Monday, October 24, 2011

Review - Raga Mala Features the heARTbeat Ensemble at the Museum

From Sound and Noise, University of Alberta Music Students on Music, October 24, 2011:
On Friday night, Raga Mala showcased a spectacular improvisational event. Raga Mala, a local society that educates and promotes the variation and excellence found in Indian music and dance, has a reputation of bringing magnificent talent, and the heARTbeat ensemble did not disappoint.

It being my first time seeing a concert at the Royal Alberta Museum theater, I was struck by the acoustic clarity of the space. The live sound engineer was a true artist in his ability to create such a luscious and balanced mix with such a dense sound. From a sound space perspective, the show was fantastic. Thank you, Mike.

Upon entering the theater, I was interested in the arrangement of the instruments on the stage. On one side was the acoustic instruments: Ghatam (a percussive clay pot), Mridangam (a double-sided percussive folk drum), and a Kanjira (a similar instrument to a tambourine), mediating the space was a silent violin (which was later anything but silent), and on the other side, the electronic instruments: a micro Korg synth, a midi Drum pad (programmed with a multitude of sounds, percussive and instrumental), an electronic keyboard, drone box, and a nature/animal sound loop. Having been to a few Raga Mala shows before, this set up was quite unique and even a little bizarre. I am a skeptic when it comes to fusing acoustic and electronic instruments in a live setting because often it morphs into something more resembling a battle or showdown of acoustic versus electronic, and it hurts my ears (and soul) a little. In any case, the heARTbeat ensemble was a rare event that shattered my expectations and not my eardrums.

From the first note, the virtuosity of each player was apparent. The concert began with a piece featuring an eighteen beats per cycle rhythmic structure, which may not phase you, but the speed and accuracy with which they played was so tight and complex as an ensemble that I was holding my breath, waiting for it to get derailed. But of course, that never happened. The third selection was called “Pulse” and it was played at 72 beats/min, the resting pulse of the average person. This piece was a lesson in the effectiveness and beauty of the pentatonic scale, and my personal favourite of the evening. The silent violin was effortlessly expressive and moving. The Korg wound itself between the violins melodic space, manipulating the pitch using such precise pitch bending functions, it became as natural a sound as any acoustic instrument. Maya (meaning illusion) was the last piece played before intermission, highlighting the heARTbeat ensemble’s essence: a series of improvisational percussive solos, getting increasingly more intricate and faster as the piece progressed. This piece showcased the marriage of classical Indian music, free form jazz and improvisation, to a degree that would be educational to all Edmonton’s percussionists of all levels. After tea, the second half consisted of two pieces: a free form, percussive improvisational virtuosity and a medley of Indian and Canadian sounds of the folk and classical lineages, flawlessly performed and executed.

The virtuosity of the players of the heARTbeat ensemble left me stunned. Their ability to mold and shape complex traditional carnatic rhythms and scales and tonalities was achieved with ease and excellence. Seamlessly, they blended improvisation, experimental free form jazz, rock, folk, western classical and Indian classical music, creating a mature fusion of acoustic and electronic, and traditional and contemporary sound. Dr ‘Ghatam’ Karthick, founder of the ensemble, integrated the right amount of story telling, humour, audience participation and education within this performance, in a way that left the audience hanging off every note, every beat and every bend. The heARTbeat ensemble is an extraordinary group of extremely talented musicians who have conceptualized a brilliant improvisational platform, creating a new sound niche nestled between tradition and experimental improvisation.

For more information on the heARTbeat ensemble click here

For Raga Mala information and upcoming performances click here

- Allison Sokil

No comments:

Post a Comment