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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Language and the Fifth Limb of Drumming

Gary Chester in his book The New Breed integrates the voice as the fifth limb of drumming.

My friend Charles Knoles told me "If you can hear it, then you can play it" That is the ideal, but one of the stepping stones to TRUE hearing is being able to SAY IT or SING IT first.

In tabla you always learn how to say a GROOVE or COMPOSITION before you learn how to PLAY IT.

I think this phenomenon has to do with the HUMAN method of learning through LANGUAGE. We start learning the language of our MOTHER while still in the womb so it is the most intimate and heart-centric method of expression and assimilation of knowledge that we have available to us.

That is what is so ingenious about the tabla methodology. You learn these compositions as linear monologues of text. Then what happens is that independence and poly-rhythmic ability is an effortless bi product of sustained involvement with the language of Tabla. The compositions become three dimensional and circular and naturally complex and beautiful out of the simplicity of spoken word.

SINGING, BEATBOXING, VOCALIZATION, SPOKEN WORD, TABLA anything that integrates your voice as the fifth limb is so vitally important.

Like I said before Gary Chester's THE NEW BREED is a good place to start for the western drummer.

From my heart to yours, It's an undeniable miracle to be involved in this field of rhythm and life.

CHECK OUT THIS VIDEO OF MARCO MINNEMANN that has turned a scene from Monty Python's THE LIFE OF BRIAN into a drum solo. LANGUAGE IS RHYTHM.



Here is a tabla solo by Alla Rakha who is Zakir Hussain's father and tabla player for Ravi Shankar. It gives you a taste of the vocalization of tabla.



Next is a video by Mal Webb. Absolutely incredible. WOW! Check it.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Ride Cymbal is Santa


Today I spent 3-4 hours playing the jazz ride pattern. I am completely in love with John Riley's book "The Art of Bop Drumming." The main revelation so far is that the ride cymbal pattern, in the midst of it's triplet feel, should accent and fully drive a QUARTER NOTE pulse.

Previously I had played the pattern how I felt it; slightly accenting only the 2 & 4. If you accent all the quarter notes and get that relaxed rounded sound, it grooves so hard it feels like flying.  

I literally spent almost four hours today getting that ride pattern like a Brancusi bird :). Allowing the ride to EFFORTLESSLY be ABSOLUTE and INVINCIBLE (with hi hat on 2 & 4) is the foundation for exploring all the ecstatic complexities of jazz drumming and independence.

It's Christmas today.  The deepening of the knowledge of the music I love, the music of New York, the music of the bones, the music of smoke and ash, the music of destruction and from the shivering silence of the Primal Origin, endless resurrections of zero-gravity waves of blood-pumped sound, the one ingredient of the physical universe, is the perpetual intravenous Christmas presence of my life.



Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Interpreting Stick Control.

I am writing this entry because I have a deep fondness for fundamentals. I also have an intense love of the avant garde and the wild unknown territories of art and music.

Stick Control is the quintessential drum instruction book. It's the book you get after you go to your very first drum lesson. Because I have an insanely linear mind and I tend to follow rules, I was locked into a very rigid understanding of this book. It was only recently that I discovered the ABSOLUTE JOY of INTERPRETING this book and using it as FOUNDATION work but also as a way to work on independence, creative reading, and other more advanced techniques.

Just with pages 5-7 there is an infinite number of ways to interpret the exercises. My most recent teacher was James Dreier at the University of Iowa. He started me off doing:

1. pg 5-7 sticks on pad following the recommended sticking pattern over a samba with kick and hi hat
2. pg 5-7 R=Floor Tom L=Snare drum over a Samba. Instead of reading the exercises in order you just go straight across the entire page as if you were reading a book for both 1 & 2
3. pg 5-7 R = Floor Tom & Snare in unison L= Kick Drum hi hat is on quarter notes.

4. pg 5-7 Same as number three except with a swing feel and hi hat on 2 & 4. For exercises 3 & 4 do each exercise 2 times and then on to the next first time through. Second time through as in exercise 1 & 2 reading across the whole page as a line.
I was talking with Stephen Hodges, the drummer for Mavis Staples, awhile back and his use of maracas and shakers inspired me to interpret stick control as a groove with R= Kick and L= Snare while the shakers and maracas are doing eighths over the top.

My friend Craig Waters, drummer for The Bell Rays and Cody Chestnut, told me he would just practice it as straight Soul groove with eighth notes on the hi hat with R=Kick and L=Snare.

The point is not so much HOW you interpret STICK CONTROL but more that YOU CAN!!!! Get totally creative, the more flexible your mind is in coming up with systems and honoring them the better.

