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Here you can read exciting articles about some of the protagonists of the jaw harp and ethnic music world.
  • Make the Tradition move forward: Mouth Harps played and handcrafted by Steev Kindwald

    Steev Kindwald unites diverse cultural influences as a musician and instrument maker like no one else. He absorbed a huge part of his playing technique on the double flute Alghoza and different mouth harps in Asia, mainly in India and Southeast Asia. He also takes his inspiration from old instruments, indeed very old instruments from museum collections or even archaeological excavations. Steev’s taste for complex, rhythmic structures roots back to his origins. A part of his family originates from Transylvania, Romania. Steev had a chat with Helen from Dan Moi about his encounters with instrument makers in Asia and furthermore about his approach to making bamboo mouth harps.

    What is your style of playing Jaw Harp?

    Mountain Flamenco Gong Trance Ceremony Carpathian Rishi Monk Jogi Carnatic Jazz!!! I have learned many traditional tunes, I mix a lot of different things together. I try to create elements within that, moving bass tones, very simple short patterns and mix them together in layers.

    I do a lot of rhythmic play, a lot of asymmetric rhythms, that´s my great passion. Which may be my Transylvanian side, Carpathian mountains really, where there is a lot of these different rhythms, and then I hybridize it, because it´s fun to play in 15 or 9 or 27 or 13--4 as well! Each rhythm has a frequency and then you are playing with those different patterns.

    Accented breath and control of the sound colour is what can make the Jaw Harp something fabulous! My goal is ever to push my limits and add yet another layer of sound to the Jaw Harps song.

    When I play traditional tunes from the desert, the easiest ones are the pentatonic tunes, they are much more clear. When I play for traditional people, if they hear the tune, then it´s right. Always when I´m performing, I imagine I´m in front of a very traditional person. And when they are satisfied, then it´s good. That´s my litmus test of quality. In the sum total; one needs to go to the heart of the audience.

    Which music inspired and shaped you?

    Firstly, the sounds of nature are a constant inspiration since starting to play the Jaw Harp around age 12 -- 37 years ago. Playing while wandering the forests, rivers and lakes of my village.

    I grew up in a culture of listening to epic classical western music plus hard bop jazz, going to bluegrass, jazz and blues festivals all the time. I was very fortunate, because there were also all these vinyl LPs of ethnic music at our local library in the village, from the time when there was no electricity in many areas where they were recorded. I was listening to music from Kashmir, Iran, Balinese and Javanese Gamelan, Morocco, India, records of gagaku orchestras of China, Korea, and Okinawa, Japan.

    These old scratchy disks, of often poor quality recordings, are really amazing genuine performances; These were the references for me and continue to be -- 99 percent of the music made on this planet and in the human history is this natural human music.

    I have passed the last 20 plus years almost constantly travelling for the music, mostly in Asia among tribal ethnicities, Sufis, nomads and Gypsy/Roma peoples. I have since studied with master players and makers from Nepal and Tibetan Himalaya to the Indian deserts to south India classical to mountain tribals in various parts of Southeast Asia to Genggong ensembles in central Indonesia.

    My focus is not to merely reproduce traditions but to put this into my art to create original rooted hybrids that entrance!

    Where did you learn to make Jaw Harp and with whom do you work with when making Jaw Harps?

    Where I fell in love wandering in the desert ==== In the western region of Rajasthan I have been with two Morchang forging families since the last 20 years now. I see the older generation pass, the middle generation is still active and the younger generation may pick up the tradition.

    They work with their hands constantly. There are no machines other then a light bulb occasionally when they work in the night. I assist, I learn from them, we collect the metals, we try to improve the quality, if their hands or their eyes are becoming damaged, it´s time to take a break. I often cook for them, we eat and drink together. We see the animals get sick, and we try to take care.

    It´s kind of a whole life experience. Of cause they don´t just make jaw harps. They are basically nomads at heart. Most of the older generation, until the age 15 to 30, have travelled in donkey carts from village to village repairing tools and selling items they have made of metal. So they have great stories and are fascinating people;

    Because they are considered low caste, they are dealing with all sorts of people who need their metal items. They are dealing with both high and low caste Hindus, with every variety of Muslim you can imagine, with Gypsy people, tribals, even foreigners!; so they are really between all the worlds, they are quite magical people, though that may be considered a cliché, its still true!

