Make Music, Not War – II

New York, August 5, 2014. In my previous blog post (here) I explained the premise behind melding my work life, creative endeavors and blog life all together due to a shortage of time. Last week’s blog featured a video with Mali’s world-renowned Kora player Yacouba Sissoko.

Today’s blog post features a rehearsal for the project “Planetary Coalition” with eminent Chinese Pipa player Yihan Chen. See for yourself!

This was during the very first meeting between guitarist Alex Skolnick and Ms. Chen. The music had a feeling of water, just as the African one from last week had a more earthy vibe. The final track with Yihan has already been recorded in the studio. Did you know that the Chinese Pipa is an instrument more than 2000 years old? For fact geeks like me, here’s a history of the Pipa: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pipa

As mentioned earlier, these videos are very exclusive and have not been released yet to a larger audience as we are waiting to do so after the release of the CD. But since I made them, I am showcasing it in a very limited platform through this blog, as a glimpse of what is taking shape.

And more importantly, it is about documenting the dynamic and dialogue between the artists during the process of melody-creation or “feeling out” the music, of creating “conversations” between the instruments and exploring possibilities.  

There is still time to support the project through our ArtistShare website http://www.artistshare.com/v4/projects/experience/325/439/1/6 or directly contact Alex (http://alexskolnick.com/) or me (gipsygeek at gmail dot com) if you’d like to help us out. Or at most, even get the word around.

As another prosaic and tumultuously violent week in world events passed us by, once again – how much better the world would have been or would be if we created art, found common ground and made music instead of war.

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12.12.12. and still my sitar gently weeps

12.12.12. and still, my sitar gently weeps…

…as yet another maestro passes away! (Really, these last 3 posts have been more like lengthy obituaries!) Just days after a legend of the Jazz world left, the greatest ambassador of Indian classical music in the West, and one of THE finest musicians of the world passed away. I feel very fortunate to have met him several times over the years and several of his immediate and extended family members, to have listened to him perform on many occasions, and most of all feel very blessed to have worked on the architectural design for the building that nests his school of music.

ravi-shankarThis year, my own father passed away just 3 days after Ravi Shankar’s birthday. In a strange twist of fate, the night he passed away, I was listening to Anoushka Shankar (who coincidentally has the same birthday as me) in concert in New York City. My ringer was turned off, so I could not hear my mother’s frantic calls.  After that, although I have always loved the music of the sitar, and am myself trained in the classical dance style of Bharatnatyam under the tutelage of Jaya and C.V. Chandrashekar from the rigorous and disciplined Kalakshetra tradition of Rukmini Arundale and I was a classical dance performer for 16 years, (besides also learning the Flamenco dance style later,)  the strains of the sitar’s strings would remind me of the day my father (who was a violinist as well) passed away. My father’s first birthday since his death would be this December 15th. And then in a strange circle, last night just three days before my father’s posthumous birthday, I received the news that Robindro-ji (Ravi Shankar) had also passed away. I fondly remember the last time I had met him, his wife and his daughter Anoushka. He kept cracking jokes with my French boyfriend – about his accent mainly and his resemblance to a certain movie actor. My partner, Guillaume, couldn’t stop raving for the next several weeks what a beautiful goddess Anoushka was and how good-humoured her father was. “Yes, he was,” I laughed..”considering just how you couldn’t take your eyes off his daughter!”) It was in Montreal, Canada, and he was happy to chat with a fellow Bengali-speaker in the largely Francophone city. I had met the maestro several times before, but I had a feeling then that it may have been for the last time. It was.

Rest in peace, Ravi Shankar.

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And, a well-written tribute to him in the New York Times this morning. Spot-on, especially the part on how the ‘other’ is so often ‘exoticised’ or faces reductionism in the West, when there is so much more to this music that had developed in the Indian sub-continent over centuries:   http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/13/arts/music/ravi-shankar-indian-sitarist-dies-at-92.html?pagewanted=all

An excerpt:

Ravi Shankar, the sitar virtuoso and composer who died on Tuesday at 92, created a passion among Western audiences for the rhythmically vital, melodically flowing ragas of classical Indian music — a fascination that had expanded by the mid-1970s into a flourishing market for world music of all kinds.

In particular, his work with two young semi-apprentices in the 1960s — George Harrison of the Beatles and the composer Philip Glass, a founder of Minimalism — was profoundly influential on both popular and classical music.

