After a recent workshop at our dBs Music Plymouth campus, we caught up with the master of percussion, Jon Sterckx. A master in multiple traditional types of percussion from around the world, Jon is also a looping and live performance pro incorporating Ableton Live and controllers into his show. We tracked him down for a post-workshop chat about bringing age-old instruments and traditional playing techniques into the 21st century.
What was it that first attracted you to world instruments as opposed to western ones? "I came to world music and instruments through travelling - in the 80s and 90s I spent quite a bit of time in the Middle East and India and developed an interest in the music and particularly the percussion. This led to several years of training and study on Indian Tabla with teachers in India and in the UK. I was particularly drawn to the detailed and complex rhythms used in Indian music as well as the amazing sound of the tabla."
Have you thought about doing a follow up album to Drumscapes?
"Yes, and have started recording some tracks for it."
What do you think western musicians could learn from eastern music?
"Western musicians can learn a huge amount from non western musical forms - especially new approaches to rhythm, scales etc and to musical structure. One of the most useful 'tools' for musicians that I've encountered is the use of Konnokol - the South Indian vocal percussion that I introduced to the dBs students in Plymouth. This simple system of vocalising beats & groups of beats can be applied to any instrument and used in any musical form to help with rhythmic phrasing."
Your stage setup is very open plan, do you have a studio layout at home that is similar to this? How is technology changing the way you perform?
"I use the same Drumscapes setup in my studio as I do on stage. This is an essential part of the rehearsal and performance process as I need to be able to reach instruments or switch microphones etc within a certain amount of time - i.e. one bar. Everything needs to be in the correct place and it takes practice being able to put this drum down, pick that one up etc all in time to play the next loop into the mix."
Have you ever done any of your live sampling performances in the countries you instruments originate from?
"I haven't as yet, though I've had lots of positive contact & feedback from people across the globe who have watched videos of my performances online."
What specific features in Ableton that you use to help you perform? Did you try out any other DAWs before using Ableton?
"It's the flexibility of Ableton Live that I particularly like - it can be set up and configured specifically for your own use and purpose. Routing possibilities are great & the native plugins are very CPU friendly. Ableton's FX racks are also very useful for stage use. On stage I just use one window (session view), which keeps it simple and I'm able to to the majority of my set without needing to touch the computer at all. Before using Ableton for live looping, I used a Boss RC 20, though quickly became frustrated by it's limitations. Some research led me to try Ableton Live (Live 5 at the time) & I haven't looked back! I also use Logic for studio use, session recording etc, but only use Ableton for live performance."
Of all the instruments you play, is there one that you find yourself playing the most? What is it that draws you in the most about that particular one?
"Indian tabla is the instrument that I play the most & have put the most time into learning, practicing etc. This is partly because it is technically a very difficult instrument to play and demands a lot of time to learn and develop the techniques. It's also the instrument that I use for Indian classical performances, which I do regularly with a sitar player, as well as being used in various fusion projects over the years. Around 80% of the session recordings I do are using tabla."
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