| Music for almost all the recent James Bond movies, percussionist Bickram Ghosh and American drummer Greg Ellis, who has composed music for Matrix: Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions, at The Conclave last week. Pictures: Rashbehari Das
How the Mighty Trio on Drums began...
Bickram Ghosh: Sometimes we do not find our destiny, destiny finds us. Twelve years back I was in Los Angeles and a friend asked me if I wanted to go for dinner to the house of this wonderful drummer. Greg says I had this haughty look on my face, as if I was thinking ‘oh, not another American drummer wanting a slice of India’.
Greg Ellis: He was like this guru coming to my house, you know, all ‘what do you want to learn, tell me’ kind.
Bickram: After dinner, people asked us to jam. Ten seconds into the jam, something that rarely happens, every time we hit the som, the ‘one’, his one and my one, were the same. When we stopped we stopped together. That seriously got my attention.
Greg: I was very intimidated by Bickram, not coming from any foundation of Indian music. But sitting with him there was a sense of understanding of the ‘one’ that Bickram spoke of. People say music is an universal language but rhythm is actually the universal language. Music demands tuning and understanding of scale and that varies from country to country but rhythm is something that connects us….
Bickram: It was two or three years later that we met in England. Of course I had heard of Pete Lockett and I knew he was a phenomenal drummer. I knew of his achievements and that he had collaborated with every big name on the planet…. The first time we played together was in a recording and it was in Henry VIII’s hunting lodge in Essex.
Pete Lockett: He (Henry VIII) wasn’t there.
Bickram: Yes, he was out hunting! (Laughs) We stayed there for about a week and we recorded a lovely album there, which unfortunately ran into some legal problems and hasn’t still released. But that was the beginning of our journey. And I realised that Pete was another kindred drummer....
Pete: One of the interesting things is the idea that you can almost predict where you are going to stop.... It’s important whether you are playing in time or whether you are ahead of the beat or behind the beat. And only 10 or 15 per cent of people end up playing in time....
Bickram: We were rehearsing, the three of us, and within five minutes the ‘one’ was the same for all of us. We just played extempore for an hour and we just thought ‘what are we doing at the rehearsal, let’s just go and have a good time’.
Pete: You know we could play the ‘one’ once and that’d be it.
Greg: That would be the concert! But I must say Pete and I go way back. Pete and I actually go back, three days now? Really, we’ve been playing with Bickram for so many years but this is really the first time that we’ve met…. And it [the connection] was right there. It was wonderful to see.
Bickram: The ‘bond’ between the two of you, especially, is that you are from the same ‘matrix’.
| Pete on the darabuka, Bickram on the tambourine and Greg on the udu treated the audience to an impromptu jam
A personal journey through rhythm...
Greg: The first eight or nine years of my career I solely played drums.... At 28 I started hand percussion.... I had to take the enormous space I created with my drum set and focus it like a laser beam on to this instrument. What happened in that process was it became a very internal process for me.... Percussion gave to me, for the first time, a journey of my own through rhythm.
Playing with his eyes closed...
Greg: When I play now, my eyes are closed not so much because I am going inside but because I want to disappear and I don’t want you to hear me, I want you to hear my music. So it is like a child who covers his eyes and says ‘you can’t see me’ because he can’t see you! But the real point of it is if I look into the audience it can become a distraction, like if people are moving I’ll feel like I have to keep them moving…. It is more about getting into a space where it is not about being a performer but more about the sound where the sound becomes my connection with the audience.
Music therapy and Rhythm Pharm...
Greg: There are frequencies created [by drums] that are meant to be absorbed by the body.... In my work with and research on these instruments I found that there is a healing aspect of rhythm and the rhythm and the drum is a catalyst to the dimension of spirituality — it’s the shaman’s drum not the shaman’s violin, not the shaman’s piano. I wanted to channel the energy that I was feeling from the instrument so I created something called the Rhythm Pharm and the idea was to have almost prescribed rhythm as medicine. It is audio pharmacology. There is nothing magical or mystical, it is actually more scientific.... When you bind a rhythm or frequency up, whether through drum or gong, or a Tibetan bowl, the body resonates that frequency, and what happens in that is healing…. I honestly believe that we are reaching a point where you will be able to go to a doctor and have rhythm prescribed for you.
Rhythm Pharm is a set of seven CDs and each CD is meant to give you a different state of mind for healing....
| Greg replaced his udu with Bickram’s cheeks to play the last few beats of the jam session
King of konnakol...
Pete: I am fascinated by rhythm and percussion from all over the world…. If I am drawn into a new rhythm world or a new rhythmic formality or a new musical methodology, I can’t stop myself. I have to study it. I have spent a long time studying north Indian music with Yousuf Ali Khan…. And then I studied mridangam and natwangam, which is the vocal percussion and bols that you find in Bharatanatyam dance.
Bickram: Pete has a wonderful vocabulary of Indian rhythm in terms of konnakol [the art of performing percussion syllables vocally]. He speaks it amazingly well.
(What followed was a conversation between Bickram and Pete where Bickram asked questions in English and Pete replied in konnakol, sending the audience into fits)
Key to collaboration...
Pete: In any collaboration, not only do you have to listen to each other’s music but you kind of have to understand enough to be able to collaborate and exchange ideas and thoughts.
Pete: I have a percussion app for the i devices. It is two months old now and within the first week it was number four in America and number two in Japan. A lot of people don’t get the feel of the sounds or how things happen. It allows people to experiment with the sound.
Pete and Greg on Bickram’s tricks (using his cheeks as percussion!)...
Pete: He is such a cheek-y fellow.
Greg: We should introduce it as drum and face!
Experimenting with music...
Bickram: It all comes down to my father [Shankar Ghosh]. In the ’70s, my father had this unbelievable drum orchestra called Music of the Drums, which was later christened the Calcutta Drum Orchestra. It was a 24-piece orchestra, only the drums. All those instruments used to be in our house and as I was growing up every room was stacked with the instruments and I was playing with every possible kind of drum. I went to school in La Martiniere. From there I used to walk down to Ghulam Ali Khan sahab’s house where my mother used to learn from his son. We had a band in school called Satellites where I was the conga player…. When I went to his house, Khan sahab would often say ‘chal beta theka laga’. And I was playing congas in the morning! That juxtaposition was huge… but I think meeting people like Greg or Pete inspired me to seriously take up multiple percussion. Seeing their technique and seeing the kind of sounds they are able to produce, I did not want myself to be contained in my Indian periphery.