    I have studied, researched and worked with makers in east Bali since 1999, different parts of Java, western India, Pakistan, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Nepal and Japan. In the mountain in Lao PDR I visited and researched several families, where they make these incredibly detailed Jaw Harps from scrap war materials, which actually would be hard to make with a machine.

    Even their tools are made by themselves! A lot of their handwork is so fine, you could not cut it with a laser! They have developed techniques that would be more advanced than most machines even today.

    The gap on a high quality handmade Genggong of palm stem wood between the tongue and frame is around 0.2mm -- a Swiss watches acceptable degree of error is 0.3mm...

    What is your approach to make Jaw Harps?

    I prefer handwork. Occasionally I use a soldering iron to do detailed burning patterns and the rest is handwork and as little tools as possible, just like the masters and teachers work who I´ve been around over the years.

    When I make instruments people often ask me, is this traditional or did you make it?, because we don´t know the difference anymore! That´s good, that keeps the roots. So I´m creating Jaw Harps based on traditions and hybrids as well, because that makes the tradition move forward.

    My recent obsession is perfecting the double Genggong that plays 2 distinct tones in one instrument -- it does not really exist in traditions and that is exciting!

    You had a box with dozens of Jaw Harps in, what instruments are you collecting in this „Magic Jaw Harp Box“?

    There are different kinds of bamboo, palm stem and brass mouth harps, most of which I have made. A lot of them are string activated which is called Genggong in Malay-Indonesian where it´s most famous.

    These are the instruments that really pulled my heart, so to speak, because they are very exciting. People love them as they produce a sound unimaginable and they are very pleasurably challenging to play.

    In the box you see harps, that I collected in Java, Eastern Bali, most of the instruments I make are modelled from the museum collection in Berlin where I worked on the catalogue. They come from late 19th and early 20th century collections. I do accurate reproductions of these instruments and compare them with the living tradition mostly in places that I have travelled almost non stop the last 20 years seeking the perfect sound.

    In my village as a child my first Jaw Harp was this snoopy harp which is rather low quality but very sturdy! In fact if you really push the instrument and you know how to play with the frame gap you start getting harmonics and vibrations that are strong.

    When people learn on this difficult instruments, they become quite good, because they have to push the instrument. It´s often best to start on a difficult instrument for study to develop a sense of dynamics and strength.

    From which instruments do you get your inspiration from to make your Jaw Harps?

    When I make instrument it should be high quality. Once you know these traditional instruments you are more satisfied. I´m doing a lot of hybrids and reproducing Jaw Harps from Himalaya, Tibet, Borneo 19th century pieces, Sakhalin island. And Papua has metal jaw harp the recent years in the spirit of recycling metal. So the instruments I make are very stable, with a good quality sound and something that inspires people. The sounds people love and if they are willing to take time, they will learn them.

    There are also instruments from India, Pakistan, China, Nepal, Lao PDR and Japan. I buy from these makers since many years and I often work with them directly when possible. I find people who work with their hands fascinating; They live with their world, with the things they make, they are often very connected. They have shared an enormous amount of knowledge with me and they have deeply influences me, it´s the time to create and work with very detailed decorations.

    Working in metals, learning how to process the bamboo (that is a large world) and materials so that they are stable and solid. I collect most of the bamboo myself in Japan, Lao PDR, Burma, Nepal, Northern Thailand -- in Indonesia I collect a lot of palm stem in mountain forest gardens which is always an adventure!

    Such material you cannot buy in a shop! A common technique in the past was make Jaw Harps and other tools from very hard and stable smoked bamboo from the roof of the house where there was a daily fire -- up to 200 years in some cases! So when I see a traditional old house being taken down its time to find bamboo!

    Do you have any evidence for how old the Jaw Harp might be?

    There are instruments from Papua New Guineawhich we would tap directly with our hand instead of pulling or striking it, and, they may be the oldest style considering they have an idioglottal reed rather than proto Jaw Harps.

    To strike an instrument directly is more in the mind of a stone age person and those instruments can indeed be easily made with stone tools by cracking and shaving the bamboo. We know people have been living on Papua Island between 20.000 to 60.000 years at the least! One can imagine those instruments are at least 30.000 years old likely older, but of course bamboo does not last easily in the archaeological record.

