We were very happy to get a large & inspiring cast together:
Peter Cseri, Lily Kiara, Silvia Bennett, Yannick Greweldinger, Irene van Geest (movement), Felicity Provan (voice & trumpet), Ned McGowan (flutes), Fabrizio Colonna (guitar), Rob Kloet (drums), Robbert van Hulzen (drums)
[slideshow post_id=”1081″ exclude=”1405,1384″]
all photographs by joris hol
Before rushing off to the Buurtboerderij to jam on Pumporgan tunes with Dirk Bruinsma, Jasper Stadhouders, and John Dikeman, I had the honour of playing in Sharon Smith’s rock band in Studio 7, put together by the inimitable Katie Duck.
El Torrero on electric bass (an object previously known as an electric bass, by the end of the show), Grandma Fred on guitars, effects, and pseudoporn, and yours truly a.k.a. John the Robbert on drums. Of course it was loud, over the top, fantastic in many ways, and too long.
Breed begrip: an instant jazz trio on a rainy roof in Amsterdam Bijlmer. Enveloped by the smell of chocolate brownies, the sound of heavy summer (?) rain, and the curious attention of a varied audience, saxophonist John Dikeman, cellist Raoul van der Weide, and I, drummer Robbert van Hulzen, improvised a half-hour long set of high-energy honks, heavy grooves that didn’t quite add up, crackles in honour of Michel Waisvisz, hisses of unknown origin, and gooey drones.
Our performance was part of the almost-weekly events organised by independent artists’ collective fatform: “an art project that challenges the idea of a traditional platform and at the same time uses its basic functionality. Local and international artists meet, exchange, exhibit and perform together during the whole summer at one of the best underground locations in Amsterdam: the rooftop of the Kraaiennest Shopping Centre in Amsterdam-Zuidoost.” The idea is to attract audiences from diverse backgrounds “such as contemporary art, biology, hip hop, new media, philosophy, performance and reggae”, which are “encouraged (or basically forced) to at least have a peek at the other”. Or, in this inescapable case, listen to us. Fortunately, the idea is “to not try to minimize these incompatibilities [originating in the different backgrounds] but rather we would like to propose a form that is FAT enough to contain all radicals.”
It’s unbelievable. You look at the sea. You swim in the sea. You stick your feet wash your hands cool your skin get salty make love get sunburnt in the sea. But then that’s not actually in the sea. It’s more on the sea. In-the-sea is another word for outer-space. There is this funny film – this mirror this membrane this giant ear drum if you will that separates the world as I know it from something of incredible, alien beauty.
A snorkelling trip seemed a good idea, after I spent a few days wondering around Gili Air, Indonesia. Got there when looking for a quiet place to get some work done for a few days after running around on Mount Rinjani. Getting very annoyed with Gili Trawangan, I ended up leaving my hotel room there, booking the next boat to any other island and whiling away the waiting hours eating food that was too expensive and very good. Reading my book on developing skills in musical improvisation by Paul Berliner. Amazing. Very insightful, very thoughtful and thought provoking. And very long winded. Please, mister Berliner, say what you want to say and leave it at that. Makes the whole story a lot clearer and, perhaps surprisingly because leaving out so much evidence and illustration, more informative.
I spent my evenings and a lot of the daytime on reading the book. Walking around the island took a few hours and walking was a great way to get places and get lost. Banana plantations, a village that might have been a compound or someone’s garden, beach beach beach. And tourist restaurants. All selling the same stuff and all at least acceptable. No jack fruit curry though, contrary to the menu of a cosy little beach place I sat down in with high hopes. Ended up in a fancy place further up (or down?) the beach, eavesdropping on conversations of diving instructors.
After contemplating booking the snorkelling tour with the same happy player of a broken guitar that I booked my transport to the airport a day after with, I ran into … no idea of his name anymore. Grr. Dutch guy who lived in Australia since years, with an Australian lady and their children. Or was it New Zealand. Huub, I think he was called. Bought five euros worth of rupees from him a while later. (Being able to eat at airports is important.) Huub told me about the amazing snorkelling right off the beach, and added that that was principally where the trips were going. Also another place just like it, and a place where the big turtles live. But: there are turtles here too! He saw one just a while before.
The next day I rented flippers and a diving mask and snorkel from the friendly guy who all of a sudden charged five thousand rupees more than what he quoted before – and not only him, it turned out, and not only to me. Apparently, a step up on the tourism calendar hierarchy that day. Still, he seemed quite happy with my advance of twenty and never mentioned the remainder again.
I walked up the beach to the corner, where the island turns left. One of the curves in the island, just north of the fancy tourist area. (As distinguished from the easy-going, the hippie, and the posh beaches.) Put my costume on, and stuck my head under water. Nice. Sea floor with plants, very shallow but friendly. Reminds me of looking under water in Switzerland when I was little (with the diving mask I had worn to a restaurant dinner the day I had bought it). And then the floor dips down and nothing is similar to anything you’ve seen. To quote Ewan McGregor, I felt like I was in National Geographic, I was National Geographic! Different world. Different light. Kind of hushy dark blue, very clear in a foggy way. It’s not that it’s unclear, but you still can’t see very far. Sunlight filtering in. And reflecting off of everything that lives there… Different breath. Breathing only through your mouth, with a rasp that keeps getting stronger until you realise you have to take the water out of the snorkel. Breathing deeply is difficult, something I always find difficult in water. The reason why I still can’t crawl in the water, and failed miserably at a diving lesson years ago. Just don’t know how to breath out. Panic breath in panic breath in PANIC BREATH IN. Exhaling is not on the menu. With a snorkel it’s a lot easier though, and it’s fantastic to finally relax and let the breathing take over, let it happen on its own without worrying about it.
Different sound under the water surface too. Muffled, and reverby. Or resonant, rather. Tiny pinpricks of bubble sound. The whoosh of flippers, delayed. Different physique. Being horizontal is cool. Being able to keep your neck long, into the back of your head, and have your head looking straight down, is fantastic because you can totally relax and breath and be active at the same time, the relaxation making you stronger.
And while floating and propelling yourself into this deep blue world of sci-fi sound and movement that may be very primal for us (after all, some of us believe our species lived in the sea for a while and their evidence seems credible), you meet Nemo and all his friends. I didn’t have my motorbike licence yet, but I was the Motorcycle Boy. Only I hadn’t known till then that this is in a different category of colour management. Unbelievable combinations of purple blue orange red yellow silver and all kinds of other shades and hues I never knew existed. And all shiny and contrasting and complementing and making that world somehow so coherent and so independent.
I went three times, with a little break after the second time. In which I sold a book (given to me by Tessel thirteen years before, I took a picture of what she wrote in it) and kept the two tens in my pocket while going the third time. My ignoring the slighly hot feeling on the skin of my back led to a very welcomed aloe vera treatment the next day, when my lobster skin didn’t enjoy the backpack. Leaving the island, leaving Lombok and Rinjani, and a few hours later flying away fom the airport of Jakarta with its Starbuck’s, where they take credit cards and provide wifi, and the usual airport bookshop.