Firstly it is an examination of a pedagogic methodology, not from the outside but as an active participant. I'm interested in what learning is. One aim is to very consciously observe the experience of my own learning. I will also be assessing the similarities and differences between this method of learning and other models, ancient and modern. Some references, guiding stars, and conceptual yardsticks will be Ivan Illich, The guru-sisya parampara, S.N. Goenka, and the (soon to be unveiled) School of Everything.
Konnakol is a language with a strictly defined grammer and syntax, and yet it is completely abstract. In fact it is an abstraction based on the sound of the drums, which themselves are an abstract of the complete musical experience, which is one aspect of the whole drama.
Konnakol is without utility. And it does not mean anything. It is a sophisticated way of speaking without referring to anything. It's beaty is almost purely mathematical. I wonder if in this respect it is like the flow of logic inside a computer?
Konnakol neatly problematises perhaps the central theme of my time here. That is, the place of technology in an emergent economy. What is the relationship of music and technology? What is the relation of technology and music to the body? What answers can be found which are indigenous, time-tested, and perhaps unacknowledged before modern, alien methods are imported? These seem to be very important questions, in India generally and at HP Labs specifically.
In Anlo-Ewe cultural understanding, a drum is a super projection of the human voice. In this view, the role and power of the drum in play embodies the Sub-Saharan concept of combining natural forces of the universe in forming the supernaturals. In the composition of this conscious experience, human force is combined with other natural forces - skin of animal, hollowed solid tree-trunk, etc. - as a medium for arousing the attention and reaction of mankind. In a variety of tonal properties - pitch, timbre, intensity, and intricate rhythms - the drum and the drummer, in mutual cooperation, create patterns of consciousness that give a moment of inspiration to those they touch.
Konnakol is also not a million miles from things I know a little about already. Just as coming to Bangalore from England is a little like coming home - as I said in my first entry in this journal - so coming to konnokal is a liitle like delving further into the roots of a language I'm slightly familiar with. Th process is a movement from the margins to the centre. I began to study North Indian drumming almost twenty years ago as part of an attempt to move closer to a centre. I'd started playing drums by accident (they fell out of the sky and landed on me while I was asleep in bed, but that's another story). Soon I found I was playing with a samba band in Manchester and realizing that to take my playing any further would require a deeper engagement with Brazilian culture. I chose to delve into my own heart rather than someone else's and began tabla lessons.
Now, in South India, it seems to make sense to learn something about Carnatic music and I'm finding that it appears to subtend the North Indian tradition. I feel like I'm uncovering strata in an arcaeological dig. Carnatic percussion grows out of a very ancient Dravidian culture. It's elements of this tradition which have developed in the North and absorbed a lot of mughal influence and the two traditions have mutated independently over hundreds of years. It's useful and fascinating to find the archetypal core.
One thing I've always wondered at is the strongly monophonic tradition of tabla drumming. There are two drums but they are conceived as having one voice and it has a highly sophisticated solo repertoire. Or, as an accompanist, the tabla player has typically had a strictly metronomic role. Even when drummers play together they trade figures or play in unison. I've never seen the kind of polyphonic, polyrhythmic percussion one finds in say Japanese, Arabic or African classical forms. It's a compositional dream of mine to find a way of growing this kind of polyphony - inspired by sub-Saharan cross rhythm and Balinese Gamelan - in the rich soil of Indian percussion. It's taken twenty years of study so far, but now I think an important piece of the jigsaw has appeared. I can begin to see a glimmer of the development of the virtuosic, solo form out of the archetypal shamanic/folk drumming which seems to me to be the energizing core.
It has to do with ways of conceptualising and organizing the context, community, or network of voices. In short, the tabla functions in a strongly hierarchical context in which one or other partner is subservient to the other. Either the tabla keeps theka as a basis for the expressions of a melody instrument, or else the melody plays a continuous ostinato as a basis for the tabla player's rhythmic display. By contrast in the South Indian tradition the basic pulse and the metrical structure are kept not only audibly by other percussionists in an ensemble but also very visibly with hand gestures, which are often also made by almost every member of the audience. This means that the drums can be much freer to explore the time within a communaly held structure.
These two kinds of organizational system lead to quite different kinds of development.
Anyway today I learned the clap pattern for Adi Taalam:
Eight beats, consisting of:
Clap, little finger, ring, middle, Clap, back of hand, clap, back of hand
And the syllables
Ta Di Thom Nam Nam Thom Di Ta
to be spoken in single, double and quadruple time against the hand pattern.
It was my first lesson wiy Mr. T.A. S. Mani who runs the Karnataka College of Production.
I first came across the KCP about fifteen years ago in a second hand record store in Oxford Road, Manchester. I bought a record on spec, knowing nothing about the band. It was Sankirna by the amazing Turkish drummer Okay Temiz with his band Oriental Wind and the Karnataka College of Percussion. I'd never heard anything like it before and in fact haven't heard it for a long time since because it's on vinyl and it's been a very long time since I've had a servicable record player. That record is one of the reasons I've been wanting to get one.
Anyway the KCP proved quite a job to track down. I found an address omewhere on the internet and then, a few days ago, after an ayurvedic massage in Malleshwaram went for a wander to see if I could track down the street. It took me a morning but eventually I found the place. I introduced myself to Mr. Mani who was very warm and friendly. I also met his wife Ramamani, a wonderfully soulful singer, and a couple of students. A girl from Dublin is living in the room upstairs for a few months and has recently started singing lessons. While I was there Christian arrived, a German musician who has been studying mridangam for the last ten years. Clearly Mr Mani has a lot of foreign students and his teaching style will be correspondingly slanted. We discussed what I wanted to learn and how long I had. Today we started on Konnakol. I'll let you know how I progress...