Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Echoes From the Past: Himangshu Biswas and Dulal Roy

Before the internet (or at least the parts controlled by Google and Wikipedia) shut down in protest against SOPA, the Amero-Corporate anti-people conglomerate’s push to protect outmoded business models and obscene profits and power, the Washerman’s Dog posts another stellar recording that will surely become one of your favorites, if it isn’t already.

My dear langotiya yaar (childhood friend) Mark Bauman had this album when we were both kids in India. How we listened to it at school where record players were as rare as bird’s milk, I have no idea.  Perhaps I heard it at his home in Godhra or up at Oakville, in Mussoorie but that is not important. It has been a huge favourite over the past 35 years and definitely ranks in the Washerman’s Dog top 5 Indian classical music records of all time.

The interplay of flute and jaltarang is sound not often heard in Indian music. It is an echo across past eons and from a time when eastern India had strong cultural and economic links with SE Asia. It was a time of trade and learning. Bali, in Indonesia, became a Hindu colony. The ancient Kambhoja (Cambodia) and Siam adopted Hindu mythologies and practice and belief into their own cultural and artistic systems.  The delicate tinkle of porcelain bowls filled with water immediately takes us back to that part of the world, where this sound is one of the most musically distinctive.  But the gorgeous soft bansuri (flute) is wholly Indian and the combination is heavenly.

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about the jaltarang.
The Jal Tarang (Hindi: जल तरंग, Urdu: جل ترنگ), Jaltarang, Jal-tarang, Jal-yantra, Jalatarangam or Jalatharangam, is an Indian melodic percussion instrument. It consists of a set of ceramic bowls tuned with water. The bowls are played by striking the edge with beaters, one in each hand.

It is rarely seen or heard, even though the gentle tinkle of its unique sound is quite pleasing. Literally, jal tarang means "waves in water" but indicates motion of sound created or modified with the aid of water. In the wave-instruments, it is the most prominent and ancient instrument. This traditional instrument is used in Indian classical music.
The jal tarang developed on the pattern of gongs of gamelan orchestras played in Java, Bali, and Burma (now Myanmar). Gongs of gamelan are made up of copper and other metal alloys and are molded in different shapes to create various musical notes. Holding bamboo sticks in both hands with cotton on the striking end of sticks, the gongs are gently struck to create the desired sound. Some scholars opine that in the ancient period these were in routine use around the eastern border of India.
Jal-tarang finds its first mention in Sangeet Parijaat. This medieval musical treatise categorizes this instrument under Ghan-Vadya (Idiophonic instruments in which sound is produced by striking a surface, also called concussion idiophones.) SangeetSaar considered one with 22 cups to be complete jal tarang and one with 15 cups to be of mediocre status. Cups, of varying sizes were made of either bronze or porcelain. Today only china bowls are preferred by artistes, numbering around sixteen in normal use. Cups for Mandra Swar (notes of lower octave)are large while those for Taar Swar (notes of higher octaves) are smaller in size. Water is poured into the cups and the pitch is changed by adjusting the volume of water in the cup. The number of cups depends on the melody being played. The bowls mostly are arranged in a half-circle in front of the player who can reach them all easily. The player softly hits the cups with a wooden stick on the border to get the sound. Its not easy to tune the instrument and needs some skill. During playing fine nuances can be reached if the performer is accomplished. SangeetSaar mentions that if the player can rotate the water through a quick lithe touch of the stick, nuances and finer variations of the note can be achieved.
Jal-tarang was also called jal-yantra in the medieval times. Poets of Krishna cult (also called Asht-chhap poets)have mentioned this instrument, but there is no mention in literature prior to this. Dr.Lalmani Misra mentions in his Bharatiya Sangeet Vadya that some contemporary Jal-tarang players of Carnatic music do attempt to produce Gamak often in the face of sounds going awry lacking required control.

Track Listing:
01.   Raga Durga
02.   Raga Bhupal Todi
03.   Dhun

Listen here. 

By the way the Washerman's Dog fully supports the fight against SOPA.


Rebecca said...

Yes, one of my favorites!

kokolo said...

Mmmmmmmmmmmmm how nice, thank you.

Goofy said...

Your is exactly what I've looking for: a blog posting regularly wonderful music from the Indian subcontinent. Thanks!

ajnabi said...

Kokolo, it is sweet, isn't it!

ajnabi said...

Goofy, Thanks. Glad you've found it!