La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela at the Dream House

16. The Tamburas of Pandit Pran Nath

FRANK J. OTERI: So what are some of the other releases that are going to happen on the Just Dreams label? Are we going to finally be able to have a recording of the Trio for Strings?

LA MONTE YOUNG: [laughs] Yes.

MARIAN ZAZEELA: So far, we started with The Tamburas of Pandit Pran Nath, which was a recording we made actually in 1982, you know La Monte tunedit’s two tamburas that La Monte tuned for several hours to really achieve a perfect tuning and then we recorded, I guess the original recording is about an hour. And in transferring it on to CD, wewell two things happened. One is we wrote very extensive notes on the tambura, so the combination of the recording also brings people information about this great instrument, the tambura, which is coming down in history from India, it’s just the most remarkable instrument; it’s the only instrument that’s designed to play harmonics continuously.

LA MONTE YOUNG: It’s designed to feature the harmonics. It’s a drone instrument and it’s designed in such a way that a thread is placed beneath the string, between the string and the bridge, and this thread sets the string into a special mode of vibration that amplifies the harmonics. So, unlike any other instrument, it is designed to truly present an array of the harmonic series. And it is said that the tambura was created by Tumburu. Tumburu was one of the four original gandharvas. Gandharvas are celestial musicians. He was a great grandson of Brahma, and whereas you cannot go back and say for sure that he really invented the tambura, the stories are that he invented it and in the booklet that goes with the CD The Tamburas of Pandit Pran Nath we show a sculptural tableau that is across the river from Rishikesh that shows Tumburu in the court of Vishnu. Tumburu was the court musician of Vishnu and he was a great musician and in this tableau it shows Vishnu and Lakshmi, his consort, and Narada, the renowned celestial musician, Narada, who played the ektar, an instrument with one string, and Tumburu. And Vishnu is reclining on his pet snake. The snake’s name is…

MARIAN ZAZEELA: Shesha, right?

LA MONTE YOUNG: Yeah.

MARIAN ZAZEELA: We did a lot of research and wrote this treatise basically on the tambura and offer the whole release as an homage to Pandit Pran Nath. He taught us to play tamburas and he spent a lot of time teaching us and refining our technique. You know, the tambura looks easy to play and it is easy to play superficially, but to play it well, so that it just really is a continuously droning sound, you don’t hear any of the clunk that you could hear of the strings, because they’re not plucked, they’re stroked.

LA MONTE YOUNG: Well, it’s played in such a way that you let your fingers just pass by the string and they barely touch the strings and it’s like a breeze blowing the strings and they come into a state of vibration without an attack.

FRANK J. OTERI: And ideally it should be a long, sustained tone.

LA MONTE YOUNG: That’s right. And so it takes us back to my hearing the tambura on that original Ali Akbar Khan release on Angel Recordings in the 50s.