    What would this music have sounded like? Today some people say the mouth harp is an analog synthesizer and music must have sounded much more like todays modern music long time ago.

    We don´t know, but when you live with these instruments and you play them all the time, not to study, but as a part of your life, you will discover a clear picture of what sounds these instruments can give.

    Papua Island where the Jaw Harp is active since millenia, has the most concentrated number languages in the world, they have an enormous variety of languages because of the isolation of each valley and constant ritualistic warfare. A lot of Asian Jaw Harp music seems to be based on speech, for example Hmong music is communication, talking, riddles, poetry, love play, secret things that you can not express with your mouth. So you are dealing with a communication, natural sounds and effects on the mind and the body.

    The phase filter sound processing harmonics along with arpeggios by using glottal stops method is what reminds people of an analog synthesizer which is essentially chips made of quartzite rich sand --- now that is something to consider...

    How do you choose what to play in a concert?

    Smell the air and proceed! Of course, I always have tunes pre-planned, but always it is best to finally let the mood set the music framework.

    I love to request numbers from the audience to construct an improvised rhythm, challenging myself by giving a sound shape to a number. The point is to give them something that nourishes them and will be remembered in their dreams.

     

     

    * in the DAN MOI shop you will find mouth harps handcrafted by Steev Kindwald. Each one of them is unique.

  • Beyond the daily grind: an imaginary trip with the jaw harp player Yoeman

    Joachim Hellmann is well-known for his jaw harp passion in his home region, the Uckermark. For a living, he teaches qi gong and taijiquan and works as an educational staff member at a primary school. Sometimes, he also plays jaw harp with the kids. And every now and then, he is being asked whether he could play a little piece just out of fun with his little pocket instrument. He is also present with his jaw harp in camps and on festivals. On such occasion he uses his pseudonym Yoeman. He says, the jaw harp is great fun and with it it's easy to get in touch. It connects people. The jaw harp is also perfectly suited for spending moments on one's own, special moments such as after Yoeman's stage appearance in the summer of 2019 at the Ancient Trance Festival.

    As it has become quiet on the market square of the town of Taucha, the last festival booths tables are being folded down and bracelets, dream catchers and other coloured items are being stowed away in boxes. On the stage, a technician puts away the last cables. After the concert, a group of people is sitting on the warm cobblestone and lets the rest of the day just pass by. At the edge of the stage, Yoeman is talking to one of his listeners as he stows away his jaw harps and a bottle of water in his rucksack. With a joyful feeling of energy and exhaustion that stems from an hour of energizing stage show he shoulders his baggage, bids the festival visitor farewell and swiftly moves through the stage speakers to the other side of the road. The empty parking spot behind one of the town houses of Taucha is the perfect spot for a time-out. When a cat passes the motion sensor or Yoeman makes a sweeping movement a house light is being turned on and blinds the summer darkness for a couple of moments. Yoeman lets himself fall onto a bank that is leaning against a house wall. He puts down the rucksack in front of him and takes a deep breath.

    He draws a wooden box with the size of a picture book out of his rucksack. He opens the clasp and the lid, and he looks in a contemplative manner at the instruments that rest in little compartments after the recent live performance. Yoeman reaches for the Vargan that was made by a blacksmith from the Urals. With it, one can evoke beautifully deep and relaxing trance sounds. He gently strokes the tongue and lets the tone sound until its very end. How can one describe the relationship to one's instruments? Mostly, Yoeman intuitively reaches the jaw harp that suits best the very mood he is in. His thoughts roam back to the concert. Today, the music naturally evolved away from the original plan. Here in Taucha the plan that worked so well at the last concert evolved into something different. The flow carried Yoeman away. It all comes down to the energy in the room and the auditory. When the people are following, are fully in the moment and at ease, then you can let the music come. One can rely on the main points that have evolved during 30 years of playing: playing techniques, original songs, and instinct.

    Yoeman has a quick peek on the Vargan and puts it back into the box. His gaze stops at a jaw harp from the Ukraine. Bought for quite a fair price and well-playable, with a nice atmosphere. Ideal for workshops, but also perfect for playing just for oneself. A funky instrument. You can play a slow beat with a lot of overtones and build finger stops into the flow, same as with the jaw harps from Zoltán Szilágyi and Andreas Schlütter, which Yoeman prefers for this playing technique.