And his interactions throughout his career with performers from various Asian and Western traditions — including the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, the flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal and the saxophonist and composer John Coltrane — created hybrids that opened listeners’ ears to timbres, rhythms and tuning systems that were entirely new to them.

……Last week Mr. Shankar was told he would receive a lifetime achievement Grammy Award in February, said Neil Portnow, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.

Though linked with the early rock era by many Americans, Mr. Shankar came to regard his participation in rock festivals as a mistake, saying he deplored the use of his music, with its roots in an ancient spiritual tradition, as a backdrop for drug use.

“On one hand,” he said in a 1985 interview, “I was lucky to have been there at a time when society was changing. And although much of the hippie movement seemed superficial, there was also a lot of sincerity in it, and a tremendous amount of energy. What disturbed me, though, was the use of drugs and the mixing of drugs with our music. And I was hurt by the idea that our classical music was treated as a fad — something that is very common in Western countries.

“People would come to my concerts stoned, and they would sit in the audience drinking Coke and making out with their girlfriends. I found it very humiliating, and there were many times I picked up my sitar and walked away.

“I tried to make the young people sit properly and listen. I assured them that if they wanted to be high, I could make them feel high through the music, without drugs, if they’d only give me a chance. It was a terrible experience at the time.

“But you know, many of those young people still come to our concerts. They have matured, they are free from drugs and they have a better attitude. And this makes me happy that I went through all that. I have come full circle.”

Ravi Shankar, whose formal name was Robindra Shankar Chowdhury, was born on April 7, 1920, in Varanasi, India, to a family of musicians and dancers. His older brother Uday directed a touring Indian dance troupe, which Ravi joined when he was 10. Within five years he had become one of the company’s star soloists. He also discovered that he had a facility with the sitar and the sarod, another stringed instrument, as well as the flute and the tabla, an Indian drum.

The idea of helping Western listeners appreciate the intricacies of Indian music occurred to him during his years as a dancer.

“My brother had a house in Paris,” he recalled in one interview. “To it came many Western classical musicians. These musicians all made the same point: ‘Indian music,’ they said, ‘is beautiful when we hear it with the dancers. On its own it is repetitious and monotonous.’ They talked as if Indian music were an ethnic phenomenon, just another museum piece. Even when they were being decent and kind, I was furious. And at the same time sorry for them. Indian music was so rich and varied and deep. These people hadn’t penetrated even the outer skin.”

Mr. Shankar soon found, however, that as a young, self-taught musician he had not penetrated very deeply either. In 1936 an Indian court musician, Allaudin Khan, joined the company for a year and set Mr. Shankar on a different path.

‘I Surrendered Myself’

“He was the first person frank enough to tell me that I had talent but that I was wasting it — that I was going nowhere, doing nothing,” Mr. Shankar said. “Everyone else was full of praise, but he killed my ego and made me humble.”

When Mr. Shankar asked Mr. Khan to teach him, he was told that he could learn to play the sitar only after he decided to give up the worldly life he was leading and devote himself fully to his studies. In 1937 Mr. Shankar gave up dancing, sold his Western clothes and returned to India to become a musician.

“I surrendered myself to the old way,” he said, “and let me tell you, it was difficult for me to go from places like New York and Chicago to a remote village full of mosquitoes, bedbugs, lizards and snakes, with frogs croaking all night. I was just like a Western young man. But I overcame all that.”

And here, a stunningly reflective-yet-joyous piece by his daughter Anoushka (who herself is also a trained Bharatnatyam dancer) from her new album ‘Traveller’ which traces the Indian origins of the gypsy music of Flamenco. The video catches the tail end of the sitar-guitar duet before breaking out into a heartfelt cante flamenco and then finishing with a joyous Bengali folk tune. The cameraman seems mesmerized by Anoushka’s beautiful face – no complaints  but it would have been nice to catch just a glimpse or two of the other musicians playing in this piece as well. Really, sometimes I wish Raviji had fathered many more daughters, besides Anoushka and Norah Jones ;) This performance, at the City Winery is bitter-sweet for me, because this is what I was watching and where I was, right up there in the front row, the night my own father (who is seen here with his violin)- the man who had first introduced me to the music of Ravi Shankar, passed away.

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A little extra: another gem….recorded in Madrid.

