Stefan Keller

I apologize that the texts about my work have not been translated into English.

Doctoral Thesis: 'Vistar in Tabla-Music - A Study on Variation Techniques in Hindustani Drumming'

This Thesis is written in German. Below you find an abstract in English.

Vistar (expansion, extension, development), a term originally applied to melodic elaboration, is today commonly used to describe the method to create a string of variations on a theme in tabla solo music. Even though nowadays, tabla solos are mainly dominated by forms that include a vistar - and despite the fact that the vistar depends heavily on the creativity and spontaneity of individuals - there are no scientific studies that examine vistar as individual artistic expression. In fact, a normative approach prevails, which - by means of rules and example variations - gives the impression of a static and homogeneous tradition.

This study is based on the transcriptions of 22 interpretations of a single qayda by 16 different tabla players from different traditions. The qayda form from Delhi is considered the form with the most stringent vistar, and the Delhi qayda examined in this study is one of the most well known and most played ones. Two different notation systems were developed for the transcriptions: one which is entirely based on the syllabic writing common in tabla tradition, illustrating structural correlations, and another that visualises details of the playing technique. These systems are being discussed in detail in the context of existing modes of notation, and the transcription methods as well as existing theories and studies about vistar in tabla music, in particular those by Robert Gottlieb, James Kippen und Sudhir Mainkar, are also discussed in-depth.

The first main part of this study consists of analyses of the 22 qayda interpretations, the second main part of comparisons of these qayda interpretations with regards to single isolated aspects. This makes it possible to identify a few particularly prevalent variation techniques that are based on simple principles, which are responsible for most of the vistar. Also it becomes clear, that on one hand most players fall back onto a shared repertoire of pre-composed phrases, some of which already appear in interpretations by the oldest of the researched players, Ahmedjan Thirakwa. But on the other hand, the study also shows the vast variety and individuality of different approaches - in the handling of the shared phrases as well as through the application of individual structural principles. In addition, the analyses delve into how the baya is being played, i.e. the lower one of the two drums, which so far has not been considered adequately in literature about tabla. They establish how added strokes, glissandi and pressure accents, which can't be represented by the traditional syllables and can only be studied in detail through the newly developed notation system, often contribute substantially to the vistar. A great difference between the players finally becomes evident in the arrangement of the progression of a variation sequence, which appears distinctly more stringent, purposeful and more clearly structured with some players of the younger generations, particularly Shankar Ghosh, Latif Ahmed Khan and Aneesh Pradhan, than with representatives of the older generations like Ahmedjan Thirakwa, Keramatullah Khan or Nizamuddin Khan.

Download: Vistar in der Tabla-Musik