Just yesterday I spent the ENTIRE AFTERNOON listening to D'Angelo and then locking in a jazz pattern on the ride with hi-hat on 2 & 4 and going through with R=Kick and L=Snare.

It is a really fun way to work on independence. Another amazing book for this is The New Breed by Gary Chester. He has 39 systems that you lock down one by one and then many pages of melody to play on top of the non-changing parts. It's a terrific book to learn sight reading and it REALLY irons out any weakness in your groove and then starts to incorporate singing as the FIFTH LIMB of drumming on a foundation of invincible groove. Excellent stuff.

The message is clear as drummers we are charged with mastery of the entire field of NON-CHANGE and the entire field of CHANGE. A metronome is good at pointing out both of those worlds at the same time.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Feeling of the Intention: Mission Statement

You can say "I LOVE YOU" and MEAN IT undeniably in your BONES!
You can say "I LOVE YOU" with the intention to manipulate.

They are the same words!!!
They are the same words!!!

One could almost conclude that content is just completely irrelevant. It is the modality of feeling that buoys content and therefore the feeling of your intentions should be examined.

Regardless of content I think it is ABSOLUTELY CRUCIAL to set your intentions with the proper feeling. I am not saying to control the content or to censor WILD CREATIVITY NO NO NO!!! I'm saying set the intention beneath your expression.

Or you could call it a mission statement. Mine is:
I am living God-Realization Now. I choose deep meditation, Yoga of body and mind, and fearless gift-giving through art and music, as my vehicle of divine action to create right now in my life, enlightenment, wealth and abundance, perfect health, and the expansion of love and happiness in every living being.
Come up with your mission statement today and every action you take will be filled with confidence and the muscle of the universe!!

This is a picture of the back of my mission statement. I keep it in my studio so I see it everyday when I practice.

PROFESSOR MILFORD GRAVES

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It's about the master free jazz drummer, scientist, herbalist, martial artist, and tenured PROFESSOR MILFORD GRAVES






Friday, December 19, 2008

Walking on Hot Coals

It's so easy to think "I can never do that." In fact I hear that all the time from beginner and expert musicians alike. "Not this lifetime," "I'll never be able to do that," "Not in a million years," that sort of thing. Here is my theory, don't ever believe the voice in your head. Even if you will never be able to play the Black Page or three different time signatures across four limbs, or a one handed roll, think to yourself "I can do that" or "If he can do it, I can do it." Firmly believe in practice and performance that you are the best in the world. Not being naive, but as a way to structure and allow for maximum possible growth.

I was watching Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez Videos on Youtube. Now this guy is just a complete master of Cuban and Latin rhythms, double kick wizardry, left foot tapping out claves in the midst of a total brilliant storm of four limb independence. Normally my reaction would be a mix of inspiration and depression. But tonight I said "I can do that" without a hint of lack or pain. It was thrilling even to think something so daring.

My good friend Charles once told me "If you can hear it, you can play it" Now I may never be able to play anything close to Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez but saying "I can play that" raises the energy from negative to positive, it makes me accountable for my desire to play with that level of mastery, and it's an exhilaration to not assume that I can't.

It's almost mischievous, a gamble, a risk, because all of sudden "what if I can't?" That voice in the head is making calculations from a false consciousness. I would never have thought I could be able to play how I can now when I was first starting out. With diligent practice and a UNWAVERING POSITIVE and CONQUERING attitude you will COMPLETELY SHOCK YOURSELF at what you can do. It is about being true to your bliss, to yourself, and your work.

This NO ASSUMPTIONS rule is absolutely crucial for a progressing musician because the more you progress the more the masters reveal themselves. If you fall victim to the comparison game you will actually find that everyone is better than you. It is completely imperative that you give yourself permission to be baptized by the fire of the masters not to discourage in any way, so that you are given a vision of the way to become a master in your own right, in your own way, and in your own time.

My brother who I consider an incipient master musician is obsessed with Yogananda who says in his book Living Fearlessly,

...I have sat and meditated all night long in icy water in bitterly cold weather. Similarly, I have sat from morning till evening on the burning hot sands in India. I gained great mental strength by doing so. When you have practiced such self-discipline, your mind becomes impervious to all disturbing circumstances. If you think you can't do something, your mind is a slave. Free yourself


I have walked on burning hot coals over 700 degrees. I have jogged on rocks barefoot. The attitude that you are invincible is absolutely real and must be cultivated in the art of living and in the art of practice and performance.

