Djembe & Mande Music Page/Review Section(last revision 02/11/99)
TITLE: BREATH WAS THE FIRST DRUMMER ARTIST: DRU KRISTEL FORMAT: BOOK COMPANY: QX PUBLICATIONS / A.D.A.M. INC. NUMBER: ISBN 0-9647845-0-5
(Available from: QX PUBLICATIONS / A.D.A.M. INC.
P.O. BOX 8415; SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO USA 87504
(505) 982-3402; HEAVEN@NETS.COM
Dru Kristel could be described as a contemporary Shamanistic drummer. The broad context of his book is an exploration of drumming and "the musical life as a spiritual discipline". Although the book is not a technical treatise on any specific drum tradition or style, "Breath" is a comprehensive overview of drums, drumming and their relationship to drummers.
Kristel's spiritual and metaphysical orientation are immediately apparent from the book's opener, "Medicine Pipe Song", a Native American invocation to the directions and elements. From there the material enters a "Brief History of Music":
"...in this way we have learned to play the drum. In this way we have learned to sing, dance and make love. It is all a response, a response to life and being alive in the world... ...We are in love when we play music and when we dance. This makes everyone happy. Being in love this way reminds us of our source and there is great joy."
The chapter on Drum Types is a good overview of the wide variety of drums found around the world. The author makes distinctions about how size, shape, thickness and skin types all affect the resulting sound. Descriptions of the different hand techniques used on various drums are presented. Further chapters on tuning, methods for mounting the skins to the drum and a great section on drum construction make this a wonderful introductory book for anyone interested in drums and drumming.
In some ways the book struck me as having a similar flavour to Mickey Hart's books. There are stories from various indigenous cultures which illustrate many of the ideas presented. Numerous photographs as well as Kristel's own artistic renderings of sound phenomena are sprinkled through the book. As I read BREATH I had a sense this would make a great beginning textbook for those of you who are teaching drumming in an institutionalized setting.
The last third of the book describes how drumming affects us on spiritual and metaphysical levels. The use of metaphors and various eastern philosophical models "present another way in which to view what we already know". Although a bit esoteric at times, Kristel describes the mechanisms behind rhythmic attunement in shamanistic and tribal drumming, as well as the transformational results. An excerpt:
"Drum rhythms set up muscle rhythms which set up breathing RHYTHMS which set up heartbeat rhythms which set up electromagnetic rhythms (THIS IS THE 'EVOCATIONAL' PART) in the environment which feedback by reflex TO THE MUSCLES, TO THE OXYGEN, TO THE BLOOD, TO THE ELIMINATIVE AND RESPIRATORY SYSTEMS. This reciprocating feedback (this is the 'invocational part'), leaves reverberating effects up to 48 to 72 hours after a session."
My favorite parts of the book are where the author focuses on a suggested approach to playing, one he calls The Way of the One Note: "The school of One Note teaches will. It takes will to play a real note, a note with presence. It takes attention to play a real note..."
Dru Kristel is apparently someone who has studied a variety of drum cultures and traditions and synthesized the essential principles into a unique and authentic approach to transformational drumming. If your interests in the percussive world range beyond those of classes and traditional arrangements I think there are a number of valuable clues for players of all levels to glean from this book.