Turning new tricks, constantly

There is a reason why the Trickster Orchestra is scouting the globe for innovators

With a name like Trickster Orchestra, one should expect flamboyant music of the theatrical kind. However, this Berlin-based collective founded by Cymin Samawatie and Ketan Bhatti, is more than that. The Trickster Orchestra is where the experimental ideas of creative minds from around the world come to take shape.

Cymin Samawatie and Ketan Bhatti were recently in Bengaluru in their quest to identify like-minded artistes. “First of all we are here to meet people, get a feel of the country. I think that is the most important thing when you want to be influenced. Our work is to bring people together who usually wouldn’t get in touch with each other,” says Cymin, adding, “When that happens there is a possibility of transformation and a chance that something new and unique is created.”

“We work with musicians and their region-specific instruments — from China, Arabia and Western Europe. When the folk music of Syria is presented with the 20th Century music of Germany, a mimetic process is underway,” says Ketan.

According to Ketan, mimesis or the act of imitation is actually a transformation of one’s self into the person or act they are trying to emulate. “Here is when one begins to think outside the box. When a trombone player from Berlin meets a koto (13-stringed traditional Japanese instrument) player, there is a moment of innovation. Each is playing in a way that will accomodate the other’s sounds. This process is interesting and we strive to put people in this situation,” he says.

“Every culture, musical genre, discipline of art, and of course, every person, is never static. Keeping this in mind, these transformations are a way to develop an understanding of each other,” says Ketan.

“What happens if an Indian sitar player is not just playing the sitar according to the tenets of Indian classical music, but in another contex? In such a situation, a musician may find a new technique and bring out sounds unlike what they are normally used to hearing,” says Cymin.

Trickster believes that by putting such musicians together, one finds out what they didn’t know so far and they learn from that process, fostering a greater understanding as a result. But for Ketan and Cymin, there is more to this exercise than just a collaboration of like-minded artistes.

Cymin says, “We both are composers and this process has helped change the way we create music. I remember how the German bass flute sounded together with the clarinet. That is a sound I will never lose because I was there when those musicians were searching for something new. And as a result, I too, have something new to build on while I am composing a tune.”

Trickster Orchestra was founded in 2013 and while the duo have been working largely with musicians, their projects also include artists, poets and the spoken word.

“We started working with musicians in Berlin, who have a migrant history. Using their traditional instruments, our work progressed so we now have a grant from Munich to search for others interested in new ways of playing and collaboration,” says Ketan.

Last year, they visited Bangkok and this year, it was India. A few musicians from India will be invited to stay in Berlin for a week, where they will develop a programme together. “Next year, we will go to another place and the year after, to yet another one. It is an endless journey,” says Cymin.

Why the name? “Every culture has the notion of a trickster who thinks out of box, who believes in bending rather than breaking the rules. The trickster has a radical approach or is just curious, like a child spills water not because he’s naughty, but because he wants to see what happen to water on the ground,” says Ketan.

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