This is one of my favorite quotes by Henry Miller

Death is wonderful too-after life. Only one like myself who has opened his mouth and spoken, only one who has said Yes, Yes, Yes, and again Yes! can open wide his arms to death and know no fear. Death as a reward, yes! But not death from the roots, isolating men, making them bitter and fearful and lonely, giving them fruitless energy, filling them with a will which can only say No! The first word any man writes when he has found himself, his own rhythm, which is the life rhythm, is Yes! Everything he writes thereafter is Yes, Yes, Yes,-Yes in a thousand million ways. No dynamo, no matter how huge-not even a dynamo of a hundred million dead souls-can combat one man saying Yes!







Sunday, December 14, 2008

Foot Stomping at Tangier in Los Feliz

I would like you all to know that prior to my leaving the house tonight I did the exercise that I recommended of sitting behind the drum set and not playing. Holding my bright green Mike Balter 22R Rattan Vibe MalletsI DID NOT PLAYING ANYTHING FOR ONE HOUR. I timed this exercise to the second with my SPORTLINE stopwatch. As a matter of pride, I didn't even play one note after the allotted hour was over, just got up and basked in my increased energy and independence.

Now I am at Tangier in Los Feliz for the Cousin Junebug show. Luckily they have not started yet because I took many a wrong turn and had to endure a WAMU ATM hunting fiasco in order to get the cash to gain entry into the night....club.

After being silent for an hour, sitting to watch live FUNK music seems like a luxury, and I am more attentive than ever because I know in every moment, the miracle of revelation is available. It hits: The almost ubiquitous power of music to make people move. Foot stomping is that miracle for me tonight.

Most people gravitate towards quarter notes. The excited ones have at least one leg doing eighth notes. The guy in the front is speeding through 16th note triplets with his right foot like Geena Davis' rapid-fire vegetable slicing in The Long Kiss Goodnight after the clouds of amnesia lift and she remembers that she is an assassin.

I have a particular fondness for the people doing eighth notes in a completely different tempo than the music and/or the imperfect eighth notes shifted between left and right legs with no apparent mathematical pattern as to when they shift; mid measure, on beat, off beat, struggling, post-shift, to realign themselves with their concept of pulse.

Both feet on the ground, only the left knee bending on quarter notes is another valid reaction to James Brown and the Meters. As is the popular right foot planted, eighth note left leg fidget. Or the decelerating quarter into some mutant relative of the triplet into awkward silence. Or during "Pass the Peas" the impossible-to-maintain uptempo eighth notes. Or the totally avant-garde epilepsy where Merce Cunningham is set free by John Cage into a realm of internal rhythm that is purely independent of the environment.

I'm having so much fun relating all this stuff to the way of the Samurai that I can't help but quote Musashi again to conclude this fantastic evening of Funk and the magic of the human desire to dance/twitch :)

From the Wind Scroll in The Book of Five Rings


In Martial arts, speed is not the true Way. As far as speed is concerned, the question of fast or slow in anything derives from failure to harmonize with rhythm....In the art of dance, if a poor singer accompanies the song of a skilled singer, there is a sense of lag, which results in haste. Also, when "Old Pine" is played on the drums, it is a quiet piece, but in this case too, someone who is unskilled will tend to fall behind or get ahead. And while "High Dunes" has a rapid tempo, it is wrong to perform it too fast.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Humility and Perpetual Learning

As a drummer, artist and survivor :) I always keep my ears "peeled" for inspiration, revelation anything that will open the skies and summon the LIGHTNING GOD. I regard every person and every moment as a highly revered teacher. If you are FULLY OPEN you will be bombarded by continuous OMENS OF BLISS. You can walk on water when you have the balls to follow your bliss.

One of the stories I have overheard, I forget the source, but that doesn't matter. It doesn't even matter if the story is true or not because the principle is so gorgeous. I heard that in some parts of Africa the master drummers refrain from teaching the babies and little kids for awhile. In fact the masters give all the kids drums and then learn new ideas, new approaches, new perspectives to the ART of drumming from them. Kids, non-drummers, beginning drummers, everyone truthfully has something to teach you if you can remain grounded in the sheer joy and humility of perpetual openness and learning.

One fun exercise to maintain humility is to go into a music store where everyone likes to show off and pretend to barely know how to play. It's interesting how attitudes shift depending on skill level or association. The lesson is for you, to remind yourself to treat ALL ARTISTS at every level with the same amount of respect and humility. Not just because it fosters well being, an open heart, and harmony between all people, but because paths are not necessarily linear. If you are totally encouraging and uplifting and respectful to a beginner drummer, that drummer might develop into an ELVIN JONES equivalent. Your network should be maintained with love and dignity ALWAYS with EVERYONE at all times.

The lesson is you don't have the right to judge even yourself. Stick to the bliss and the work.

