Poolside in the Chams Hotel, waiting to go to our soundcheck. Whilst Amsterdam seems to have resolutely entered summer, the aforementioned chams – sun in Arabic – is hiding behind a thick layer of dark grey clouds here in Tetouan, on the north coast of Morocco. The swimming pool would be better suited for windsurfing today. My first trip to Africa, and no sun to be seen – this is Nepal all over again.
We’re here to play with the Ahaddaf Quartet at the 16th International Oud Festival, sharing the bill with musicians from many countries including Iraq, Greece, and this year’s special guest, Palestine. Mohamed Ahaddaf and I met about a hundred years ago, at a Chaishop show – a series of impromptu musical meetings organised by Ray Namaste, mostly at branches of coffeeshop Rokerij (now closed). The Chaishop was a great initiative: Ray figured there were a lot of great musicians in Amsterdam, from all over the world, who didn’t necessarily get to meet one another. Ray started organising gigs combining us, often in duos, and Mo and I had a lovely evening at one of these. Of course we exchanged numbers but at the time nothing came of it. And then, when his quartet’s regular percussionist Ulas Aksunger wasn’t available for this summer’s Moroccon adventure, we met again.
Mo and co-founding member bassist Stephan Raidl taught the new guys the repertoire – pianist Avishai Darash couldn’t do the Moroccan tour either, so Xavi Torres took the job. Mohamed’s music is very melody-based, adds or takes out beats or parts thereof when needed. Try to count it all out and you go mad; sing with the flow and everything is easy and wonderful. The percussion parts are strong grooves, usually played on cajon, darbuka, floor tom, cymbals, and a few more beatable objects. My set-up is closer to a traditional jazz/rock drum kit – so my job as a drummer is to sound like a percussionist who plays like a drummer. Interesting distinction, drums versus percussion – that’ll be a great topic for another post, so check back soon (or simply subscribe).
We played a couple of shows in Amsterdam before leaving for Morocco, including one at the Eye accompanying Kif Tebbi, a silent film from 1928. An unapologetically exotist (and borderline racist) and incredibly long-winded romantic melodrama by Mario Camerini, set against the Ottoman – Italian war in Libya in 1911. The film did impress some people: a review in the New York Times from 1919 praises the atmospheric depictions of “African villages; scraggly lines of camels trooping over the dunes; regiments of fleet-footed Arabian horses galloping down dirt streets, with long-muzzled carbines pointing skyward from the backs of the hooded Arab riders”. For us (with pianist Avishai this time) it was a great way to play around with our material: weaving our separate tunes into an unbroken two-hour piece, forming smaller combinations within the quartet, varying and stretching and reworking our songs and creating new sounds as we went. Fun, inspiring, and helpful to discover different sides of & possibilities with our music.
Finally, last night we arrived in Tetouan at some ungodly hour after a long day of plane food & airport limbo. Today was pleasantly slow – espresso and green tea with mint and lots of sugar, getting lost in the medina, admiring the multi-coloured geometric tiles everywhere. And now it’s time to find us a theatre and some sound to check. Looking forward to play tonight, slightly nervous. Oud enthusiasts of the world, stay tuned for further impressions of the Ahaddaf Quartet’s Moroccan tour.
October 2013 saw another episode of Elephant Songs, my ongoing project in which musicians from different backgrounds meet and create original music together. This time, the backdrop was Suleymaniyah, the economic heart of Iraqi Kurdistan. An anonymous development aid NGO commissioned me to invite musicians from Iran (where I spent a few months on my drumbiker trip in 2012) and bring them together with colleagues in Suleymaniyah. The resulting line-up could be called a worldjazz quintet: Savel Fatih (Suly) on saxophone (consistently called saxyphone by everyone), Kaveh Kamjou (Tehran) on oud, the bass guitar was played by Ari Ali (Suly), percussion by Arash Lotfi (Tehran), and yours truly (from the low lands, Brussels / Amsterdam) played the drums. We spent a week preparing an evening’s worth of music, leading to a concert at Caffe11 on the night of 10 October. Next to rehearsing, Arash and I taught a rhythm workshop to local musicians too. We played one of the pieces we worked on as the opening piece for the final concert.
