My name is Ale Fernandez. I live in Barcelona, Spain and I'm Chilean and Italian.
I am a web developer, artist and technical researcher.
I've lived in Scotland, Italy, Spain and England and career-wise I am interested in distributed systems and their applications to improvised performance and ecology.

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9/05/2005

As I write I'm compressing a file from a tabla practice. I am a student of a student of Pandit Shankar Ghosh. My guruji/master's name is Tapanji.


I once told him I was a buddhist, and he told me this story in great detail about the way he would walk past a beautiful buddhist temple in his youth. And now you can't even see the temple for all the other buildings that now fill the land. And his mother used to use flowers, like the ones he pointed out to me in his garden - big bright yellow flowers - when he would hurt himself as a child. Homeopathic remedies.


And the tabla classes. Always told with such feeling - his tabla master's strict classes where he wouldn't let you leave when your lesson finished, and you had to assist other student's lessons, or where he would say "put on that record" and they would listen to something - I think quite varied stuff, not just indian music. He told me of not being able to write it down, scolding me almost, for taking a minidisc recorder to tape a lesson one day. Of the journey home from the classes, trying to count the lesson out with a class mate going "Dha ti Dha dha te te - no how is it? Dha ti dha dha terekete" etc and trying to put together the class in their heads. And the bus would come by and they'd be like "Never mind the bus" and go on with trying to remember the lesson, pausing only for tea at a little kiosk.


Learning tabla in Bristol seems to me like a triumph of multicultural britain - a refugee from Chile in the inner city able to learn about what most people have to travel around asia to get. I feel a big pull to use this instrument with my own traditional music, although a lot of Chilean stuff is for parties and nowhere near as complex. I've figured out a cueca beat though - not because of the dance but because most chilean music has that beat in it or was born from variations on it. I walk to my lessons for just 10 minutes a time along the path from my house past the chocolate factory and around the back of greenbank's old bank - rose green - a large sloping green space un-noticed by the armies of dog walkers and property developers, until maybe one day the river Frome finally overruns it's borders and comes through Easton and Bristol again. I hope not, unless canal based transport was the reason. Under that green I'm told there were workhouses belonging to said chocolate factory (it even had it's own schools!) - and people are surely buried along that path, but mostly they are in the greenbank cemetery, a reminder of death that accompanies each lesson. It's also well dodgy round that path.


The counting stuff is also brilliant - it gives me a new way to quickly write down beats - a shorthand for rhythm that anyone can use alongside chord names and descriptions, without having to take it to the musical heights that a zakir hussein would sing to a tanmoy bose. It can be recited and repeated almost instantly by a trained performer - this makes it a treat to use in the kind of improvisation I do.


Incidentally, Tapanji says Tanmoy is also a student of Pandit Shankar Ghosh, but a baby compared to him, only ten years younger than their master. He was only referring to age though, not performing talent! This makes him my guruji uncle? Great that you can trace that lineage back with this kind of music. With guitar so much is so shit because we don't share things one to one - people think the wierdest things about what playing guitar is about and how to do it. Buddhism also has this link - it should be transmitted on a person to person basis, although what that basis is should be left to the judgement and culture of the people involved - and nowadays healthily includes the telephone and tentative recordings with lots of personal padding - in both cases. Tapanji is quite strict when it comes to putting music online or sharing any of what he teaches, for this precise reason. It's all in all a practice that teaches respect: normally I'd be all against any claim that music should be kept locked away. It's that it's totally not about any money or keeping the content profitable. I would argue that the creative commons and similar initiatives need to take this reason into account when drafting legal copyright documents or teaching people the merits of sharing.


I don't really know where the indian music connection will take me, but it seems an obvious step after doing stuff like the wildstrings, and it's really helpful in jam situations where everyone and their dog plays guitar and sings, to have an instrument not many people use but that fits in well with soloists. I'd love to be able to sing raga as well, but before that, it's the guitar I want to go back and repolish. All as finances and time allow for more classes. The slow but constant musical growth I also have picked up and love, from Bristol's musicians.


The problem with tabla is that around the time I started learning I also started to suffer from RSI - although I've long hoped it was more to do with work, or with the fact that most of what I do employs the tips of my fingers in hard hitting jabs, and sitting in the same place for a long time. Now I think it might be more like carpal tunnel syndrome which looks slightly less worrying for the moment. I really hope it's not related.


One day Tapanji went to bollywood and went in with his tabla to a studio. They showed a screen with a clip of a person coming down some huge stairs in a temple. He didn't know what to expect, but they just told him to play whatever came to mind to go with the scene. He did, and he was off. He's probably done the music for countless films like this. Kind of what we try and do and I try and do such a construed manner with the orchestra cube. I hope to learn some day something about improvising like that from him. He already
helped me when I had to play a gig with a kora player - teaching me a rhythm in 14 beats that he thought would go well with the traditional rhythms of Senegal. But that's another of the beauties of this multicultural oasis of Greenbank...

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