    This Ukrainian jaw harp lies solidly in one's hand. Yoeman encloses it with his left hand to remember it. The metal is still quite warm from the summer air and feels exceptionally soft. This instrument can be easily held when played for a longer time. When the music is completely without any loops or effects as is the case with Yoeman's the firm grasp between the fingers allows one to play over minutes without stops, breaks or dropping the instrument. One can easily cope with the fact that with this instrument one does without playing fast beats. It is merely one of those criteria for Yoeman to choose the right jaw harp for the right song and the right mood.

    Back then in the 80's, when Yoeman went to school in the East German town of Suhl and stumbled into the local music shop, where he discovered the jaw harp, probably no one would have assumed this instrument would be a life-long companion for him. In hindsight, the coincidence could not have been greater as this music shop in Suhl was the only one in East Germany that sold jaw harps from the near-by workshop of Friedrich Schlütter in Zella-Mehlis. Once a listener after a concert asked how his long relationship with the jaw harp actually began and he replied: "I have been playing the jaw harp quite often. For me, it was a nice way to get in touch with music, an easy one, too. At some point, I made a leather mount for my jaw harp. At the beginning of the 90's I even went 2 or 3 times on stage. About 10 years ago, I played a bit on the jaw harp at the Ökotopia Festival, and some people there asked me whether I'd know the Ancient Trance Festival. With my family, I went directly from one festival to the other and since then I go to the Ancient Trance every year."

    Sitting here on this bench at the marketplace of Taucha having finished an exciting concert for the auditory of the Ancient Trance he is becoming aware how close the connection to the festival and his instruments have grown over the last years. In the beginning, he just watched the other jaw harp artists play and at some point he wondered why he wouldn't give a concert himself. The stage appearances happened more often – not only in Taucha. When being on the road with his family in summertime Yoeman is playing as a street musician his own songs, and he recorded those on CD as well. The festival in Taucha has become a source of inspiration for him. It is here where he listened to the breath-taking beats of Aron Szilágyi and the Airtists. Music that influenced his way of playing, which years ago already intuitively combined voice and beat box.

    In the Uckermark region, Yoeman with his jaw harp often appears as an exotic. Sometimes, at his workshop events he is welcoming groups of 50 people, where only 10 of them know the jaw harp. The special thing about such moments is the instant curiosity of the people. "How do you do that?", they ask. The jaw harp connects, is fun and helps to unwind. And at the Ancient Trance Festival a jaw harp player feels like finally coming home. Yoeman realizes he still clutches to the Ukrainian jaw harp in his hands. He takes it to his mouth and plays a short fast melody with a lot of finger stops. – Every time he is playing only to himself a new space opens and carries him away from time, place and the daily grind.

    Website & CD of Yoeman: https://yoema-wuoap.jimdofree.com/reinhören/

  • A Breath of Time: In the Czech Republic Brumlista arouses the interest for the mouth harp

    Petr Jasinčuk aka Brumlista astonished many people. In a video, he plays the mouth harp in the deep winter´s cold, his body dipped up to his neck into the water of a lake. Around him ice and snow-covered birches. He wears a hat and sunglasses for this bone-chilling bath. Surrounded by snow-capped ice he plays his mouth harp, the brumle or brumla as the instrument is called in Czech language. Petr is not only famous for his extreme water sport endeavours, he is also known for being a progressive force in the Czech mouth harp community and a fine musician. Under the pseudonym Brumlista, he developed a unique playing style, mixing singing and beatbox elements with mouth harp sounds. In September 2019, Petr had a phone interview with Helen from Dan Moi, where he talks about his motivation to dedicate his time so devotedly to the mouth harp for more than eight years.

    I´m practicing the Wim Hof Method. It is a hardening and breathing technique. In wintertime, I go to the frozen lake, break a hole into the ice and take a bath for some minutes. In the video you see me there playing my mouth harp. It was a difficult and funny moment at the same time.” The hat he is wearing is typical for this unusual training. Only after many years of practice, one also puts the head under water. There are many more, but less extreme videos of Petr on the internet, where he is playing brumla in the nature. He says, nature is the better place to play the jaw harp rather than an urban environment. Petr lives near Prague. At home he usually plays without microphone and amplifier. He looks for places with a nice echo, e.g. in the hallway of his house or in a church.