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Tambourine Time

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July 2, 2011. Here I go a-wandering somewhere in Montreal or Quebec City or Toronto and the roads and towns in between southern Ontario’s wine country. Through streets and crowds, familiar smells, ancient whispers, new sounds, the beats of the Jazz Festival in Montreal, the cheers on Canada Day in Toronto, and a song that for some reason always stirs that old wanderlust inside my gipsy heart. And reignites that vagabond whimsy buried inside: subdued through months of practiced stoicism and yet, stirring once in a while amidst summer heat and long amaranthine warm night skies, forgotten lyrics and the sheer abandon of tumbling, intoxicating melodies. 

And here I go a-wandering though poignant Paris, the labyrinthine streets of Venice, the merchants’ markets in exotic, overwhelming India and through the dazzling colors of Burano, the snow-capped mountains of Salzburg, the inexhaustible energy of New York City and pensive train rides along the ocean of the Pacific North-West……and I find a release to this restlessness, to a searching mind that is never satiated…..looking forward to the surprises around an unexplored corner, the fractal geometry of a new tree to marvel at, and at times, recalling the sheer exhaustion of working through the night at the studio and the nebulous state of heavy eyes and tired arms in the soft haze of the break of dawn.

And the resonance of rich memories and an inspired frenzy to learn and love, to live and laugh – permeates through the lyrics…..

Oh, Dylan! Whence from do such thoughts find way to your fingertips…?

Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow.

Tambourine Man – Bob Dylan

Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you.
Though I know that evenin’s empire has returned into sand
Vanished from my hand
Left me blindly here to stand but still not sleeping
My weariness amazes me, I’m branded on my feet
I have no one to meet
And the ancient empty street’s too dead for dreaming.

Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you.

Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin’ ship
My senses have been stripped, my hands can’t feel to grip
My toes too numb to step, wait only for my boot heels
To be wanderin’
I’m ready to go anywhere, I’m ready for to fade
Into my own parade, cast your dancing spell my way
I promise to go under it.

Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you.

Though you might hear laughin’, spinnin’ swingin’ madly across the sun
It’s not aimed at anyone, it’s just escapin’ on the run
And but for the sky there are no fences facin’
And if you hear vague traces of skippin’ reels of rhyme
To your tambourine in time, it’s just a ragged clown behind
I wouldn’t pay it any mind, it’s just a shadow you’re
Seein’ that he’s chasing.

Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you.

Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow.

Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you.

Bach again…

Happy Birthday Johann Sebastian Bach (21 March 1685, O.S.31 March 1685, N.S. – 28 July 1750) – my favourite Baroque composer and whose music I’m particularly addicted to – especially the Goldberg variations and his Partita No. 2 in D Minor.

Here is a video of the timeless Aria from the Goldberg variations:

For more on the video click here.  https://gipsygeek.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/random-acts-of-sunshine/

The best renditions of Bach’s piano works are quite arguably those recorded by Glenn Gould. In this link, Glenn Gould plays the entire set of the Goldberg variations. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ah392lnFHxM

Bach’s Partita No.2  in D Minor for solo violin, widely named as ‘Bach’s chaconne’ was written by him possibly during 1717 – 1723, in memory of his wife Maria Barbara Bach. The second movement is considered a pinnacle of the solo violin repertoire as it covers every aspect of violin-playing known during Bach’s time and thus it is among the most difficult pieces to play for that instrument.

J.S. Bach’s chaconne for solo violin (click to enlarge)

My favourite modern-day rendition of this piece is of course by Hilary Hahn and the entire chaconne in two parts can be hear here:

But why is the chaconne considered one of the most beautiful and profound pieces ever composed? Is it because in a short span of 20 minutes it takes you through every possible human emotion, or because it is like the fine balance between Logic and Love, ecstasy and sorrow, fantasy and reality and combines all those extremes into a multidimensional paradox? I certainly am addicted to the piece. My father played the violin so I was exposed to it at an early age (not that he could play the chaconne), but even without this exposure, those who understand music will invariably feel the depth of the piece.

In October 2008 filmmaker Michael Lawrence released ‘The Bach Project’ featuring various distinguished musicians to discuss the effects and legacy of J.S. Bach’s music. In one scene of the documentary, musicians are scanned in an fMRI machine in an effort to study the neural basis of musical improvisation. The DVD is available here: http://www.mlfilms.com/ (As usually happens in our world, people shell out $100-a-ticket to watch the antics of some vulgar “reality stars” (who have composed, invented, created and  explored absolutely nothing), but Michael Lawrence’s Bach Project has to ask for donations on its website because his documentary – which is about the works of a REAL genius artist, i.e. Mr. Bach, and features a group of jazz and classical musicians – has fewer takers in our world.) Here is a clip from the film explaining possible reasons for the Chaconne’s appeal:

And here is the link to one of my all time favourite books – Godel Escher Bach : An eternal golden braid. If you loved the movie ‘Inception’ you will like it, since this book was one of its inspirations.

