Profile 'Applications of Karnatic Rhythm to Contemporary Music'
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 performers, whether in orchestral or ensemble situations, will have to face a piece by Stravinsky, Béla Bartók, Ligeti, Messiaen, Varèse or Xenakis, to mention just a few well-known composers. 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.
20th and 21st centuries music demands a new approach to rhythmical training, a training that will provide musicians with the necessary tools to face with accuracy more varied and complex rhythmical concepts, while keeping the emotional content. The master's profile ‘Applications of Karnatic Rhythm to Contemporary music’ addresses ways in which the Karnatic rhythmical system can enhance, improve or even radically change the creation (be it written or improvised) and interpretation of (complex) contemporary classical and jazz music.
The incredible wealth of rhythmical techniques, devices and concepts, the different types of tala construction, the use of rhythm as a structural and developmental element and, last but not least, the use of mathematics to sometimes very sophisticated levels in South India, enable the western musician to improve and enhance their accuracy and/or their creative process and make the study of Karnatic rhythm a fascinating adventure of far-reaching consequences. The large variety of rhythmical devices used in Karnatic music is, in the West, one of the elements most unknown and least documented, yet potentially most universal.
This master's profile is based on the 4-year programme ‘Advanced Rhythm’ taught at the Conservatory but deepening and providing many more elements than the regular lessons. It is organised and catered for students from both classical and jazz departments, and structured differently for:
Principal subject: 50
Master's profile: 30
Master's electives: 20
Individual credits: 10
The student will be awarded with 30 credits as part of the principal subject (15 credits per year)
* In order to enrol, you must have been accepted in a master’s degree programme in your principal subject (instrumental, vocal or composition).
In an interview in August 2000, Pierre Boulez has said: “If the rhythms and phrasing that are peculiar to contemporary music would be taught in the best conservatories in an intensive way, the future of contemporary music would certainly change and performers and general public would really start enjoying pieces by Berio, Xenakis or myself. The lack of accuracy in orchestras is the biggest obstacle for communication between composers and public”.
As mentioned in the introduction, the programme for classical performers addresses the problems that may arise in many contemporary music pieces from Stravinsky, Béla Bartók or Varèse to Xenakis, Boulez, Elliot Carter, Ferneyhough or Ligeti, as well as more recent composers. The main objective is to provide rhythmic tools that will help the student achieve a higher degree of accuracy and confidence. South Indian classical music not only makes use of one of the most complex rhythmical systems but, in addition, has very clear and practical teaching and exercise methods.
The master's profile will be comprised of the following elements:
- Following the so-called ‘Reading Ensemble’ each year.
- Attendance to weekly sessions of the so-called ‘deepening sessions’, where the ‘roots’ of the material, as well as what other creators have done or are doing with Karnatic rhythmical concepts, will be listened to and analysed within a musical context.
- Individual coaching in order to prepare 3 pieces of contemporary music*** (between October and March), and for the performance in mid-June of pieces with a duration of, at least, 20 minutes. How to use Karnatic techniques to perform contemporary pieces and to work out a general methodology for the student to apply to a wide variety of pieces are the ultimate goals of this coaching.
***The students could present their own idea or project, provided that the amount of work will at least equal the amount of work foreseen for the pieces.
As long as the students wish to dedicate at least 30% of their time to prepare contemporary pieces, these will be the pieces to be coached within this master profile. Therefore, these pieces are not meant to be a workload added to what the student has to prepare throughout the year but simply a shift on focus on the material to be used for those pieces (i.e., contemporary repertoire with rhythmical content and not pieces that exclusively explore extended techniques or other aspects of the evolution of classical music in the 20th and 21st centuries)
* Alternatively, the student could also choose to follow an improvisation ensemble and/or composition lessons. In this case, a smaller number of contemporary pieces could be worked out, and some coaching time could be used to work on creative aspects, be it compositional or improvisational in nature.
The Karnatic rhythmical system offers paths to create music using rhythmical complexities in a very organic fashion, getting away from the highly-charged ‘intellectual approach’ that has possibly characterised much of the ‘new complexity’ approach to using rhythm. An important aspect of Karnatic rhythm is that it is a system in which the practice methodology and the developmental possibilities of the same concept are inextricably linked. The notion of common denominator impregnates the structural architecture of each technique and its developmental possibilities.
This master's profile revolves around rhythmical devices/complexities derived from the theory of South Indian classical music (Karnatic music) in order to use them within a western contemporary context. The final goal for the student is to achieve a higher degree of understanding of these concepts and its subsequent utilization in today's music and never to merely copy the Karnatic tradition. Combining the below mentioned Karnatic concepts with western concepts of orchestration, counterpoint and polyphony is a must within the program.
The material focuses on the following points:
1) Theory of South Indian classical music:
- Rhythmical complexities: Different types of tala (cycles) construction, all sort of polyrhythms, polypulses, irregular groupings, inner amalgamation, structural metrical modulations, polytalas and mathematical/rhythmical calculations and their relationship to structural development.
- The study of rhythm, not only as an ‘isolated’ phenomenon of more or less complexity, but as a source for development, creation of structures and forms, feeling for proportionalities and a number of related concepts.
- Formal and structural concepts: Developmental techniques, different types of forms. Usage of South-Indian geometrical concepts to apply on macro and micro structures.
2) Practical exercises and homework based on the theory.
3) Extensive listening and analysis of recorded material.
The master's profile will be comprised of the following elements:
- Following an Advanced Rhythm composition class each year. Within these lessons, there is 30 minutes a week dedicated to internalising the fundamentals of the rhythmical material.
- Attendance to weekly sessions where the ‘roots’ of the material, as well as what other creators have done or are doing with Karnatic rhythmical concepts, will be listened to and analysed within a musical context.
- Individual coaching in order to help the student in the process of
a) Composing 2 pieces (6-8 min)***, to be prepared during beginning October-beginning December and mid-December-end February
b) Composing a larger piece*** (ca 10-12 min) for a larger ensemble, to be prepared during beginning March-mid June.
*** The student could present his/her own idea or project, provided that the amount of work will at least equal the amount of work foreseen for the pieces.
These pieces are not meant to be a workload added to what the student has to create throughout the year but simply a shift on focus on the material to be used for those pieces.
All pieces prepared in these two years can be used for the MA1 exam as well as the graduation recital.
The main differences with the regular group lessons that can be followed as a masters elective are:
- The student will receive weekly individual coaching in order to prepare pieces throughout the year (the individual coaching is offered exclusively to students who choose this master's profile).
- There will be sessions on a regular basis where the ‘roots’ of the material, as well as what other creators have done or are doing with Karnatic rhythmical concepts, will be listened to and analysed within a musical context.
- The option of following as well regular lessons of groups or ensembles of ‘Advanced Rhythm’ different to the background of the student.
All students will start where they left it off at the end of their bachelor's studies (i.e., if a student has finished the 1st year of the Reading, Improvisation or Composition approach, he/she will start with the material of the 2nd year, regardless of the chosen option).
Before or during the second year, the student can choose to go to India via the Jahnavi Jayaprakash Foundation (Bangalore) under the guidance of B.C. Manjunath, or the University of Mysore, under the guidance of Dr. Mysore Manjunath, for a maximum of six weeks in order to attain the ‘Indian’ view on the elements of the programme. The student needs to choose a period of the year in which he would miss a maximum of three weeks of lessons in Amsterdam (either in the summer between the first and second years, or before and after Christmas of the second year seem to be the most appropriate). This could be one of the possibilities of the individual credits component.
The students need to find their own financial resources if they would like to travel to India and take lessons.