Puriya Dhanashri

Michael Robinson

About this work:
“An artist shoots in the dark, not knowing whether he hits or what he hits.” - Gustav Mahler “That man was very wise.” - Pandit Jasraj, in response to the above quote Raga Puriya Dhanashri is the musical personification of India. Remote and inaccessible to the uninitiated, it showers worlds of sublime meaning upon the devotee. The difficulty newcomers have listening to Puriya Dhanashri stems from its unusual combination of swaras (tones), plus an elusive expressive nature (rasa). For myself, it took five years or so after first encountering the raga’s baffling melismas before I felt ready to embark upon my own personal journey within its labyrinthine depths. While examining the forbidding melodic structure of Puriya Dhanashri, I was astonished to uncover Raga Durga rising from one half-step below Sa (tonic) and Pa (fifth). This creates a provocative and mystifying friction - two tonalities a half-step apart. That is, with D as the tonic or Sa, the ascent and descent of the raga's basic melodic structure is (ascending) C# - D# - F# - G# -A# - C# - D# - (descending) D - C# - A# - A - G# - F# - D# - D. If you use only the sharped notes from C# up to C# an octave higher, and move back down using the same swaras, we have the melodic structure of Raga Durga, traditionally performed in the late evening. Puriya Dhanashri is generally performed in the early evening after sunset. As is often the case, it was a recording by Shivkumar Sharma and Zakir Hussain which communicated the essence of Puriya Dhanashri for me, and provided me with the inspiration to develop my own interpretation. My personal vision of the raga's alap, jor and jhala is more playful and gentle than I have heard elsewhere. This opening section of my non-traditional music expresses wonderment (adbhuta rasa), and some fear (karuna rasa) for the mysteries and uncertainties of life. At the same time, there is a feeling of playful sensuality and joy (shringara rasa). Upon reflection, I realized that my composition actually began with the selection of a solo instrument, together with the equally important percussion instruments. I chose the clarinet because its timbre and personality seemed perfect for the mysterious and sensual aspects of the raga. Given its rich history in the hands of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw (who both had a profound influence on saxophonists including Lee Konitz) and Buddy DiFranco, and composers like Debussy, Poulenc and Stravinsky (particularly the later’s ‘Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet’), it was exciting for me to take the clarinet to places it hasn’t been before. Puriya Dhanashri commences the alap with a single tanpura pattern, and the solo clarinet presenting the swaras of the raga. I take special pleasure in presenting a Western instrument with Indian tunings - one of the glorious capabilities of MIDI, not to mention taking the clarinet well into the bass clarinet register. Added to the exotic tuning and range expansion, I have cloaked the clarinet with the shimmering cascades of a rainstick. At 7.29, the jor begins with the steady pulse of a clarinet doppelganger paving the way for the richly woven tapestries of the solo clarinet. At 12.38, we are joined by five repetitions of Puriya Dhanashri's swaras presented in the form of wide-ranging glissandos articulated first by the Japanese kane, and later by the African kalimba. After completing Puriya Dhanashri, I visited a book store searching for poetry to place on the back of the CD. The poem I found is a spine-tingling homage to Shiva, the Destroyer of Ignorance, and to some, the Progenitor of the Universe. As it turns out, the five repetitions of the glissando have an extra-musical meaning as well, due to the fact that the number five is traditionally symbolic of Shiva's omnipotence. This imagery is reinforced by the raw power of the cover art I selected. The jhala, which follows at 15.10, delights in cascades, peaks and valleys, propelling us into a world of skin percussion timbres at 22.49. From India, we have tabla, dholak and dhol forming one percussion family. The second family of skin percussion contains drums from Indonesia (wadon, bebarongan and pelegongan), China (tang gu and shu gu), Japan (wadaiko and shimedaiko) and Korea (buk and changgo). This kaleidoscopic commingling of contrasting yet related drums is on one dimension a textural pulsation rendered at a medium slow tempo. A comparison with the paintings of Jackson Pollack spring to mind, with lyrical impulses emerging from the musical canvas. While listening in this manner has its own rewards, I also highly recommend following each musical detail as closely as you would a piano improvisation by Lenny Tristano, or a tabla solo by Swapan Chaudhuri, for the essence of my music is found in the way it evolves and develops. When the clarinet reappears at 38.08, we are tossed into a wild, uninhibited dance of melody and rhythm moving at a fast tempo. There is an otherworldly feeling of exultation and freedom, together with a sense of surrealism at hearing the clarinet in a boldly new setting. In contrast to the previous section, all of the percussion voices do not appear here together. First it is the Indian percussion’s turn to frolic with the licorice stick, and then the second percussion family has its chance (44.16). The section culminates with call and response episodes (50.08) initiated by the percussion families, and answered by the clarinet. The final section of Puriya Dhanashri, beginning at 53.26, is once again a solo for the two percussion families, reflecting the Karnatic or South Indian vision of the raga form which ends with percussion sans the solo instrument. The drums move at a furious pace, spinning off into the stratosphere, and this time the resulting effect may call to mind one of Jackson Pollack's giant canvases. (Rapid drumming is known as ‘rela’ in Hindustani music, meaning ‘rushing’, ‘assault’, or ‘torrent of rain’.) As in the previous sections of my composition, phrases and divisions of five, seven, nine and eleven abound in a myriad of permutations. It was a creative challenge to program the musical subtleties and explosions of this piece, working to achieve the effect of a spontaneous outpouring. Simultaneously, it was also a challenge of concentration and endurance. Now, I wonder which raga I will turn my attention to next? - Michael Robinson, February 2002, Beverly Hills © 2002 Michael Robinson All rights reserved
Year composed: 2002
Duration: 01:08:98
Ensemble type: Electronic Instruments and Sound Sources:Live Electronic Sound Sources
Instrumentation: ,1 Computer/Laptop soloist(s), ,1 Sampler (Keyboard/Other) soloist(s)
Instrumentation notes: A meruvina (computer, software and sound module) is programmed to perform the fully notated composition in real time. Puriya Dhanashri is voiced with sound samples of the following acoustical instruments using Indian tunings: clarinet, rainstick, kane, kalimba, tabla, dholak, dhol, wadon, bebarongan, pelegongan, shu gu, tang gu, wadaiko, shimediko, buk, changgo aand tanpura

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