Profile on Jon Sterckx

Credit: Peter Morgan

Image Credit: Peter Morgan 

Whilst Soumik Datta and Bernhard Schimpelsberger tour the world with their groundbreaking collaborative project, Circle of Sound, things are still happening from other quarters of the UK from other musicians.  Cue Jon Sterckx, an artist with over 20 years experience in world percussion, based in Stroud, Gloucestershire.  

Jon’s musical journey began in the late 1980's by watching and playing with musicians he met during his travels in Egypt and India.  Immediately drawn to the Indian tabla, Jon took intensive training with some of the most recognised tabla teachers in India & the UK, notably Harjinder Singh Matharu, whom he trained with in the UK between 1994 - 1998.  During this time, Jon frequently returned to India to learn with Shivanand Bhandari at the Naadashree Arts Institute in Kumta, Karnataka, and also Kailash Nishad in Benares, (Varanasi) who he trained with between 1998 - 2005.    

With a BA (Hons) Music degree from the Dartington College of Arts, and extensive experience in performing, composing and musical direction, Jon is an all-round artist.  He works as a freelance musician; performing, teaching and delivering workshops to universities, schools and colleges and is an Associate Lecturer at the University of Plymouth.
An impressive CV, but what does the artist have to say for himself? 
Pulse: You're based in Gloucestershire, what's the music scene like there and what sort response do you get from audiences who might not have seen/heard these instruments before?
Jon: I've not been based in Gloucestershire for long so am still getting to know the local music scene, but I've been based in the South West area for around fifteen years. There's an increasing interest in Indian music & world music in general in the region and I find that many of the events and audiences are keen to support both the traditional and less traditional approaches to music. 
I have given many performances at cultural events held by the Asian communities and societies in the region and always have a very positive response. Some of the audiences in more remote areas who have had little or no contact with this music or the instruments are often fascinated by them and responses are always very enthusiastic. In my Drumscapes performances I've had people from 7 to 70 years old up and dancing to the rhythms.
We understand that you tried Egyptian tabla before moving onto Indian tabla - what's the difference and do you prefer using one to the other?
Egyptian tabla - often referred to as darabuka in the west - is a single headed goblet shaped drum and is played held to one side, rested on one knee with the skin vertical. Indian tabla are a pair of drums, a wooden treble drum and a metal bass drum, played with both the drums and the player sat on the floor. The sounds of the drums and the playing techniques are very different. While both involve precise finger playing techniques, Indian tabla has a wider range of sounds and strokes. This is partly due to having two drums with composite skins rather than the single membrane of the Egyptian tabla.
I still play Egyptian tabla as well as Indian tabla and I enjoy playing both. I have studied and explored Indian tabla in more depth and find it more challenging, more rewarding and more versatile.
Your background is fascinating - combining travel and music - very nomadic. Almost like something out of a novel. Was it always your ambition to discover new sounds to use in your work?
I did live a fairly nomadic lifestyle for many years when I was younger, including living for several months in the desert and also spending three months canoeing down the Ganges. Initially my travels weren't music related, but through travelling I became more and more interested in the music I was encountering and particularly in the percussion and the rhythms. My travels then became more music focussed, particularly in returning to India a number of times to learn and develop my tabla playing.
How do you find it working with instruments that are hundreds of years old and groundbreaking sound technology?
There are challenges involved in combining the two, particularly technical challenges when it comes to performing the material live. There are also aesthetic challenges and choices to be made when composing regarding which elements of the traditional techniques, rhythms & concepts will work effectively in a contemporary context without becoming too diluted.
I try to maintain a balance between using the instruments' traditional sounds and techniques, while also exploring the potential of those instruments combined with modern techniques of sound manipulation to create new sounds and sonic textures, sometimes to the point where the sound of the instrument itself might be unrecognisable, and the processed sound is all that is heard. In Drumscapes performances, all instruments and sounds are played, sampled and manipulated live on stage. 
I think it is important that the traditional music, instruments and techniques are kept alive and thriving in their traditional contexts - that should never be lost - but I also think that it is natural for things to develop and change with time, and to be combined with current ideas and processes. Combining these traditional instruments with technology isn't new - artists like Talvin Singh, Nitin Sawhney and many others have been doing it since the early 1990's. What makes my Drumscapes a bit different is that the tracks are created using just the acoustic instrument & vocal input, with no pre recorded samples or backing tracks, and that the multi layered tracks are created from scratch live on stage. It's only fairly recently that technology has reached a point where this live 'studio on stage' performance has become possible in this way, and it is fun to be part of the exploration of these new possibilities. I also think it's natural to explore, experiment & try out new ideas - after all it must have been through exploration & experimentation that the instruments and techniques were developed in the first place.
For further information, music and videos: 
Jon has a busy summer with gigs lined up throughout the UK, here’s some dates for your diary:  
Saturday, July 7 - Midsummer Fiesta, Cheltenham - Drumscapes
Tuesday, July 10 - Frome Festival - Indian classical
Saturday, July 14 - Quest Festival, Devon - Drumscapes
Sunday, July 15th - Cardiff Mela - Drumscapes
Sunday, July 22 - Rhythmtree Festival, Isle of Wight - Drumscapes
Sunday, July 29 - Lyme Regis - Indian classical
Sunday, August 26 - Worcester music Festival - Drumscapes
Saturday, September 1st - Pulse Festival, Southampton - Drumscapes