HOW DID YOU STUDY THAT MUSIC? WAS IT MOSTLY RECORDINGS AT THAT POINT? OR DID YOU MAKE "RESEARCH TRIPS" TO INDIA? Well there are a lot of Indians in the States, needless to say, close to three million, and I've been to India a number of times, and like I said, I have lots of family there. I remember when I was there in '95, I got to meet some musicians, but there are a lot Indian musicians here, in North America, and in particular there's someone named Trichy Sankaran, who's at York university in Toronto, who's also one of the world renowned South Indian percussionists. He teaches at York, but he's also a South Indian percussionist, one of the best in the world, and won many awards. He moved to Toronto the year that I was born, so he's been in the West as long as I have. He's a 100-percent authentic practitioner of South Indian music and a master of it, but also has had decades of encounters with Western music. The same is true of Zakir Hussein. He moved to the states in '71. I just interviewed him last month, actually.
WHO DID YOU INTERVIEW HIM FOR?GQ India. It was pretty cool. These guys have been out here for a long time, mixing it up with all kinds of folks. Zakir Hussein was running around with Mickey Hart from the Grateful Dead and Santana and all kinds of crazy stuff. Sankaran got to interact with other kinds of musicians at the university, and also he was touring all over the world, so he had encounters with Javanese gamelan musicians and African drummers and composers from Europe and North America.
Anyway, I brought him up because he actually wrote a book that I got in the mid-'90s after seeing him live. When I was living in California, starting in the early '90s, I started going to a lot of Carnatic concerts. The Indian community in Silicon Valley was big enough that they could assemble enough resources to host visiting Indian musicians and put on a whole bunch of concerts. So I went and checked out particularly a bunch of Carnatic concerts, hundreds of them, in the '90s.
That was where I'd be, sort of like you, having that experience like, you go to this concert and not only the people on stage but everyone in the audience seems to understand the forms and everyone seems to know what raga it is and everyone seems to know these songs.
I'd never had the chance to study any of it, so it was all new to me. Over time I was able to recognize different aspects of what was happening. So basically it was a lot of concerts where you'd see it in the community in context, with basically people for whom this music is their music. But then also I read a lot about it, and I tried to interact with Indian musicians as much as I could. Not like, "Okay I'm now a student of this music," but it was more that I wanted to understand it so I could connect with it. And so then elements of those dynamics became part of my music. As a composer, I would work with some of these rhythmic forms and rhythmic techniques and that became the basis for a lot of my work.