Making pictures with sound

IT'S HERE Pierre Favre in New Delhi   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: RAJEEV BHATT

Pierre Favre, describes drums and music to Nandini Nair

He has used knitting needles for drumsticks. He has made music with gulmohar pods. He has played in a volcano. "There was no fire inside, of course," he adds. He has played on the top of a mountain. "I played really well. Everyone was clapping. But I passed out as there was no air." This is Pierre Favre, noted Swiss percussionist. "I've just started," he says of playing for 55 years, "now things are going to happen." Stories happened when he recently performed as part of the Jazz Utsav at Sri Satya Sai International Centre. "I didn't know the instrument," he says of the drum set. "I only knew the sticks." Of the spontaneous creations, he says, "It's like inventing stories, sometimes it's a short story, sometimes a long story." A single melody runs through his pieces. There are no repeats or reminders. "I don't hold people's hands when telling stories. I expect them to understand." Short of an hour, he left the audience asking for more. "It's a good thing when the public wants to hear more. You shouldn't overplay." His compositions create pictures for everyone. Tunes began with martial marching boots but ended with the patter of rain on a tin roof. Compositions resounded with heartbeats, rung like temple bells and filled the air with the sound of waves. His hands would caress the cymbals. Or they would flutter like a dragonfly's wings. "You don't hit the percussion," he explains, "You stretch it, you make it vibrate, you do the same with the body of the listeners." When he practices, he always practices softly. To play loudly is only to play with more weight.

Going solo

On stage he looks pre-eminent. Offstage he resembles a kindly gingerbread man. "When I play solo, I'm absolutely free," he says, adding, "but I am also completely responsible." The only partner is the audience. It's a "dialogue", when performing with an orchestra. "Sometimes I like to give fire," he says with conspiratorial glee. "I like to provoke the others." Well acquainted with international styles, he favours the earthiness of the mridangam. With Jazz growing weak after the late 1960s, his search for "mother's milk" led him to African and Indian music. In African music he found the rhythmical roots of Jazz. Favre, a self-taught percussionist, explains his love for the drums. "The drums, in a way, are a very limited instrument. But to me it's poetry. With the piano and sitar you can get shadows, with the drums you can do the same, but it has to come from within you." A drummer also has to be like a dancer, since both hands and feet are used. "But the problem is," he laughs, "feet want to be feet, they don't want to be hands."