Spring is just round the corner in New York city – nay – has officially begun today. A grey rainy morning has followed a gorgeous sunny weekend…..and through the dark clouds today, the routine and the prose of life, the uplifting music of Bach (especially the lovely short piano pieces) reminds one, once again, of the poetry, the peace, the joys of life’s simple little pleasures. more than 325 years since Bach was born, and his music still lives on, still inspires.

Now that’s what you call timeless.

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And evolution created Woman

AND EVOLUTION CREATED WOMAN


On the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day (March 8th) –  a list of all the past posts on this blog that featured women, womanly ways and/or womanhood as a theme. The good, the bad and the ugly of womanhood. Women who inspire your very soul, and women who irritate the heck out of you. The kind-hearted and the cold-hearted. And of course, what enchants me personally the most – the beauty (in and out) and the strength and serenity of those women who have real authentic goodness. (Click link to read post)

  1. Racqueting on a grass court
  2. Sex and the Starchitect
  3. And now for something completely different
  4. A heartfelt comment
  5. A ‘colorful’ message
  6. Anthem
  7. A whiff of IF
  8. Freedom at last ? (Aung San Suu Kyi)
  9. Sweatshops for your sex, and the city too
  10. There’s something about Clint
  11. Saltationism of Silliness
  12. Love in the time of February
  13. When words are unnecessary – 1 (Zaha Hadid)
  14. When words are unnecessary – 2 (Hilary Hahn)

“How wrong it is for a woman to expect the man to build the world she wants, rather than to create it herself.”. Anais Nin (1903 -1977)


“Beauty is how you feel inside, and it reflects in your eyes. It is not something physical.” – Sophia Loren. (You’re right madam Sophia…albeit those breathtaking curves of yours and Monica Bellucci help ;)




When words are unnecessary – 2

In the world of Music, Mathematics and Architecture, language is not necessary to communicate. The first ‘speaks’ in notations and through the medium of musical instruments,  the second through symbols and numbers and the last, when it is designed uniquely and well – is ‘spoken’ through drawings at its inception, and is experienced in the three dimensional ‘poetry of space.’

Question: Why don’t we see this beautiful, grounded, intelligent, well-read, educated, amazingly talented  lady (and a very good and observant writer on her own, as evidenced from the ‘postcards’ on her own site that she has written for more than 15 years) more visible in the mainstream media? Her  rationality, values, views and justified success would be such a better inspiration to young girls instead of the sad sorry samples of scandal-to-notoriety skanks we see omnipresent in the glossies in the USA?

Here’s a performance by my favourite violinist, the grounded, gifted genius Hilary Hahn. This composition by the way, is one of the most difficult ones to play and to do so by memory as she does here – jaw-dropping pure genius. And yes, she is also a master of one of the other most difficult and timeless solo violin pieces ever written – Bach’s chacconne ( a piece I am addicted to) and also plays Elgar effortlessly.


For more on Hilary: http://www.hilaryhahn.com/ & here.

An interview:  here

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Related Post :

When words are unnecessary -1


All previous posts: Click here

Curious? Why is the violin so hard to play? an engineer and a mathematician explain here.

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Red December – Post 1

RED DECEMBER – 1

New York, December 1, 2010. In North American seasons, it seems more appropriate to say ‘Red October’ as the leaves change colours. ‘White December’ would seem more apt since most of the north has received its first snowfall by then. But for this December, I feel like writing three posts with a ‘red’ theme in common – Red – the colour of cherry-red lips, the predominant colour of Christmas wrappings and stockings, but most of all the colour of blood, of the heart, of the glow in a fireplace, and of Love.

