The Forgotten Power of Rhythm
On his latest Australian visit, Andrián Pertout speaks to Austrian master percussionist Reinhard Flatischler about the global rhythm experience.
Reinhard Flatischler is a world renowned master percussionist, composer and pianist, and also a graduate from the prestigious Vienna Academy of Music. He began his musical journey at the early age of four, and by fifteen he had duly become an international performer. Although some of his artistic aspirations were being hindered by an asthmatic condition, and thus in the global travels that followed he developed an interest for the healing powers of music. He went on to study with shamans and masters around the world, which eventually led to an adaptation of the ideas he had gathered, and ultimately to the creation of his own method TA KE TI NA. For almost a decade he has toured the globe with his partner Cornelia Flatischler conducting workshops and concerts, dedicating the remainder of his time to composition at his summerhouse in Vienna. This being the lifeblood of 'Megadrums', which is a project that collects some of the most innovative and respected percussionists in the world today, to produce a most interesting series of cross-cultural soundscapes. Complimentary to his salutary passions, he also plays an active part in the scientific advisory board for the International Society for Music in Medicine.
How did your musical life begin? What type of formal training did you undertake in the early years of your development?
RF: "Well, first I started piano, at the age of four, and I played my first classical piano concert at the age of seven. And at this young age I practiced a lot, but I'd also been sick a lot, so I was always concerned about how could music also help my health. You know, because this was partly hindering me from practicing and stuff. So I got very early in the track where I searched for ways how music could help my health, and I got into rhythm because I found that rhythm is the most reduced musical form, and it's the most effective, it's like the substructure of everything."
What was the turning point in your career that led to your interest in other music cultures?
RF: "One was when I saw a concert from Ustad Alla Rakha (legendary tabla master) and Ravi Shankar, and I knew I had to learn this drum. But the strange thing is like when I was four, and they asked me what I want to learn, it was drums. But I mean, you don't learn drums in Vienna in this time, this was '54. You had to learn piano, this is the classical thing. But my call always was the drum, so I had to look out for different cultures, and very early I went out and saw how people live differently, eat differently, behave differently, think differently, feel differently, and that really enriched me. I had some very strict old fashioned tabla teachers who first would only like let me cook their tea, and I had the chance to watch other people play. I learnt a lot without knowing that I'd learnt a lot, and took full chance to like repeat, remember the rhythms I heard with my body, you know how the Indian tabla language is there, and so clapped it out. It led me gradually also to discover how the body is the main instrument of everything. Like the tabla teacher would tell you, 'You only keep playing the speed you speak.' That means only if your nervous system can reproduce it at this speed, only then you will be able to play it. I mean, you might be faster with your hands but it's not coming really from the drum then. The drum doesn't speak, the drum only speaks at the speed you can speak."
You devoted twenty-five years studying with master drummers and shamans of Korea, Brazil, Cuba, Africa, Japan and Indonesia. How would your describe the impact of this global experience on your music?
RF: "Tremendous, on the personal level, on the musical level, on all the levels. Actually, being a Westerner and playing the drums, I believe we first need to go to these places who have this long standing relationship with drums. So first I went to all these cultures, but it's not only learning about the drums, it's learning about social context. Because in Africa the listener is the participant, these are all things you don't know first. Or for example how we say, 'Well, I have to play really fast and really fancy, you know, then I'm good'. In Africa this doesn't count, they really respect you if you keep your part in the whole role really clear and clean, and put the right variations to right answers on the master drum, and these things. Africa gives us the whole world of the polyrhythm, while India gives us the whole world of complex rhythms, the additive rhythms, up to hundred eights. It's had an impact on my health, a very deep impact on my personal life, and of course on my composition. And my desire to find the healing power out of music, I couldn't do all of this without those experiences. And the circle was tried in Europe with groups, I had like anyone who wanted to come, this was in the 60s, just homeless housewives in Brooklyn, and try out how rhythm effects illness, that's how TA KE TI NA was created actually, out of these resources."
Tell about TA KE TI NA. What are some of the basic steps of this rhythm process?
RF: "TA KE TI NA is not to learn a certain rhythm on a certain instrument, it's about experiencing how it is to fall in rhythm, and for this you use the body as the instrument. And for this you are creating a field where you bring two powers together. One is a stabilizing power, and one is a destabilizing power, and you bring them together simultaneously. That means, first the people join voluntarily in any motion that's accompanied by a drum, and then the destabilizing factor comes in and challenges the basic rhythm, and this creates a falling out and falling in process. And as this starts to happen, eventually the whole group will fall into a new level of performance, that means all of a sudden they do something that they don't know what they're doing, and the next step would be that they fall into something that they know, that they immediately recognize. 'Oh, this is a 3/2 polyrhythm, and it's structured like this.' That of course takes some time. The first step will be that you encounter yourself while you're falling out, that means you encounter your voices of fear, of anger, control, whatever is there for each individual. And because it happens again and again, you transform those voices gradually, and as they become silent, you fall into the mainstream, you fall into the caring power of rhythm, the drum that accompanies. And you can clap the other rhythms and think the other rhythms, and there will be a very flexible process where at certain times you can't follow what I think, but you still can clap and then you will fall out altogether, and all of a sudden you will be doing all three, like clapping, stepping and voice at the same time. And of course with the voluntary control, you have no way of checking if everything is OK, because it's too fast, but you feel you are in. So as this occurs, all of a sudden you will be able to stay on a level of performance you have never done before, because you are connected with your core, you are connected with your innate rhythm knowledge. And that is the individual process, and it's actually connected to the collective process, as the time goes on. Sometimes it needs one set, two sets, three sets, depending on the group, and depending on the individuals.
