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Interviews

Rudresh Mahanthappa: Hybrid Energy

By Published: May 2, 2011
I was so honored that he called me. I decided "Whether or not it's a good fit, I'm going to do it. I'll make it fit." [laughs] It's really exciting. We had a great time. Nguyên is a really funny guy and incredibly nice. The hang is great. The other members of his trio are amazing too. Prabhu Edouard is a really smoking Indian percussionist. He's of South Indian origin, but he plays tabla. He knows his Carnatic stuff too. We were teaching some rhythm classes together at Cornish College and he's a really brilliant teacher. He was showing these kids some great stuff and they were blown away. Mieko Miyazaki flies on her kobo. It's a difficult instrument to play. She's constantly changing her tuning by moving her tuning bridges while she's playing. She's able to play some really complicated stuff. She's virtuosic and is a great listener. It was somewhat intimidating to walk into a trio like this where the people have been playing together awhile, and performing a certain repertoire. It's challenging to learn the music and also to find your voice within it. But it felt pretty natural. There's so much potential with this group. We each contributed a tune specific to us four playing together when we did the shows and it really put us in a different place right away. I hope there will be more work together.

AAJ: Tell me about your forthcoming album Samdhi featuring David Gilmore
David Gilmore
David Gilmore

guitar
, Rich Brown and Damion Reid.

RM: That has to be one of the things I'm post proud of. It was the direct result of my Guggenheim fellowship. It's a combination of all this electronic stuff I've worked on, plus all this stuff I studied in South India. I took all the South Indian stuff and voiced it with situations that have nothing to do with that. So, it's me with laptop, some effects and programming. It also features the guys you mentioned, as well as Anantha Krishnan, a really incredible young mridangam player. The album is somewhat traditionally based, but pretty weird in a way too, as far as the Carnatic perspective goes. He fit into that well. It's been two years since it was recorded. Right now, I'm considering how to get the music out there.

AAJ: What do you consider your biggest challenges as a writer these days?

RM: It's hard to stay fresh sometimes. But more than anything, it's hard to make time to learn new things with all of the day-to-day life stuff. There's so much orchestration stuff I want to learn. I want to learn how to write for strings better. I don't know how I'll get around to any of it because I'm so consumed with regular life stuff and managing all of the music stuff I already have going on. I'm still doing a good bit of my own business stuff too, even though I have agents. The work never seems to completely disappear. There's a lot I want to absorb and implement. I'm always fearful of becoming that guy who writes the same tunes over and over again. There are so many guys like that out there. It would be a shame to be one of them since I've gone out of my way to avoid it for so long. It's one of the reasons why I've taken on the challenges of dealing with influences from outside of music in projects like Codebook and Mother Tongue. It forces me to not write the same tune again.

AAJ: You've also been known to make field recordings as inspirational tools.

RM: I haven't done that in a long time, but yeah, there was a time when I would screw around with that stuff. I should do it again, now that it's so easy to do with an iPhone. I used to record birds and was also really hung up on things that squeaked—like squeaky swing sets and turnstiles. It was like an urban version of Messiaen and the birds. It was like the "Symphony for squeaky turnstiles" or something. [laughs] It's easy to lose touch with that kind of childlike creativity or inspired frame of mind when you're thinking about how to pay your mortgage. I would like to spend some time getting back to that state of mind more often. I just want to work harder in general. I feel like I should be, but there's no way to have the same energy I had when I was 23 and multitasking like crazy and sleeping four hours a night.

AAJ: We're both second-generation South Asian. I'm amused by the consistent focus on your ethnicity in your media coverage. What's your perspective on that?


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