THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Has anyone heard the music of Kovalam? Or ever thought that the eye-candy seashore has some distinctive feature of this kind? ‘Mahaphon Clang’, the Indo-German band, on their brief visit to the beach, was allured by its beauty and vibe that they made a piece of music bursting with vitality. This is the way they perceive music, which is free of boundaries and set rules. If asked what genre they follow, the answer would be ‘multi-folkloral urban improvisational music’. For the band members their music is all about the “spontaneous emergence of forms, colours, layers and contexts to enthuse the audience.” The band, comprising Indian percussionist Ramesh Shotham and Lautstark!4, the quartet from Germany, bring out music in a style of their own.
Though each member has a unique style, the grounding in jazz made them unite as a team. Jan F Kurth, the vocalist of the band says, “jazz allows to treat music in various styles. We can take any musical instrument and improve on it.” An outstanding feature of the band is to give equal importance to vocal and instruments. When Kurth begins to sing, all we hear are sounds instead of words and he explains, “voice is considered another instrument here. The sounds imitate instruments.” Like interpreting the abstract, the listener can traverse with the imagination of the singer and arrive at new and broader meanings from within.
Though there is spontaneity in the sounds, they are not either rough or totally unplanned. Many of them are guttural vowels, produced with the back of the tongue and epiglottis. “They are percussive sounds. The undertones and overtones in the archaic vocal techniques are improvised and presented,” he says. The Mongolian culture, Tuva culture and contemporary music are therefore behind the out-of-the-ordinary genre he renders. Coming to percussion, Ramesh plays on an instrument that has a close resemblence to Cajon. If Cajon can be hit on only one side, the improvised instrument ‘Cajatom’ can be struck on all four sides producing four different sounds. “A friend and I developed the concept behind the instrument. The design is such that it can be folded or dismantled according to convenience,” Ramesh says.
Lutz Streun, the saxophonist prefers to entertain the ears. “By changing the way air is pushed out from mouth, one can create different sounds. By slapping on the instrument, a pattern of ‘puk, puk’ sounds are produced,” he explains the approach. Matthias Kurth, who is on the electric guitar, is interested in making harmonies and soundscapes. In jazz and rock music, he concentrates on free improvisation. Drummer Demian Kappenstein likes to “surprise and provoke” the listeners with his harmonic beat. And apart from these, they use broomstick, shells, little toys and lot more to create a variety of original effects.
Being an Indo-German band, the Indian influence too forms a major part in the presentation. In the middle of the performance, we hear Ramesh making some ‘thaka dhimi thaka jim…’ sounds in between. Demian says “Ramesh comes up with ideas to play. And often teaches us Indian music; its rhythm, scales and melodies.” The team was all smiles about having listened to Carnatic music during their short stay at Chennai. ‘Mahaphon Clang’ was in the city for a concert organised by Goethe-Zentrum.