Australian percussionist Ben Walsh talks about his innovations and love for Indian classical music
He is a musician like no other and a self-proclaimed one-man band. He plays the drums, triggers different sounds by sending signals through sensors in his shoes, plays the guitar and sings. But for Australian percussionist Ben Walsh it has always been about creating his own brand of music. Which is why he has spent several years researching and designing his own instruments. In the city to perform at Hard Rock Café on Tuesday, Ben had on offer a whole new range of instruments invented by him for the Hyderabadi audience.
“I have a whole range of new instruments for this tour,” says Ben, who has been touring India the last few days for his solo shows. “I have the Gravity Scratch, which is a new way of DJing that I have invented; Vocal Synth, which converts my voice to a synthesiser when I am singing for a whole different effect; Stomp Sensors, which are sensors in my shoes to produce different sounds when I stomp rhythmically. So I put together a 75-minute show that showcases how technology can be used with my music.”
True to his word, Ben’s range of instruments is a product of his innovation and creativity. For instance, he put a drum skin on a junk barrel to produce sounds akin to a dhol. Another instrument that he is really proud of is the Kotoor, which is a modified version of the Indian santoor and the Japanese Koto. “I had played the kotoor at the Baaja Gaaja festival and it garnered great response. Unfortunately on this tour I could not carry my drum wheel, which is usually the finale piece at my shows, simply because it is not easy to lug around with the extensive travelling on this tour,” he explains.
What sets Ben’s shows apart from the usual club sessions is the fact that they are not just about music. “I use my music and instruments to trigger visuals when I am on stage. So it is a multimedia performance and instantly grabs audience attention. I use my limb movements to trigger the visuals and they move according to my tempo,” Ben explains.
Ben, who has worked with the likes of Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma, Anish Pradhan and Shubha Mudgal, says that the most challenging aspect of his show is the fact that if technology fails while he is on stage he has to find a way to move on without disrupting the performance. The artiste, who has been a part of Baaja Gaaja three years in a row, hopes to come back for a fourth and admits that Indian classical music fascinates him. In fact, he seems to be better versed in Hindustani and Carnatic music than most Indians. He has also tried his hand at a range of Indian instruments like the mridangam, bansuri, sarod and santoor. “However, the technique required is very hard and it’s not easy to learn,” says Ben, who is inspired by musicians like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Pt. Ravi Shankar, Sultan Khan, Bismillah Khan, Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma (whom he has worked with for a concert), Shubha Mudgal and Anish Pradhan.
Talking about his future plans, Ben says he hopes to come back to India in the next six months with his drum wheel for another India tour. “As of now though I’m taking four Indian artistes – Anish Pradhan, Sudhir Naik, Sanjeev Mishra and Sanjeev Shankar – to Australia for a show,” he smiles.