I just returned from a week in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, cities I lived in for 2 years in 2006 and 2007 for work. Moving from Montreal, Canada, with its cold northern winters, the two Floridian cities were escapes to sun and sand and sea……the stunning turquoise blue waters of their Atlantic shorelines obliterating all the other problems and urban – sprawl lifestyle. Greedy to soak in the waters, I lived on the high floor of a condo on Pompano Beach directly overlooking the vast endless ocean. After two years of filling my eyes and ears with the colours and sounds of the ocean waves that I woke up to every morning, I returned back north. On this visit, after nearly 3 years, I met again those who were dear to me, those who were my friends; and after the hellos, I said goodbye more as a closure once again to those with whom I had shared talks and walks and an occasional drink on patios and on white sand beaches or gone on boat and canoe rides in the picturesque waters of the Atlantic ocean and the Florida Keys. Some friends will remain so forever, no matter how far the distance in miles and years. Here’s to lovely Michelle and Gladys and Debbie and Sharolyn – four versatile, multi-dimensional, incredibly good-hearted women, and to four other straightforward male buddies. Thank you all for your senses and sensibilities!

Florida Keys  

It often takes a visit back as a traveler to appreciate what you left or find closure and peace for why you did. It IS true that familiarity breeds contempt and scarcity creates value. That is sadly a truth about human nature. The scorching sun and the serene waters that I’d begun to take for granted towards the end of my stay there in 2007, bogged by the lack of intellectual or ethical values that predominated much of flashy-car-and-silicon-boob-and-loud-showing-off South Florida, reminded me that the warmth of the sun can be appreciated only after experiencing the bitter northern winters, and the fakeness that used to affect me could disturb me only as long as I allowed it to – for if I chose to look beyond the noise, I could always find a quiet little bench in a hidden boardwalk on a marina where the boats docked where I could sit and enjoy fresh oysters I’d bought from Mr. Fish on Pompano, or find quiet beaches away from the crowds and choose to bicycle and canoe without giving a damn of ‘what car I drove or someone else drove’ (a predominant showiness of status that is found most in South Florida and Los Angeles-area-California when you live there.) And I discovered that beneath the surface, there were many authentic, happy, laid-back people and friends who did care about Florida’s fragile ecosystems and had a joyous relaxed attitude, sunnily different than the neurotic “Go-Go-Go” hustle of the Big Apple or the overtly-intellectually-competitive climate of Cambridge, MA, that I had grown more accustomed to.

When I transformed into a traveler again, I became more open to the charms of the city that a fresh revisit can bring back, (unlike the fear I’d experienced while getting lost driving in Overtown, the most crime-infested neighbourhood in Miami; or another time when I naively was walking into a dangerous trap while buying something off Craigslist and was saved by a friend.) This time, I let it all be, and just went along without fear, focussing more on all the far better memories I had of the city. Fort Lauderdale brought back its lovely beaches and my favourite hangs behind porches of lesser-known gems of restaurants that looked out into the ocean. Sadly I saw on this visit that many smaller cafes and shops which I’d frequent had closed down due to the economic hit this region took during the recession. Chatty business-owners told me tales of how the economic crash had affected their lives and those of others. Some of those stories were sad, some were funny and a few outright bizarre. In another honest talk, a good friend of mine (who is a self-made entrepreneur and a rising star in the building trade, with a residential project-in-construction even on the exclusive Star Island that he walked me through,) explained to me that he bought his Porsches truly for their engineering, not as any ‘symbols.’ He explained how given a chance, most men who liked cars would like to own a Porsche – more for its speed and amazing engineering, not necessarily for any ‘show.’ Thanks to him I can now say I have experienced what driving a 2009 Porsche Turbo feels like ;-) (Still, nothing beats flying a humble Cessna…but that’s just a personal preference.)

And this time, with a renewed perspective free from any past preconceived ponderosity, Miami brought back its Latin flavours, its predominant whiffs of delicious Cuban cooking,  Spanish guitars and the heat of its warm sun-kissed Decembers.

I am no ethnic gypsy, just a metaphorical ‘gyspy’ due to my nomadic travels and the many cities I have lived and worked in, but what better way to start a Red December than the haunting strum of the musical mastery of a real gypsy group of Catalonian Romani gitanos who reside in Southern France – The Gipsy Kings? Though I had received training in classical dance for many years, for a couple of years later in my 20s I took a rigorous training in the style of dance known as Gypsy Flamenco. And it is hard to remain still when the Kings take off on their guitars and lively vocals. But for this post, I have attached one of their pure instrumental compositions – a sensuous Red rendition that stirs one’s inner passion, and reminds us once again of the poetry of love, of longing and long nights under an open sky, of the hopes and desires of timeless youth when hearts were open, and gazes held fire, and the flow of your blood pulsated against your skin with a Dionysian rhythm of an inspired frenzy surpassing the Apollonian mind……..

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