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The `shakti' of sound

Miracle 2003, organised by the Shakti Foundation, brought together guitarist Michael Brook and Mandolin Shrinivas in a concert in aid of the physically challenged. SAVITHA GAUTAM talks to the artistes about the musical experience.

MICHAEL BROOK in Chennai? And playing with Mandolin U. Shrinivas? That was really something to look forward to. But who is Michael Brook?

Well, he is the man who produced and co-composed "Mustt Mustt" and "Night Song" that brought the legendary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to world prominence. He has produced works of such world music artistes as Youssou 'N Dour and Hukwe Zawose. He has co-composed "Dreams", which features Mandolin U. Shrinivas in conversation with various Western musicians including the classical violinist Nigel Kennedy. He has done the score for films such as "Heat" and actor Kevin Spacey's directorial debut "Albino Alligator". Above all, "the very creative" Brook is the inventor of the `infinite' guitar.

To find out more about Brook, his `infinite' guitar, his collaboration with Shrinivas, and the just concluded concert, Miracle 2003, we met the artistes at the Taj Coromandel. Just back from a trip to Mahabalipuram ("the sculptures remind me of very old Italian sculptures," says Brook), the artistes are forthcoming, despite their tiredness.

You begin by asking Brook about his infinite guitar, and he explains, "It's a device that allows the strings to sustain the sound indefinitely; you can hold a note for a longer period of time. It allows you to play the guitar almost like a violin or a trumpet. In fact, there are only three people in the world who possess the infinite guitar." Shrinivas may soon possess an infinite mandolin! (thanks to Brook, of course).

On his collaboration with Nusrat, he says, "I was attracted by the powerful and emotional vocal quality and the incredible musicality that mysteriously transcends all cultures."

The guitarist along with Shrinivas, Christopher Tin (keyboard) and Edward Quinn (percussion) took the stage this past week for "Miracle 2003", a fusion of musical styles. The concert was organised by the Shakti Foundation to raise funds for the cause of the physically challenged.

A little about the other artistes. `Padma Shri' Shrinivas is no stranger to Chennai-ites. He has mesmerised lovers of Carnatic music for over a decade, and in recent time has steadily made his mark in the world music scene, working with John McLaughlin and Michael Nyman, among others.

The amicable and charming Tin is the only person to be awarded the Fulbright scholarship for film scoring. Of Chinese origin, Tin graduated from the Royal College of Music, and has worked on many film sound tracks such as "Artificial Intelligence" and "Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets". What's more, he conducted at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.

The gaunt, bearded and ever smiling Edward Quinn has a Bachelor's Degree in Jazz Performance from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. Besides composing music for TV and film, and producing albums, Quinn is writing a non-fiction novella titled "The Way Life Should Be". (Actually, one can dedicate separate articles to each of these splendid performers.)

Now for the concert. Most fusion concerts follow the Shakti format, where Western musicians encounter traditional Indian sounds (Ravi Shankar-Yehudi Menuhin, McLaughlin-Shrinivas, or Jean Luc Ponty-L. Subramanium). With Miracle 2003, the reverse happened. As Brook himself puts it, "I wanted to hear the more introspective, meditative spirit that Shrinivas reveals... , which I think is a big part of Indian music. I thought ... we could make something a little more ambient involving modern Western ideas of atmospheric music... ". Of course, the tempo had to be adjusted to suit the Chennai audience.

The sounds came together so seamlessly that more often than not, one never knew when Shrinivas has joined in. He was in top form, especially in the piece with a superb exchange between him and Quinn. The piece reminded one of Bach's Toccata in Fugue in D Minor.

So how did they put it all together? Shrinivas recalls, "When I called up Michael (in Los Angeles), and told him about the Foundation and its work, he was immediately ready to perform. He at once composed some pieces. I too composed a piece. When we met four days prior to the concert, we put our musical ideas together and the sounds just flowed." Brook adds, "Actually, about 50 per cent of the concert was spontaneous."

As the artistes talk, one can sense mutual admiration and sheer camaraderie. If Brook's "inspiration is Shrinivas, among others", for the mandolin maestro, it was "a learning experience playing with Michael." Shrinivas says, "We enjoyed playing that evening. More so, because of the response from the audience."

The candle-lit finale was "Heal the World" sung by children of the Chinmaya School. Despite the mix up over the background music, the children went on to sing. A pat on the back for them!

The Shakti Foundation has been over the past few years done a lot to ameliorate the sufferings of the physically challenged. Project Ramp has been one such effort and the Foundation has found ample support in cricketers such as Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid.

A memorable concert, Miracle 2003 might hopefully end by being released as a CD in the near future.

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