Simon Thacker’s Svara-Kanti performance at Summerhall in Edinburgh tonight premiered major new compositions from composer/guitarist Simon Thacker. Together with singer Japjit Kaur, Britten Sinfonia leader Jackie Shave on violin, Polish cellist Justyna Jablonska and tabla master Sukhvinder Singh Namdhari, and of course Simon Thacker on guitar, we explored together as musicians and an audience Simon’s latest journey into Indian/Western sounds.
That very definition of Indian/Western is itself a bit simplistic and perhaps misleading as there are so many musical influences, colours and textures in the works performed here. Yes, there are the more obvious Indian and Western Classical music influences here, but also much more – Flamenco, European folk, Gypsy Jazz and many other influences can be heard weaving their threads through Simon’s compositions.
A few weeks before this performance I met with Simon for a quick chat about this coming performance and to maybe get a little insight into the influences and directions of the music (some of which he was still working on at the time), and I came away with a clear sense of what is and what is not. Simon Thacker is a gifted composer and guitarist with strong roots in, and a deep technical understanding of, many western and Indian musical styles, and the one thing that was clear was that this was never going to be a performance of a western composer/musician playing Indian music. Simon saw little point in going down that musical direction as it has been done many times already and re-creating Indian musical scales, tonalities and sounds was not what his vision was. This work takes its influences from both eastern and western sources, but the music is trying to neither re-create one nor the other. Instead this is a performance of mainly new compositions (two are from earlier works) that are exploring new areas of music, and to achieve this Simon has brought together first class musicians in their own specialist areas that along with him are brave enough to step outside of their usual musical box and explore the new and unknown.
In two sets we explored solo works, duets, and everything up to work written for all five performers as a quintet. In these new compositions from Simon, we are not only exploring music from different cultures, but sound itself and a solo guitar piece from Simon translated roughly as “The Enchanted Forest” uses sound delay (360 milliseconds to be exact we are told) to build up new layers of sound to the work. Explorations into mythology and the mythical figure of Aruna also provide musical inspiration for a piece written for a trio that included cellist Justyna Jablonska.
This performance at its core has at the start of Set Two a new and by any definition epic composition by Simon. The as yet unnamed 20 minute performance work (his longest to date) explores new soundscapes with all the musicians on stage and evokes a wide range of changing musical rhythms, timings and phrasings that evoke a wide range of emotional responses to their ever changing and skilful usage.
We also explored new interpretations of traditional Punjabi folk songs with singer Japjit Kaur. Japjit kindly told us a little bit of what the songs were about, and with stories about “There’s no cure for a broken heart”, “Where did you spend last night?” and a girl talking about how handsome her newly met intended for marriage boy is, it is obvious that whatever the culture, the song remains the same. Much as I wish I could have understood the words, sometimes it is pleasant just to sit back and listen to how the human voice is an instrument in its own right. Providing the perfect backing here too, tabla master Sukhvinder Singh Namdhari (along with innovative percussion all evening) .
Simon Thacker has produced something new here and taken his listeners into uncharted musical areas that few (if any) have tried to explore before. The best way that I can maybe describe this performance and the music is to imagine that you are in a small boat with Simon on a big river. That river is the music and feeding into this river are other rivers of different musical origins. What you get when everything flows into one is not separate waters flowing, but something new where everything has blended together. Our little boat just stopped off tonight at one point along that never ending river and I am sure that Simon will be taking us to other musical stop off points in the future. The fluidity of the music though can be a little bit deceptive – because it all works so well and feels like everything should be where it is, it hides a very complex musical composition. I am sure that Simon could sit me down over a cup of coffee and explain in far greater detail the musical technicalities of this work, but to be honest, none of that really matters if the music does not work and interact with you on an emotional level…this music works on that basic emotional level.
Part of the reason that this all works is maybe for the simple reason that Simon is not a western musician imagining what music from a different culture sounds like. Simon has a genuine love and understanding of Indian music, its technical aspects and its history and has also toured and played major festivals in India and Pakistan. Add to this his background of western and classical music and you can start to understand how working with so many musicians in so many different styles has lead us to the musical journey that we are on tonight. Our arrival at this journey tonight of course would not have been possible without our musicians, and Jackie Shave on violin and cellist Justyna Jablonska must take along with Sukhvinder Singh Namdhari and Japjit Kaur credit in bringing Simon Thacker’s music to life.
Simon and his fellow musicians are about to go into the studio and record a new double album, and I hope that this allows even more people to experience the music. I only hope that this project is received for what it is – new music coming out of many influences, and that just because it does not easily fall into some imaginary pre-defined musical category get labelled with the banal tag of “World music”. If ever there was a meaningless genre then “World music” must be it for is not all music from this world?
To get more information on Simon Thacker’s Svara-Kanti visit http://www.simonthacker.com/
Review by Tom King