    Up on stage Petr uses a microphone. The feeling of playing with an amplified mouth harp sound is a completely different one. Petr states: “You can play with more details and you can express more overtones. Also the breathing can be used more precisely, which enables you to articulate clearly.“ One of this energetic performances is captured on Brumlista‘s YouTube channel. It is showing Petr playing a solo concert at the Ancient Trance Festival in Taucha. This clip also features a duet with double flute and mouth harp virtuoso Steev Kindwald. Steev has had an influence on the music of Brumlista and equally inspired him as musicians like Jonny Cope and Nadishana, Vladimir Markov and Aron Szilágyi.

    Petr’s first encounter with a mouth harp took place in a music store. A fairly simple, cheap instrument attracted his attention. In the beginning, Petr thought it was only a toy, but it drew his curiosity. This was the starting point of his interest for jaw harps: “I watched endless YouTube videos and read websites about mouth harps. That way I taught myself to play. I found my ‘inner teacherʼ that has been guiding me until today and helps me to increase my playing skills. I would describe it as a state of mind, an extended inner space, where I can develop my abilities. This ‘inner teacherʼ is also helping me to teach my students. I try to resonate with them through my senses and my consciousness, so I can convey my playing techniques.

    Petr holds brumle-workshops for beginners and for advanced players and he organises meetings of the Czech mouth harp community that he founded in 2012. The group communicates their activities and events on Facebook and on the website brumle.cz. “I want to re-popularise the brumle in Czech Republic as an old, spiritual tool”, Petr says. “I´m also making efforts to spread the knowledge about the instrument in other countries." The community in the Czech Republic is growing slowly, but constantly. By now, there are about 20 active jaw harp players. About 200 people are less active, but take interest in the mouth harp. The meetings, concerts and workshops of the Czech brumle community take place in Prague, because it is rather difficult to convince the city dwellers to come to the countryside, comments Petr.

    Brumlista at the Ancient Trance Festival

     

    The Czech word brumle or brumla derives most likely from the German term „Brummeisen“. Brumlista is the person who plays the mouth harp and brumlar is the Czech term for jaw harp blacksmith. So far, we know only a few details about the history of the mouth harp in the Czech Republic. Petr mentions a mouth harp from the 14th century that was found in Rokštejnská. “There was a kind of tradition in Moravia. There were some mouth harp players and the instrument is referred to in some folk songs.” Regina Plate reports in her cultural history of the mouth harp (1992) about a musician from Bohemia called Kunert, who was born in Kounice and in the first half of the 19th century played many concerts in several German and Austrian cities. Young brumle players like Brumlista or Ivo Charitonov give new life to the mouth harps in the Czech Republic. They reach out to folk music enthusiasts and lovers of spiritual sounds. Petr also plays in a South-East European fusion and trance band called “Nigunatica”.

    With the mouth harp I connect to my inner soul”, describes Petr, when he is asked what he finds so special about the brumle. “You can learn the instrument relatively easy. Almost everyone can play it after some time. Compared to a violin, the mouth harp is much easier to learn. Furthermore, it is not only about music. The mouth harp is a spiritual tool. Music therapists use the brumle because its sound can help to destroy blockades and to set free blocked energy.

    Mouth harps are also made in the Czech Republic. Petr plays the instrument of the Hungarian mouth harp maker Zoltan Szilágyi and those from the Czech instrument maker Šešulka: “These mouth harps are very special. They are adaptations of the legendary Austrian Jofen mouth harps, which are not built there anymore. I´m working with Šešulka to develop and improve the instruments.

    Petr came across the mouth harp during a moving time in his life. After having worked many years in the IT sector, he quit his job and began to work in a primary school. Today, he dreams of becoming a professional mouth harp player and teacher. His dream would come true if he could make a living from the mouth harp one day. It seems in recent years he got closer to that dream. Besides many performances at festivals and concerts, he travelled to Yakutia in 2019 to celebrate the international Khomus-Day on 30 November together with Yakutian mouth harp players. Just in time he released his first album: Breath of Time

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