Ottawa New Music Creators


Program Notes: Shawn Mativetsky and Marie-Hélène Breault at Bar Robo, Ottawa, March 18th 2017



Program Notes

Shawn Mativetsky (tabla) and Marie–Hélène Breault (flute)

at Bar Robo, Ottawa

March 18th, 2017, 8pm


Tabla Solo in Teentaal Traditional, arr. Shawn Mativetsky

Something to Say (2014) Tawnie Olson

Farmaishi (2003) Payton MacDonald

Coil (2013) Taylor Brook WORLD PREMIERE

Shadow Play (2007) Jim Hiscott (Canada)


Traditional, arr. Shawn Mativetsky - Tabla Solo in Teentaal
Tabla solo, with harmonium accompaniment

In the Benares baaj (style), the art of solo tabla performance is greatly respected and very highly developed. There are more than twenty forms of composition in use, many of them unique to this tradition. Some are theme and variation forms which require spontaneous improvisation by the performer, while many others involve sophisticated compositional techniques with fixed pieces handed down from generation to generation. In addition, there is a well defined procedure for joining the various types of compositions to form a logical and pleasing performance. The solo also includes vocal recitation of tabla compositions, using the traditional 'solfege' syllables called bol.

A tabla solo is traditionally played in a sixteen beat taal, a rhythmic cycle, known as Teentaal. Throughout the performance, an aural outline of this taal is maintained by means of a cyclic melody known as a lehra, performed on harmonium.

Tawnie Olson - Something to Say (2014)

John Cage once famously declared “I have nothing to say, and I am saying it.” As I was writing this piece, I wondered what the opposite of Cage’s statement would be, and thought it might be “I have something to say, but I am not saying it.” I think the latter statement describes how we often relate to one another. I know that when people say things to me that hurt or upset me, I can have difficulty responding; I might be too upset to speak, or worried about overreacting, and decide to say nothing.

As part of the process of composing “Something to Say,” I wrote down some things said to me by family, friends, and colleagues. Since none of these things were recorded at the time they were spoken, Shawn and I asked friends to read and record these phrases. (For the record: none of these readers believe what I asked them to say!) I used these recordings in this piece, and I also borrowed from a genre of traditional tabla music, called “bol paran,” in which the tabla imitates the sound of human speech. If you listen carefully, after you hear a recorded voice you’ll often hear Shawn reproduce part of the spoken phrase on his instruments.

I am so grateful to Shawn Mativetsky for asking me to write this piece, and for playing it so beautifully. It is dedicated to him and to Equality Now.

Payton MacDonald - Farmaishi (2003)

A farmaishi tukra is a special composition for tabla that has unique structural characteristics. MacDonald uses two farmaishi tukras from the Benares tabla tradition as the starting point for this piece. The first is in subdivisions of four (or eight), whereas the second is subdivided into groupings of seven. When these compositions are recontextualized within the context of Western music, we hear their personalities, their peculiarities anew, like an old friend who suddenly changes his appearance or personality.

Taylor Brook - Coil (2013)

Coil, for solo tabla and tape, was written for Shawn Mativetsky. The tape part for Coil was made in the Winter of 2013 and was produced with a custom-made computer-improvisation program of my own creation. After making an extensive sample library of an acoustic guitar, a MAX/MSP patch was created that improvises pitches based on probability curves. What is unusual about this program is that it understands pitch as interval and may call upon a rich palette of extended just intonation ratios. After writing the rhythms of the solo tabla part, these notes were elaborated upon and fed into the computer improviser to create a kind of extended rhythmic unison.

Jim Hiscott - Shadow Play (2007)

In Shadow Play, composer Jim Hiscott took his inspiration from Balinese shadow puppet theatre and married it with the Benares tabla tradition. The flute and tabla chase after each other in playful fashion, with each in turn taking on the role of soloist and accompanist.


This concert was presented by Ottawa New Music Creators. Find us at,, and for the latest concert season news.

Our thanks to the City of Ottawa for their ongoing support. 

Curtis Perry