The group was a great mixture of cultures and backgrounds. Ari lived in Baghdad for most of his adult life and claimed his Arabic might be better than his Kurdish. Meanwhile Kaveh, though living in Tehran since a long time, is an Iranian Kurd and as it turned out, his Kermanshah Kurdish and Iraqi Kurdish were close enough to be mutually understandable. The Iranian language Farsi itself is apparently not too distant from Kurdish and moreover many Kurds speak it, so the week’s communication sounded in at least three languages. From a musical perspective, Savel is equally happy inventing folklorish songs, like the tune Fisherman Culture he contributed, and playing American jazz traditionals – in fact he suggested to play the classic Scott Joplin hit The Entertainer, the only non-original piece of the evening. Arash is at least as proud of his Persian music skills as of his vast knowledge of European classical music, while your humble correspondent has dabbled in a few different traditions himself as well.
Creating new music with a group as diverse as this is obviously not without challenges. “This melody has no good place on my instrument”, someone said when someone else was trying to teach them a new song. How to respect people’s backgrounds & preferences whilst still daring to challenge them? This question was faced by all of us, as we all took turns in leading the creation of a piece.
Savel came up with the afore-mentioned Fisherman Culture, on a groove that Arash was playing around with. Kaveh brought a beautiful tune he called Khazan, Farsi for autumn – the season that was just beginning. Arash and I devised some rhythmical games for the introduction. Arash has been exploring the mouth harp in recent times – as he already showed in last year’s improvised trio gig in Tehran (featuring Kaveh as well) – and wanted to create a piece showcasing five different ones. This resulted in his Lab Chang Concerto – including kadenzen, of course – that we tried out in a few places before the official show, the Shaeb Chaikhana among them. Ari contributed a very danceable reggae version of the traditional Kurdish melody Hewraman that he recently discovered working on another project, and finally my melody Muggosphere got a new treatment, including some fantastic oud work by Kaveh.
I made a short documentary about the process of creating music together, about beginnings of beautiful friendships, showing markets and people, tea houses and coffee bars. And stroopwafels. Enjoy!
The show was filmed by the great San Saravan and his friend Rebin Jaza; many others – including all musicians, cultural network wizard Neil van der Linden and surprise-visitor (and my father) Jan van Hulzen – have pointed cameras at whatever they considered relevant, funny, useful, or otherwise interesting enough to save for posterity.
Elephant Songs in Suleymaniyah was another fantastic project. I’m currently working on new plans involving Tehran and possible Tajikistan, stay tuned for updates. Meanwhile, let’s see the response this doculette will generate. Any thoughts, criticisms, suggestions welcome.
After arriving in hot and bone-dry Suleymaniyah a week ago I unpacked half my backpack, met up with my fellow musicians (happy reunions and pleasant nice-to-meet-yous), and we started working. We had a week to come up with a repertoire for the band, and were also intitiating a small group of enthousiastic local percussionists in the ancient arts of Indian rhythm and Balinese monkey dance. Lots to do. But on Tehrani percussionist and old friend Arash’s insistence, we took a one extended lunch break at the bazaar after a few days.
The core of our excursion was a visit to the legendary Shaeb Chaikhana, the People’s Teahouse. Frequented, supposedly, by artists and intellectuals (the male variety) who all drink strong black tea with too much sugar (“don’t stir!” is the advice to non-suspecting foreigners like yours truly) from iconic hourglasses and play backgammon and dominos. The noisier the better: the incessant banter and thick cigarette smoke are complemented with the clack-clack of ivory on ebony boards. (Or is it just wood and plastic.) The walls are lined with portraits of a whole variety of writers and thinkers and other inspirational characters, including a Dutch journalist who died here a few years back – the only woman to be eternalised on the walls here. Or, for that matter, to be seen anywhere on the premises. Arash, full of initiative and unafraid as always, went straight to the proprietor, shook both his hands and with his beautiful mixture of enthousiasm and humbleness asked him if we could come and play.
The only thing the man needed to know was when, the if was clearly not an issue. We settled on Thursday, panj shanbe in Farsi and something close enough in Kurdish.
A few days later we arrived at the teahouse with our cajon and jew’s harps after a hilarious taxi drive. We set up in a corner and started playing. I had no idea what to expect – would the be annoyed? amused? would they ignore us or enjoy our music, tell us to stop or buy us tea? Turned out we were actually quite welcome: while a large number of men simply continued playing their games, others came and stood around us, applauding enthousiastically and indeed bringing us more hot and sticky glasses. We tried out our mouth harp feature, which we were working on for the Caffe11 gig. We call it the lab chang concerto. (The actual Farsi name of the instrument is zanburak, but Arash prefers its Tajikistani name. And by doing so confuses the earwax out of everyone.)
