Mian ki Malhar is a musical prayer for the life-giving rains of the monsoon. It is also a complex and potent musical blueprint for improvisation and composition, though given the raga's elusive nature, it is more like an ancient, tattered map alluding to mysterious treasures.
The coming of the monsoon season is a time of great joy and celebration in India, for the rains allow the crops to grow following the burning, dry and barren months of summer. Crickets chirp, frogs cantillate in their distinctive gruff manner, the earth smells wonderfully fresh and wet, and cool breezes enliven all. Poets, dancers, painters and musicians have long expressed exhilaration for the renewing powers of nature experienced during the rainy season. This is also said to be the time of year when female romantic passions are at their height.
Mian Ki Malhar (2002) Based upon the Hindustani music rainy season raga, Mian Ki Malhar, scored for cimbalom, rotating drum, er hu, qu di, suona, sheng, tanpura, and Indonesian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Latin and Middle Eastern percussion instruments.
Alap, Jor, Jhala
Vilambit Gat, Madhya Gat, Drut Gat
When it came time to conceptualize my composition based upon Raga Mian ki Malhar, I felt inspired to create two percussion "instruments", one with wood and metal sounds (seventeen instruments with twenty-four sounds), and the other with skin sounds (eleven instruments with twenty-seven sounds). Perhaps it was the celebratory nature of the monsoon season that led me to include wood and metal percussion along with the skin percussion sounds I normally use. Looking to branch out even more, I deliberately avoided percussion timbres from India, instead focusing on sounds from the Far East, Indonesia, Latin America and the Near East. By isolating and combining the two percussion "instruments" ("instrument" denotes a collection of diverse yet related percussion timbres brought together in a homogeneous group), I have evoked the Karnatic custom of featuring both mridangam and ghatam, as opposed to the Hindustani tradition of using a single tabla.
The focal point of my musical rainstorm is the sublime sound of the Hungarian/Romanian cimbalom, a hammered dulcimer with historical ties to the roaming Gypsies from India. Some other hammered dulcimers include the Chinese yangqin, the Persian santour, and the Indian santoor. It was santoor artist Shivkumar Sharma's recording of Mian Ki Malhar, together with Anindo Chatterjee on tabla, which inspired my composition based upon the raga. In the opening portions of each gat, I have alluded to several of Sharma's themes. It took a great deal of technical preparation for me to figure out how to achieve a satisfactory tremolo with my cimbalom timbre, this being an essential and delicate element of the alap.
- Michael Robinson, December 2002, Los Angeles; January 2003, Kahala, Kula, Lahaina