Rafael Reina - Karnatic Rhythmical Structures as a source for new thinking in Western music

Today's music demands a new approach to rhythmical training, a training that will provide musicians with the necessary tools to face more varied and complex rhythmical concepts with accuracy, while keeping the emotional content.

The expansion of rhythmical possibilities has been one of the cornerstones of musical developments in the last hundred years, whether through western development or through the borrowing from non-western traditions. Most classical musicians, whether in orchestral or ensemble situations, will have to face a piece by Ligeti, Messiaen, Varèse or Xenakis, to mention just a few well-known composers, while improvisers face music influenced by Dave Holland, Steve Coleman, Aka Moon, Weather Report, Irakere or elements from the Balkans, India, Africa or Cuba. Furthermore, many creators, whether they belong to the classical or jazz worlds, are currently organising their music not only in terms of pitch content but with rhythmical structures and are eager to obtain information that would structure and classify rhythmical possibilities in a coherent and practicable way.

Reina's PhD research at Brunel University, London, addresses ways in which the Karnatic rhythmical system can enhance, improve or even radically change the teaching of rhythmical solfege at a higher education level and how this learning can influence the creation and interpretation of complex contemporary classical and jazz music.

Since 1995 Reina has been teaching a programme at the Amsterdam Conservatoire based on extensive research conducted between 1993-97 into all aspects of Karnatic Music. The PhD is the result of re-examining and deepening on the material learnt during the initial period throughout subsequent years, including various trips to South India realised in the period 2010-2012.One of the main goals of the research and subsequent explanation of the different techniques is to use the architecture and skeleton of this musical culture not only to improve, modify, enhance or, even, replace the current rhythmical solfege system imparted in music centres all over the West, but also to increase the array of tools, awareness and accuracy among musicians to perform complex western composed or improvised music.

These ideas have been developed into a thesis that aims to:

  • Systematise those rhythmical Karnatic devices which can be considered sufficiently universal to be integrated with western classical and jazz aesthetics, so there is finally a comprehensive and complete text providing access to many rhythmical elements used in Karnatic music
  • Provide a methodology for how these devices can be taught within a western framework, in order to enormously enhance the current western solfege rhythmical system
  • Explain how these techniques can be used as a source of creative ideas for composers and improvisers
  • Provide recordings to demonstrate every step of every technique
  • Analyse sections of pieces of existing contemporary repertoire (both classical and jazz) where parallels with Karnatic concepts can be established or where Karnatic techniques can be used to perform passages with more accuracy and understanding
  • Analysis and audio recording of two improvised pieces, performed by a small jazz ensemble, and pieces by two composition students.

Rafael Reina

Rafael Reina graduated with ‘Summa cum Laude’ in Composition from Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA (1988). From an early age, he has been given recognition for numerous compositions for dance, opera, orchestra and ensemble. Rafael Reina composed many pieces for dance, including one featuring Marco Berriel and Joaquin Cortes for the 1992 Expo in Seville. He received various composition awards, including the Special Critics Award at the Contemporary Composition Competition in Madrid for the piece Oficio de Tinieblas (1989) and the Best Original Score for Dance ‘94 in Madrid.
Rafael Reina has composed music for three operas: Wölfli – a journey into chaos (2001), a part of the collective opera 1714 Mon de Guerres, a co-production of Festival de Peralada and Barcelona Forum 2004, and HesseIndia (2007). His extensive oeuvre of ensemble pieces has been performed throughout Europe, the USA, Taiwan and India.

With a background in both jazz and contemporary classical music and an extensive knowledge of many musical cultures and their translation to Western purposes, Rafael Reina has given master classes at numerous higher music education centers throughout Europe and beyond, most recently at Cambridge University, Leeds College of Music, Birmingham Conservatoire, ESMUC in Barcelona and the Academy of Music in Tallinn.

Project information

April 2014

Brunel University, London

More information to be found on Rafael Reina's website