Besides the teahouse king, one of our new best friends here is the dean of the French school. We met her in the garden of Caffe11 one afternoon and got talking, like you do. We (enthousiastic Arash again, to be precise) offered her to come and play for her kids, and indeed we spent a lovely morning with some fifty kids of primary school age, clapping and moving along to the music. The tallest girl (you know how girls at some point just shoot up, becoming a head taller than all the surrounding boys?) shyly asked if she could do a très court dance and, armed with our visiting friend Neil’s FC Utrecht scarf, started moving to the music gracefully. To be joined within minutes by almost the entire group, to the amusement and endearment of most (including us, obviously) and the disapproval of some of the stricter teachers. Though rowdy clapping and yelling was acceptable for everyone.
Yet another expedition led us to the College of Fine Arts. Filming outdoors on the campus was no problem for the pointedly present police (bullet proof vests and guns that put me straight back in Pakistan) but the school’s security staff came and told me off. Once inside, we found ourselves in front of a crowd of students of composition, performance, and ethnomusicology. We had a nice chat about their views, methods, expecations and so on, including a discussion of the term ethnomusicology. Not a favourite of mine, but they insisted that it was important as the additive “ethno” indicates that there is fieldwork involved, rather than the pure literature study they considered “musicology” to be. Unfortunately we couldn’t play “just yet” and were also not allowed to film. To discuss this, we were introduced to their professor. A brilliant man who studied composition in Belfast and played us a beautiful (and very advanced) string quartet he wrote for the Arditti Quartet a few years back. He somewhat reluctantly gave us permission to film at least our talks with the students but when we got back to the students’ classroom they’d all left for lunch. We were expected back at the ranch too and left, happy with the chats and hoping to keep in touch with dr Abdullah.
And after all this, we’re now getting ready for tonight’s festivities here at Caffe 11. Looking forward, excited and curious how we’ll get through the repertoire of diverse and sometimes fairly complex pieces we whipped up in the last week. Khaheem deed, we shall see. (Yes I know it’s Farsi but enough people here speak the Iranian language and enough Kurdish words are pretty close to give me the idea that linguistically I at least somewhat relate to where I am.) A report, including a short documentary about the whole project, will follow shortly, inshallah.
First time I’m on an airplane in a long time (my last flight was a domestic Indian Anand-Delhi blitzrun more than a year ago when I unexpectedly needed a No Objection Certificate from the Dutch Embassy to obtain a visa for Pakistan, the first country to cross after leaving India on my way to the lowlands on an old motorcycle loaded with drums). Take-off will always be a miracle, the rest is as tedious as it ever was. The air host family is currently doing their dance of the trolleys – back and forth and back and forth and just when you think they’re ready to serve you that much-desired drink (any liquid would do fine at this point, when insides of noses have turned into brittle crusts), they back away to the other end of the tube again. The atmosphere is dry and hot, and I’m filled with anticipation of what will happen on the other side of air travel limbo. I’m on my way to Suleymaniyah, in Kurdish Iraq, to do an Elephant Songs project with local musicians and Iranians I met on my drumbiker trip last year. The adventure is commissioned by a Dutch NGO.
Though originally intended to celebrate no rouz, this part of the world’s new year celebration on 21 March, the festivities in Suleymaniyah proved a little more difficult to organise than expected. So much so that I lost some of the Iranian musicians I invited – clarinettist Rouzbeh whom I so pleasantly worked with last year, and santoor player Kayvan Farzin whom I was looking forward to meet both had to accept other gigs when the event dates remained unclear for months. (As it happens, Rouzbeh and his band Pallett will be in Europe while I’m in Iraq; with a bit of luck I’ll join them for a bit when I return.) In addition, two classical instrumentalists from Tehran I would have loved to have in the band couldn’t find a way to travel; they considered the overland border crossing too dangerous for female musicians.
My dear friends Arash and Kaveh however are on their way as I type this, so we’ll have a chance to continue where we left off after our fully improvised show at Amirali’s Parkingallery last year. We’ll be joined by bassist Ari Ali from Suleymaniyah and hopefully we’ll find one or two more musicians, as well as some people who’d like to join our percussion workshop. The final weeks of summer in Belgium I’ve been working on my Elephant Songbook, preparing melodies, grooves, improvisation instructions, development approaches. Asked the others to bring ideas as well, to create new music elephant song style: not finding the lowest common denominator but combining backgrounds, mixing and juxtaposing them. With all that done, this is the moment to let go of my plans and expectations and work with what we’ll turn out to have, to create an evening of fantastic music from what’s there. It seems the Bhagavad Gita forgot to mention <disclaimer> or maybe I just missed it </disclaimer> that apart from not worrying about the results of our work (our only duty is the work itself), it’s counterproductive to hold on to our expectations as well. So here’s to using preparation as a safety net only and being open to everything.