Check out my son Dil Mondrian Hurlin!

The Way of Emptiness

There is a scene in the movie Secretary in which Maggie Gyllenhaal puts her hands on a desk waiting in devotion for her love. She stays glued to the desk for three days in the divine patience and stubbornness of love.

In Indian Classical music during the ALAP section of the Raga the tabla player sits without playing and ONLY LISTENS for lengths of up to an hour.

Contentment beyond expression, beyond the individual ego, needs to be cultivated in order for an authentic, objective, fully present, and deeply sensitive method of listening to develop.

If you gain independence from your instrument then when you allow yourself to play it is pure overflow, pure generosity; integration. A deep authenticity will blossom if this independence is cultivated.

Exercise: Sit behind your drum set, or whatever instrument you play, and holding sticks if you are a drummer, DO NOT PLAY ANYTHING FOR ONE HOUR. Just bask in the love of life, the love of music and the love of your instrument. Silence is the foundation.

Miyamoto Musashi says in his "The Book of Five Rings"
...once we speak of 'emptiness,' we can no longer define the inner depths in terms of the surface entryway. Having attained a principle, one detaches from the principle; thus one has spontaneous independence in the science of martial arts and naturally attains marvels: discerning the rhythm when the time comes, one strikes spontaneously and naturally scores. This is all the way of emptiness...



Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Courage to Be Nothing

As a former professional book indexer, I recently indexed The Drum Recording Handbookby Bobby Owsinski and Dennis Moody. In that book, which has not been released yet, there is an interview with renowned Los Angeles drummer Bernie Dresel. Dresel was talking about a story he overheard in which Miles Davis expounds his advice to drummers, "When you think you want to play something, don't"

I remember an interview I read with Dave Grohl. I'm pretty sure it was in Modern Drummer when he talks about one of the hardest thing he ever had to endure as a drummer was being taken by a bass player into his basement and told to play a groove for thirty minutes straight without filling. After the first few minutes he was completely raging and wanting to explode.

When I was at Berklee College of Music for their summer program I had the sublime pleasure of studying with Dave DiCenso. One day after my lesson with him he broke down his approach to practicing grooves which consisted of a graph with grooves on the Y axis and Reps on the X axis. His recommendation was to build your way up to practicing grooves PERFECTLY up to 500 reps. FIVE HUNDRED. FIVE HUNDRED. FIVE HUNDRED. FIVE BILLION!

I had an idea in college for a piece of video art. I video taped myself playing the simplest beat there is FOR ONE HOUR CONTINUOUSLY

Kick on 1 and 3, snare on 2 and 4 and eighth notes on the hi hat. Horrible idea for a video but what an amazing exercise in will power and restraint. One hour without a fill. How many drummers can claim that, besides ?uestlove :)

As Philospher Simone Weil said "In order to be just, one must be naked and dead -- without imagination."

Set your metronome to 40BPM (if you're Victor Wooten 4BPM) pick the simplest groove or just quarter notes with all limbs and repeat continuously for an hour.

Approach EVERYTHING from the INVINCIBLE foundation of GROOVE; rudiments, stick control, sight reading, and especially fills.

In the Tao Te Ching #46 it reads

There is no greater sin than desire,
No greater curse than discontent
No greater misfortune than wanting something for oneself.
Therefore he who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.



SING. DRUM. BE FREE. :) consistently

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Listening

This morning as I was playing tabla I was sitting in front of a mirror as I usually do to check out my fingering and posture. For some reason I squinted my eyes and it had the effect of me watching someone else play tabla.

I am not necessarily endorsing squinting into a mirror as a technique, but what occurred to me was the unbelievable gift of being able to hear yourself OBJECTIVELY.

Tape recording and video taping are good tools to utilize because they provide that objectivity but it is after the fact and while useful for future performances the feedback does nothing for what has already happened.

It is imperative that one is able to hear oneself objectively in the MOMENT. Sometimes when I am playing live I close my eyes and listen to the entirety of the band and then I focus on myself in the context of the band and I ask myself "Would I like what the drummer was doing if this was a recording of another band?" If the answer is no then I must find a deeper way to be in support of the music.

A shocking revelation I had is that whatever I hear, everyone hears. Maybe not in the same way, but it is crucial to learn how to deliver your instrument in the way in which you like to hear it played. This requires patience, practice, and self forgiveness. As Beckett says "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."

The vertical dimension of drumming is endless. Listen deeper deeper and deeper with less and less and less of yourself until when you are playing live it is like you are listening to music on a stereo.


