There are many stories about how some greats of music have found their calling. Usual as well as unusual. The common factor being, most of them had a liking for music. In the case of English percussion artist, Pete Lockett the story is not the same.
All of 19 years, Pete was strolling the streets when he happened to pass a drum store. He had no idea about music, let alone any musician or a percussion artist.
“I had never considered playing a musical instrument until then. That day I saw a sign for drum lessons in a drum shop window. It was an incredible thing. I went from having no music in my life at 2 pm to having music define me from 3 pm onwards. Actually, drums found me!” said Pete.
That day onwards, Pete has accomplished himself as a leading percussion artist in the world. He performs genres ranging from traditional Indian Carnatic and Hindustani music to traditional Japanese taiko drumming. His style ranges from blues, funk and rock to classical, folk and ethnic and from Arabic to electronic.
The influence of nature
Pete believes music is a perfect mix of inner emotions in conjunction with external rhythm, melody, tone and harmony. The sounds of the forest, the birds, water splashing on a cluster of rocks and down into a noisy shallow pool, all are his inspirations. The modern world that we humans dwell in is not particularly to his liking.
“Sadly we live in a world where this is not wholly understood and allows noise pollution everywhere. Our spiritual links to sound are perpetually abused by machines, ring tones and lift music,” quipped Pete.
Being attached to the nature, Pete’s philosophy is of a free soul. Though not particularly drawn towards technology of the day, he propagates its use depending on the individual. He uses electronics and samplers, both live and in the studio, to create densely alternative percussion fabrics. He opines that it has to be appropriate for the environment.
“Every performer has their own vision and knows how much technology can fit into their approach. If one turned up with a drum machine, instead of a master tabla player, at a classical gig then there might be some disappointed listeners,” said Pete.
The technical aspects for a percussion artist
Drums and percussion are considered amongst the most difficult musical instruments to master. A drummer does not have the luxury of melody and harmony to entice the listener. A percussion artist has a few tones to play with. How they explore these tones and punctuate the flowing time line is what matters.
Giving his views on the art of percussion, Pete shared his expertise on the technical aspects.
“The essential core elements are most certainly time keeping and dynamics. When you look at any sort of music, be it folk or ‘intellectualised’ music. These two components are vital to empower the music and reach out to the listeners. You can try this yourself simply by clapping a regular pulse, going between loud medium and soft. You are keeping time and creating tension and release with dynamics. This is the basic framework. Everything else, tone control, touch, virtuosity, phrasing and more, get added to this.”
The percussion artist is not only a master drummer but also plays a range of instruments. Right from the Middle East, Western Africa, Japan, Latin America, Ireland. The one instrument that stands out for him is the musical stone of Gobustan called Gaval Dash (Qavaldaş). Dating back up to 20,000 years, it sounds like a giant metallic bell and had been used ritualistically throughout the history of mankind.
Indian classical music and Pete Lockett
The master percussion artist performs a range of Indian classical instruments as well. He has honed his skills to include tabla, mridangam, kanjira, ghatam, dholak, naal, bhangra dhol in his instrumental repertoire. This is not where his association with Indian classical music ends.
His first brush with the genre was at the Festival of India concert in the 1980’s. It was here that he heard Ustad Ali Abkar Khan and Ustad Zakir Hussain perform and was mesmerised by the sound. He would travel to India to learn the genre and eventually found tutelage under Yousuf Ali Khan and Karaikudi Krishnamurthy. To cover his association with Indian classical music would need an entire different interview, maybe soon.
Pete summed it up in a few words.
“Suffice to say, discovering this infinite rich heritage of music that can be traced back through the centuries and give us a glimpse of age old fundamental principles of ‘A Priori’ creativity. That was most certainly a life changing revelation. You look at the masters of Indian music, and the never ending universe of material and you know that you have something to guide you for your entire life. It is not something you can ever ‘finish’ or ‘complete’. You can only improve and see a little more of the inner core.”
Solo, duo or an ensemble
The percussion artist prefers playing in a duo setup as it helps him develop an intuitive line of communication and is less complex. That said, if the musical intent is different, he is game to be a part of larger ensembles. Pete has collaborated with thirty Rajasthani folk musicians for one such project.
“Spending time in their villages in the middle of the desert and then touring a project all over India and beyond, including the Royal Festival Hall in London. The experience was incredible,” smiled Pete.
Pete Lockett – The Author
From a teenager who was a stranger to music, the percussion artist has grown in stature, big enough to pen a book on music. His book, Indian Rhythms for the Drumset, is his attempt to create an accessible doorway into the north and south Indian rhythmic concepts for musicians outside of that idiom.
“It is my attempt for them to see the building blocks and approaches to rhythm and therefore then understand just how intense and complex the whole thing is. Making things accessible like this is very important to me,” asserted Pete.
“I have the same approach with my iOS percussion app – DrumJam. This opens up a world of percussion to everyone, whether they play music or not. They can hear the instruments, explore the sounds and then read about how they are played and where they come from. Hopefully this invites more people into our musical world who felt they were not allowed in.”