Touchdown in a few hours, no idea where I’ll sleep but all will be well. Looking forward to a week of music, nice weather, catching up with friends, reportedly good coffee at our rehearsal and concert venue Caffe 11. Once again travelling to play music. Curious & excited about the collaboration, the audience and their reactions, the artistic results. For those of you who won’t make it to Suleymaniyah on 10 October, I’ll post a 20 minute documentary some time in the week following the festivities.
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.
Hans Wessels made a short film clip about the festival.
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).
In one of the many rooms of the building we then proceeded to play a concert in two parts. The first half featured different combinations of musicians Yedo Gibson (saxophones), Ayman Asfour (violin), Nizar Rohana (oud), Khaled Kaddal (guitar), Jornt Duyx (guitar, accordeon), Fabrizio Colonna (guitar), Marko Bonarius (double bass), and yours truly (drums).
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.
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).
more videos below
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.
see the whole show below
|boulevard festival||den bosch|
|boulevard festival||den bosch|
|boulevard festival||den bosch|
|boulevard festival||den bosch|
|de nieuwe vorst||tilburg|
|huis aan de werf||utrecht|
|museum de pont||tilburg|
enkel The obscure thoughts of Isabella Green
|november music @ muzerije||den bosch|
enkel The obscure thoughts of Isabella Green
|november music @ muzerije||den bosch|
enkel The obscure thoughts of Isabella Green
|museum van bommel van dam||venlo|
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.
And how long is your piece?
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.
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.
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.
Besides the most enjoyable improvised sessions I took part in in Istanbul (with Sumru and Anıl, with various musicians on the Elephant Songs night in Kooperatif on 10 August, and upcoming on 20 August in jazzclub Nina – material of those last two events coming up, check back or subscribe), I was very lucky to have a few cosy evenings at the studio of streetfolk legends Kara Güneş. I had fantastic cheese, fell in love with the santoor, and had great chats with many wonderful people.With one of their members, multi-instrumentalist Özgür, and cellist Duygu Demir, we played with and improvised on songs, grooves, and ideas we all brought.
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 part of the world I have now reached, tourism no longer means Backpackistan: Safranbolu is the territory of large touringcars, Koreans with elaborate cameras, unwinding pensioners, and European families on exotic summer holidays (as it happens, that’s how I came to Turkey the first time, when I was fifteen). The upside: almost-decent espresso. Which was very welcome during the hours the electricity was cut, eliminating one of the reasons I stayed a full day instead of just making this an overnight stop on my way to New Musical Adventures in Istanbul: updating my blog and catching up with audio and video editing before collecting new material. So instead, I sat in a café reading my book and walked around in this beautiful Ottoman town.
The place is filled with small shops selling all kinds of handicrafts, from textile to metalworks. I used the opportunity to finally invest in an alarm system for my bike – just in time, as I’m heading to Europe. Suggested by the ever-resourceful Benno Graas, I now have a beautiful little bell to hang from an unseen place on the bike at night, whose glassy tinkle will no doubt wake me up should someone with dishonourable intentions come near the bike.
|The evening brought a pleasant surprise: Ali Yapıcı not only runs the charming Bastoncu Pansiyon (in a beautiful old Ottoman house, all old wood and roughly hewn stone and off-white plaster), he also has a powerful voice and plays the bağlama, a lute-type instrument with three sets of strings played with a soft plastic pick. The strings are tuned to the tonic, fourth, and fifth, and the frets create a scale that has pleasantly little to do with that western totalitarian system, equal temperament. I unpacked a small selection of my drums, and, cheered on by other hotel guests, we enjoyed an hour playing of Turkish folk songs.|
The road into the mountains was wet and green and smelled accordingly. At a roadside restaurant our production assistant and general spokesperson complained about the kashk-e-bademjan, one of our lunch dishes.
I liked that about my Iranian friends – their politeness lies in hospitality and courteousness, while they don’t mind giving criticism, or receiving it. Apparently there was something wrong with the bademjan, the aubergine. My mirza ghasemi, roasted aubergine mixed with copious amounts of garlic, was delicious as usual. The proprietress of the eatery acknowledged the complaint, and we said goodbye in friendship.
