Brief Artist’s statement
My work consists of music visuals created by the sounds of Indian tabla drums. The beats/sounds of the drums played (live), control and affect the visuals to be displayed through the software Max/Jitter. The element of chance plays a role in how images are displayed. These images are my own videos, photographs, and hand drawn images
I believe the viewer of my work will see a definite link between the visuals and the tabla beats. The visuals and the music complete and complement each other and become ‘one’.
Critical evaluation of my work in the context of current creative practice and reflection
Music visuals are not new. From the first ‘Lumia’ performances in the 18th century to Oscar Fischinger and the Whitney brothers as well as Kandinsky in the twentieth century, finally coming to today’s VJs such as Rick Smith and Karl Hyde of Tomato or Coldcut, the idea of linking image and music has been explored in many different ways using different media, tools and concepts. It has been fascinating to explore what other artists have done and still do, to be influenced by some of them, and then to develop my own work suited to my own personal interests and style.
As in Brian Eno (’77 Million Paintings’, 2006) and John Cage (‘Rozart Mix’), I have used the element of chance in how the images are combined, with the different loops of images creating a unique mix each time they are displayed.
One way of describing my work is ‘Tabla VJing’; the VJs use different interfaces such as video mixers, computers, game pads, etc., to create and compose the visuals. In my work, the concept is the same but I use the drums as the main interface for the visuals being displayed.
Another person who has used the tabla in combination with visuals is Talvin Singh. He and Bertrand Gondouin have performed together showing music visuals for the tabla. In this case, Talvin plays the drums while Bertrand Gondouin uses the computer to create digital imagery. The visuals and the tabla sounds are obviously linked just as two different musicians’ instruments would be somehow connected when performing together. In my work though, the connection and link between the tabla and the visuals is much more direct as the sounds coming from the tabla are immediate triggers for the visuals. The visuals, in this case, are an extension of the instrument. The tabla then becomes a kind of ‘Hyper Instrument’ (creating and controlling visuals rather than other audio sounds as a hyper instrument usually does). In this way, the tabla and the visuals become one instrument.
A mention must be made here about the ETabla Controller (A. Kapur, G. Essl, P Davidson, P. R. Cook, 2002). This is a modified tabla with sensors built into the drum heads. The signals are used to generate visual feedback and can either play the traditional tabla sounds or electronic sounds. The similarity between these artists’ work and my work is that the tabla sounds are the direct triggers for the visuals displayed, and that their tabla is a new kind of hyper instrument. Nevertheless, my work is very different to theirs. I do not modify the instrument in any way, and my tabla only becomes a kind of hyper instrument in that the visuals are an extension of the drums (as mentioned above). Moreover, their visuals are electronic and computer generated, while mine are photographs and hand drawn images. The computer, in my case, is only used for sequencing and mixing the original images.
Many other artists have influenced me in more subtle ways and I cannot mention them all here. In conclusion, I see my work as encompassing elements from the different artists mentioned, and emerging as a new kind of music/tabla visuals altogether.
Outcomes compared with intentions and review of my overall progress.
Originally, my objectives were educational. I intended to create visuals to illustrate the basic tabla sounds and rhythms of the drums and generate interest in Indian Tabla drumming. Early on though, I realised that while these two objectives would be interesting for tabla players, learners and other Indian classical musicians, this would be creatively quite limiting. Displaying visuals in this manner would not help in setting a specific ‘mood’ or theme. It would have also taken a large amount of time to even find out whether Max would be able to distinguish between these different sounds. Moreover, this would not have been practical in a live setting as most Indian classical music is improvised, with the musician sometimes jumping from one rhythm to another. Instead, I found it creatively much more interesting to see the piece of music as a whole, and worked with the different tempos rather than the individual notes or rhythmic cycles of the drum. Going from a quite simplistic representation of the tabla sounds and rhythms, my work has progressed into becoming a representation of the general ‘mood’ created by the drums within a piece of music. In my final project, this piece of music was itself a representation of one of the elements (ether). This had implications on the creation of the raw visuals (photographs and hand drawn images) as well as their combinations which, while still integrating the element of chance, were to represent the ‘rising to the heavens’ imagery of the track. In a live setting, I choose photographs and drawings which are appropriate for that particular piece of music or event.
In summary, my work has evolved from seeing the tabla as an individual instrument creating individual notes, to seeing the tabla’s notes and the tabla drum itself as being part of a whole, which is how the tabla is played in the context of Hindustani classical music. Remembering the tabla as part of the whole has obviously influenced the visuals which have therefore also become part of the whole piece of music.
Outline plan for further development
I intend to continue working and exploring with Max/Jitter. For example, I want to track the bending of the pitch on the bass drum; motion tracking might be the best way to achieve this. I would also like to get Max to analyse other instruments and vocals. I will continue to create new material for visuals, such as photographs, sequences of photographs and hand drawings. I am also open to using photographs and images produced by other people.
An immediate project is to create visuals for the other four music tracks (earth, water, fire and air) recorded in Hyderabad with flute, tabla, vocals and electronics. This will require further developments with Max.
I have been playing Indian tabla drum for many years, and my ‘Tabla Visuals’ project has given my music practice a new and interesting focus. It has given me great inspiration to practise because I want to perform my tabla visuals live.
Going back to Steve Reich, I want to experiment more with visual cycles, playing a tabla rhythm with a short visual loop, finding out what can be done to build up the visual-audio tension. With practise, I will build up the interaction between the drum beats and the visuals and I believe that with good practise, I will be ready in a year to perform my tabla visuals live in front of an audience and share my music and visuals.
I am keen to create collaborations with other musicians, artist, photographers and dancers. Working with other people will broaden my own experiences and allow me to take the Tabla Visuals in new directions. For example working with a dancer, I would play tabla and project images of the dancer. The audience would hear the tabla, and see the dancer and the video images would be the stills created by the tabla. This is an initial idea for further development. Once I have created an online exhibition/portfolio, I will approach practising musicians and artist whom I think will be particularly interested in my work. This, as well as getting work at exhibitions, screenings and online is very important as this will give me motivation, focus and more ideas.
This MA in Digital Arts at Camberwell College has allowed me to develop a system which allows me to combine my Indian Tabla drumming with my drawings and photography. I feel this is only the beginning of many years of playing tabla with visuals.