a performance dialogue

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

permutating syllables on tabla

Today I hosted a workshop for composers by our World Musician in Residence, John Ball, who plays traditional Indian music and particularly tabla. This was an excellent opportunity to investigate the rhythmic structure of Indian music. I can now see exactly why it was so relevant mathematically to Ramanujan in The Disappearing Number, but there are also some resonances with the way we are working, with syllables and permutations. Tabla players learn to articulate the rhythms verbally using syllables that each have their own character and correspond with different strokes on the drums. The syllables are ordered according to structures consisting of, commonly, 16, or 12, or 7 beats. A composition will usually consist of a selection of syllables grouped in a certain way; a performer will then improvise on those particular syllables by creating a set of, maybe 30, variations that are generated by permutating the syllables within the given phrase structure. It's a playful process of sorting through the given syllables of the composition. The continual permutation of syllables is close to a tangible mathematical process that is approached by the player with a combination of system and intuition. The apparent simplicity of this process produces a complexity of motion and phrasing that is achieved through the internal groupings (the idea of partitioning that we were exploring on 31 August is very relevant here) that play against the basic structure. This continual state of 'dissonance' between the regularity of the cycle and the irregularity of the groupings is what creates the constantly renewing surface of energy that is so characteristic of Indian music.

1 comment:

Carol said...

Its good to have another reference and context for 'permutating syllables'. The relationship between the tabla player and a dancer is also 'scripted' through the grouping of these rhythms which they often 'clap' together in the first instance (at least this has been my experience with Bharata Natyam dancers). In terms of grouping and partitioning material, Rose and I have been assembling 'frames' or short sequences of material by combining letters into words taken from the text - babel, tongue, sphere - as well as using numbers and patterns of numbers in particular 3, 5 and 7. In order to establish pattern we need to see recurring content, so the next thing to do would be to create streams of dance material which do this through repetition and retrograde.