‘Music is a universal language’ – a quote that has been used to its shreds but is still relevant. The quote finds its credibility in lands that are unknown to some while many call it home. From time immemorial, musicians from varied races, religions, cultures have bonded to create a new dimension to their music. One such musician is Austrian drummer Bernhard Schimpelsberger.
A shishya of the tabla exponent Pandit Suresh Talwalkar, Bernhard is a unique musician. Being a student of the tabla maestro, one would expect him to be an ace on the instrument. Well, there is a slight change. Bernhard does not play the tabla, in fact has never even learnt tabla.
“I do not claim to have perfection of the tabla, I do not even play the tabla. But I try and find a way of transforming and translating the ‘bols’. It is a very specific thing and I can do it only my way without playing the tabla,” said Bernhard.
Not ‘young enough’ for learning the tabla
The drummer credits his Guru for this. At a public meeting, Panditji had told Bernhard that he will not allow him to play the tabla’ that was because he would have to spend hours just to learn the basics. As Bernhard was ‘young enough’ for that, Panditji asked him to spend the same amount of time on the drums and the application.
“Guruji represents a traditional approach to the ‘Guru-Shishya parampara’ but at the same time he has a very experimental approach which is rare to find. Learning from him was like embarking on a big experiment, for both of us. To try and teach a western musician the traditional value but not through traditional instruments. I was learning the ‘bols’ and incorporating the music on the drums, I never learnt the tabla. It was a very conscious decision on his part,” quipped Bernhard.
Bernhard was a hyperactive kid which meant he never could focus on learning the piano. He got introduced to the drums when he witnessed a jam session of his brother’s band at his residence. The young Bernhard showed a natural affinity towards the instrument and could play songs even before he started his drumming lessons.
“It was a very intuitive connection with the drums. I think it was that energy and the physicality that attracted me towards it at that time. Now it is more about the philosophical aspects,” said the drummer.
The drummer and his influences
Bernhard attributes his life experiences as the biggest influence on his music. He feels one can only express what one have or is going through. The drummer belongs to the tribe of musicians who would not play music just for the sake of it. He incorporates his experiences of travelling, meeting people from varied backgrounds as the emotional quotient for his music.
His admiration for musicians like Ustad Zakir Hussian, jazz pianist Brad Mehldau, Chris Thile the American mandolin player and an Armenian jazz pianist Tigran Hamasyan, stems from his thinking that these maestros can express themselves through a bigger idea. The philosophical side of the drummer found its way of expression through Indian classical music. The spiritual connection of Indian classical music is what caught the attention of the drummer.
“The sense of being devoted to music and be meditative to reach a form of ecstasy is my connection with Indian classical music on the emotional level. On the intellectual level it is the science of Indian classical music. To be able to dissect and modulate, find new ways, leaving no stone untouched while making music. These two elements define my story and my love for Indian classical music,” smiled Bernhard.
Bernhard Schimpelsberger’s love for Indian classical music
The drummer’s love affair with the genre is not limited to his Guru’s teaching and influences. While living in Austria, he heard Indian fusion bands like Shakti, Remember Shakti and the master tabla and drum player Trilok Gurtu. Bernhard would try and explore the possibility of connecting a tabla rhythm with an African rhythm or use it in a jazz set up.
“I have a cupboard full of ideas. I have not explored many of these ideas. Only the strong ideas have got explored. It is a transformation when you bring in new elements and put it in reference with what you already know and different forms start to influence each other,” said Bernhard.
‘Tabla on Drums’
It was when he met once of his biggest influence, Trilok Gurtu that he found a new dimension to his music. He regards Gurtu as his guiding light and inspiration behind ‘Tabla on Drums’.
“I was inspired by the way he blended music. I tried to mould myself like him. You have to experiment. Some work, some do not. The great thing about music is that you constantly strive and never be satisfied. It is a life long journey,” asserted Bernhard.
“I have just started to scratch the surface by incorporating the tabla into my drums. I am happy with the kind of music that is coming out of that experiment. Not all things work in music, it is all trial and error.”