Mazandaran food would be a happy memory when I got further up north, towards the Azerbaijani border. Do you have any vegetables? No. We are Azeri. We eat meat. Baluchistan food crisis all over again.
After our seaside resort days in Neshta Rud we were on our way to a village in the mountains, where Tehrani musician Majjid Rahnama and yours truly were planning to play a concert. Reza Fahramand was going to film it all, hoping to bring the result to film festivals around the world. However, after lunch it was decided that our planned destination was too far away; the village of Jannat Roudbar was considered a great alternative. A good choice, it turned out, especially after a quick musical break on the side of the road unexpectedly took much longer: a car screeched to a halt and out tumbled a very drunk driver and his proud son. Majjid and I ended up accompanying the father on an endless, narrative folk song with an infectiously melodic little chorus. When this suprise meeting was over and my new friend had kissed me full on the lips in goodbye (to great hilarity of my filming companions), we rode on to Jannat Roudbar. We were shown into our comfortable rooms on the second (and top) floor of the house of a lovely couple. The man was concerned about the safety of my bike and insisted on covering it, so caringly we hid it (though of course everyone had seen us enter the place). Over oily, hot, delicious omelet and strong black tea in the lovely village tea house that night I was very happy with our new home-for-a-few-days.
We spent the next days hanging out, playing in the teahouse, having more tea and omelets, chatting, smoking water pipes. We considered a number of locations for the show. The cemetery, an interesting idea of Reza’s, didn’t work out for various reasons, the disapproval of the local mullah an important one among them. We eventually decided on the square high up on the hill in the village, a more open space than the lower square which was full of shops and trees and other things. A stage was constructed and people gathered. We performed five tunes, in which Majjid played seven different instruments. We didn’t talk before (didn’t even speak each other’s languages), didn’t prepare anything specific, we just sat down as two musicians and played. We played the way we are, relying on each other because we both know music, singing together without words.
However, in the meantime, through CouchSurfing I’d met Komeil, who worked in the film industry and had been involved with documentaries on various topics including Iranian culture and tourism. During the last days of my stay in Tehran we met a few times (in the earlier described Café Un), first just with him, then with a whole team headed by Reza Fahramand, director of the award-winning films Tajrish and Shirzad.
We decided to make a film of a trip undertaken by musician Majjid Rahnama and yours truly, to play a concert somewhere in the valley, or in Qazvin. But this didn’t happen. After long consideratons, the location was changed to the foothills of the Alborz mountains on the Caspian Sea. The reasons were never entirely clear to me, though I did gather that in those more remote areas, filming without all the official permits would be less of a problem. Anyway, I had no reason to complain about this change of plans, the whole trip was amazingly beautiful.
And wet. For some reason (possibly the fact that a large part of their country is made of dry sand and gravel, as I experienced earlier), Iranians love the wetness of the north. “Just like where you’re from!” – as if that was a recommendation.
After the amazing Karaj-Chalus road, we rode up the coast for a while. Before heading into the mountains, we stayed at a beach house in Nashtarud for a couple of nights, swimming in the (cold!) waves and jamming on the beach. In the rain, of course.
When discussing possibilities for playing gigs in Tehran, Amirali (at whose Parkingallery we played on 10 June) put me in touch with Darbast, the concert division of the Mohsen Gallery. After yet another ramble involving more of Tehran’s highways then I really needed at 8 am, I found the place, hidden in a residential area just off Modares Highway – but only reachable through an impossible maze of small streets. Though the problem started already when trying to locate the exit: many streets are known by their old names – while of course only their official, post-revolution names are signposted. I was told to leave the motorway onto Zafar Street, but was close to the Parkway Bridge when it dawned on me I might have missed it. Turned out the street I was looking for is now called Dastgerdi. Of course. But green tea with the lovely Persian sugar subsitute that I forgot the name of (help!) and chocolates made me quickly forget my miseries, and I had a very nice chat with Mohsen boss Ehsan and his people. Oh how I like these people’s sense of time, so much closer to my own: short-term thinking is not frowned upon, but rather the default mode. So we settled on the dates for two shows, and I left with a bag of cds of Mahriz Records, the label that Ehsan recently got involved in, founded by Nader many years ago. Some of the musicians on the albums might be interested in joining, I was told, as might some of the members of Pallett, the band I saw play at Darbast a few days before.