Monday, December 8, 2008

Consistency

I have a tendency towards extremity. I studied tabla in India with a tabla master, Pandit Anup Ghoshji. He lived with his teacher and practiced 8-12 hours a day with his master Pandit Shymal Boseji for 15 years. I would hear stories of from my Guruji about his total dedication and devotion to music and depending on my mood it would either inspire me like crazy or totally deflate me and leaving me feeling hopeless.

When I was inspired I would practice like crazy and improve rapidly, when I was depressed I would not practice AT ALL. I would go for days without touching a tabla, and the decline of my skill was much more dramatic than the improvement.

The lesson in it for me is similar to the Tortoise and the Hare moral. It is crucial to have Tortoise energy when you practice, meaning you have faith in the spontaneous development of your gift and you are focused on the practice alone, not on the results of your practice, not on judging yourself or comparing yourself to others. The work is what is important and it should be easy, fun, and consistent and completely independent of mood. Discipline beyond personal consideration.

It is much better to do 20 minutes of practice a day, than 7 hours once a week. Don't over practice. Make it a ritual that keeps you hungry for more. If you implement consistency and moderation (this is relative and needs to be earned through rigor and commitment, not an excuse for neglect) the results will shock you like an electric blossom out of an invisible bud. LOL.

SING. DRUM. BE FREE :) consistently

PS one thing my Guruji says is that if you practice first thing in the morning the results of practice are TWICE as powerful.


GURUJI, Pandit Anup Ghoshji

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Athletic Dimension of Drumming.

Milford Graves

Milford Graves is just beautiful. This video made me laugh out loud with the sheer joy of creativity.

The Cross


Here is the formula for ecstatic drumming HORIZONTAL = VERTICAL.

Horizontal= Gear, books, lessons, teachers, knowledge, notes, gigs, concerts, connections, business, collaboration... all of the tangibles or externals of drumming.

Vertical= Heart, Emotions, ritual, spiritual energy, body, breath, silence between notes, awareness, consciousness, lifestyle, posture, yoga, meditation... all of the foundational internal elements that ground the Horizontal in depth of awareness.

So the formula (similar to Einstein's technology v. spiritual development of society) is that every step in the horizontal linear path of learning and knowledge should be complimented by a deepening of consciousness and spiritual grounding in the NOW.

Horizontal and vertical together make a cross. To me the Cross symbolizes freedom, paradox and the FOUR LIMBS of drumming.

The intersection of the Cross is the hub of silence, the fifth limb (Voice) THE HEART or better yet THE BALLS where all good drumming and breathing originates from and is sustained by.

These are the ruminations I came up with this morning as I played Teen Tal Kaida #1 continuously for an hour.

SING. DRUM. BE FREE :) consistently!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Homage to Sugimoto

I am obsessed with how water is perpetually seeking horizontal. When I came across photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto I was completely blown away by the simplicity and power of his seascape images. The chalk drawing on a brick is an Homage to his seascapes.

I tell my drum students that it is the role of the drummer to become the ocean for Jesus to walk on. Drumming is about finding true horizontal and radiating that through consciousness, breath, silence, and an ocean of sound that is in total selfless support of the music.

Glank, The Newspaper, and Found Art.



Today I was drumming on USA Today and LA weekly newspaper stands. The USA Today was so warm and busty I felt like taking it to my studio and putting it next to the floor tom of my drum set. FOUND PERCUSSION OBJECTS are nothing less than miraculous. Everything from the slides of playgrounds, to walls in the bathroom of the SAE Institute, to streetlight poles can be turned into haunting and beautiful instruments. In The Triplets of Belleville, the triplets used a refrigerator, a vacuum cleaner, and a newspaper as their primary instruments. Even using the built in microphone on my Mac Book with Garage Band to capture the sound, I recorded an amazing track using the book MOBY DICK as a drum.

My obsession with found art was super charged when I happened upon GLANK at the Eagle Rock Music Festival. GLANK is a found-percussion ensemble with 10-15 drummers in radioactive jumpsuits banging on drums, saw blades, sheet metal, empty tanks, and much much more to create intelligent and rivetingsoundscapes that make you want to dance. At one point they handed out massive home made shakers for the audience to get in on the action. The industrial vibe with all the shimmering metal and dark tones, mixed with the ominous appearance of jump suits and the earth shattering rhythms, all make Glank The Product highly recommended. It's like witnessing the mutiny of an assembly line.

The heightened sense of creativity and the profound sense of resourcefulness; of recycling as innovation and music are just some of the many glorious benefits of readymades. So next time you buy a newspaper remember you are a midwife, witnessing the birth of an instrument out of another instrument. Pay your respects.

David Hurlin's Upcoming Shows

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