"TA KE TI NA is actually some very old knowledge in a new form. Like if you watch closely to a Balinese ritual or to cross rhythms or polyrhythms of Africa and all this, what exists on our planet in indigenous cultures who have a tradition in drum, you will find exactly the same dynamics at work than in TA KE TI NA, but you could not bring an African form to Europe, or a Balinese form to the States, they wouldn't work. So TA KE TI NA is something which brings the effect and the essence of how rhythm can be a tool of expanding awareness of feeling and all this, into a modern form for someone who hasn't been exposed to rhythms over centuries."
What conclusions has the Society for Music in Medicine come to so far in regard to the effects of musical rhythms on the human body's breathing, pulse and brain waves?
RF: "We're just coming from a conference of these physicians, and this was focused on pain and pain relief, and a lot of people that come with chronic pain in TA KE TI NA experience a dramatic shift. And what we find is that it is not controlled, but the consciousness and your state of consciousness causes a certain pain pattern, so you can shift it by shifting your consciousness. And that's what happens, people with knee problems for example, first they say, 'Well, I have to sit down.' So I say, 'OK, you can sit down anytime.' Because I also invite people to lay down, like three hours is a long for Western people to do something, so I say, 'OK, lay down.' And sometimes I think, these people three hours in the circle, and after they say, 'We don't have pain anymore.' It's just I think when you access this place where your awake consciousness is connected with the unconscious, natural healing starts to happen. And this of course is new for the physicians too, but they include this, but especially the pain people, they are dealing with things like somebody who has no right leg because of a war, and he feels pain in the right leg that he doesn't have. You know, so a lot of illogical things happen, so they start as a need that they may practice, open up more and more to these things."
Your current album with 'Megadrums' features world master musicians such as Zakir Hussain, Airto Moreira, Wolfgang Puschnig, Valerie Naranjo, Glen Velez and Milton Cardona. How did the 'Megadrums' project initially come about?
RF: "There are some different initial experiences, one has been the 'Tal Vadhyr Utsav', which was a drum and percussion festival sponsored and organized by the Indian government in the early eighties. And they invited one hundred and fifty drummers from all over the world, originally to perform individually, like say the group from Java would perform as a Javanese group and so on. But the people came together, what happened is a lot of encounters started to happen. And I started to watch closely, what makes the encounter deep and what makes the encounter superficial. So first I saw clearly that there's a big demand for people to extend beyond their traditions, and also if you look at their tradition, it's not a fixed thing. Like if you look to a Cuban tradition, there has been rhythm introduced into Cuba, and that created the Son and the Guaguanco. And OK we say, this is the traditional Afro-Cuban thing, but then Pello (Pello El Afrocan) for example, a drummer, went to Brazil, experienced the carnival there and was really turned on by the Samba. And he came back to Cuba and formed a rhythm called Mozambique, which is like a rhythm from Cuba together with a rhythm from Brazil. So each tradition in itself has the tendency to change and transform with each generation, and the influences always come from what the people hear, what they experience, so that's a colloquial extension of it.
"And then the second source of 'Megadrums' is that I have a long standing relationship with some of these drummers, like Zakir Hussain (son of Ustad Alla Rakha), Glen Velez, Milton Cardona and all these people. We had the first project with an Indian pakhawaj player, Pandit Arjun Shejwal and a Brazilian candomble player, Dudu Tucci, in '84. And from then it developed each year to a new project. I brought Samulnori from Korea, the first time to Europe actually, this was the first time they had gone out. And I invited also a very long standing friend of mine, Aja Addy from Ghana, he's a Tikari priest and a very fantastic, creative musician too. So completely different worlds, Korea and Ghana, and then Brazil. And I started to compose music like for example, the typical 6/8 stuff, 'Ten ten, Ge te te, Ten ten', that they have in Africa, they have a form of this called Samulnori in Korea. I knew both cultures, so I started to compose music that had the elements and the archetypes of both cultures in themselves. So when Aja heard this music, he said, 'Well, it's familiar to me.' And when Samulnori came he said, 'Well, it sounds familiar to me, I can play this.' You know, I never just wrote music down on paper and said, 'OK, here's…' I tried to compose according to whom I invite, and then it became more individual.
"The last project has ended up in manner where people who have already undergone the same process that I'm undergoing, you know, like transforming from a tradition to a creative form, have melted into one group. Like Zakir has undergone this process, he played with Shakti as you know, with John McLaughlin and L. Shankar, and all these projects, and nothing to say about Airto Moreira, you know his background (Airto has performed and recorded with Paul Simon, Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock and George Benson). It's like they all have individually done the same thing in different projects, mine with 'Megadrums' is mainly focused on the expression of rhythm, and rhythm is put in the centre of the creation."
'Layers of Time' distributed by Ellipsis Arts
'Australian Musician' ~ Issue 10, Winter, June 2, 1997
AUSTRALIAN MUSIC ASSOCIATION
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