Over the next few days, I put together two bands for the evening, which both would play a set. A jazz-and-surroundings line-up with Soheil Peyghambari (clarinet), Mohamad Azmand (electric guitar), Daryoush Azar (double bass), Arash Lotfi (percussion), and yours truly (drums) and a more world/folk oriented combination with the musicians of Pallett: Omid Nemati (voice), Rouzbeh Esfandarmaz (clarinet), Kaveh Salehi (acoustic guitar), Behnam Moayerian (oud), Mahyar Tahmasebi (cello), Hessamedin Mohamadianpour (percussion), and the same bass & drums tandem consisting of Daryoush and myself.
After a week of intense rehearsal, we played two sold out nights (apparently all tickets went in half a day) for very happy audiences.
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.
And now for something completely different: a free rock trio featuring Japanese synth wizard Masaki Okamoto (with his new synth) and riff master Danish Khwaja.
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.
The first time I went to Peeru’s Café, my landlord Sajjad of Lahore Backpackers insisted I take a rickshaw – “for security”. When I told my driver my destination, well-known for its qawwali performances, he proudly announced he was a qawwal himself and sang all 25 kilometres of the way there. Welcome to Pakistan.
Reaching the place, I was a little surprised by the high, barb-wired fence with the steel gate and armed guards – not just your regular guys dozing in chairs with shotguns in their laps, but uniformed men in bulletproof vests and complex-looking weapons – all dull black angular metal instead of the usual simple steel barrel on a wooden handle. After my bag and I were screened and searched and declared acceptable, I was shown into the compound – a beautiful, quiet, and relaxed place that I later found to be much bigger than what I saw just then: a glass house where juices were made, a small stage, and a number of tables where waiters served food and drinks that were presumably prepared in the building in the back. Only later I learnt that Peeru’s had been attacked several times in the past – with bombs and arson, terrorists attempted, in vain, to disturb and discourage the lively cultural scene promoted there.
When I was preparing my visit to Lahore, Pakistan, my invaluable friend Neil van der Linden had put me in touch with the Peerzada family, who run Peeru’s Café and the Rafi Peer Theatre Group. Peeru’s is part of a compound that houses the café-restaurant, an auditorium, various artist-run arts and crafts shops, the puppetry museum, and the offices of the RPTG. While I was still in India, Mr Faizaan Peerzada kindly helped me obtain my visa for Pakistan, and invited me to come over to discuss what we could mean to each other as soon as I reached Lahore. Meanwhile, playing with Maarten Visser and Keith Peters at the Global Music Festival in Madras, India, I met Sam Mills and Susheela Rahman, who adviced met to get in touch with one Hassan Qureshi in Lahore. Hassan responded enthusiastically, and mentioned his family’s auditorium and their many musician friends. We agreed to meet and talk about possibilities for elephant songs – and Hassan turned out to be married to one of the Peerzada daughters and having an important function in the Rafi Peer organisation. The world is small. Like everywhere.
After meeting them at Peeru’s that first night, the brothers Faizaan and Saadaan took me back to their home right for a lovely evening of chats and drinks and brainstorming about what we could do during my time in Lahore. I was excited to hear them suggest I’d play with the famous dhol players, the sufis Goonga and Mithu Sain. We discussed ideas and set some things in motion and then went back to Peeru’s for dinner – Punjabi food (the cuisine that is served in most so-called Indian restaurants in the west) of such a refined quality that it redefined my opinion on the north-subcontinental kitchen. Contrary to my earlier judgments, I think I actually like it.
The following days many things happened. Sajjad took me around Lahore, showing me the old town and some sufi shrines, including lots of qawwali, and also the Badshahi Mosque. I wandered around a lot, went back for juices at Hafez’s, had almost-vegetarian biryani for lunch. For dinner I often went for the fantastically spicy lentil-and-eggs concoctions served in a small place close to my room, usually dark because of the frequent power cuts (one hour on, one hour off). The boy who cleaned up usually brought me a candle so I could still read my book on the Great Game. I met many more musicians and I had the great honour of playing with Goonga and Mithu Sain on several occasions, including, interestingly, a French cultural evening at LUMS University. (A post with clips of several of these collaborations is coming up, check back or subscribe.)
On Saturday 7 April I was at Peeru’s again. I’d brought my drums, and played for two hours with maestro Mian Meeri and his qawwali troupe. I’m looking forward to what’s next. Apparently, there’s something coming up with the Sain brothers and UK dhol sensation Rani Taj. And I’m working on putting together a dedicated elephant songs show with a lot of different local musicians here in Lahore. Stay tuned.
|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.)|
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.”