Last month, strolling past the numerous chains of multi-national restaurants and outlets at one of Kuwait's most visited places, The Avenues Mall, one could have become enraptured by a strange but nevertheless beautiful sound emanating from within the mall. But most people were engrossed in their own chit chat or plugged in to the tunes of their liking crooning in their ears that they never had the opportunity to listen to what was decidedly a riveting experience.
Following the sound I arrived at its source, a guy rhythmically tapping his glove-clad fingers on what appeared to be upturned round white pan that was lying in his lap. A small crowd had gathered around him to listen to the unusual music that stemmed from the pan every time the artist struck the instrument with his fingers.
It appeared that the small audience that had gathered around was as clueless as I was about the instrument or how it produced such enticing sounds. So some among the mesmerized crowd ventured to ask the artist what it was that he was playing.
That is when I learned that the instrument was called the 'Oval', a fairly new digital musical instrument that recently joined the league of its Swiss acoustic precedent the 'Hang'. Not only did the ‘Oval’ produce unique percussions but it also pleased the ears with its varied, heart-melting melodic lines and timbres that went from sitar to guitar, from violin to flute, from drums to piano.
Just when the artist was done communicating its cosmic sounds, I got hold of the inventor of the Oval and a pioneer player of the Hang, the one and only Ravid Goldschmidt.
An ex-pat living in Barcelona, Goldschmidt is one of the first Hang players in the world. "I studied music; although I initially learned the piano, I have always enjoyed playing the drums and I have been playing it all my life. In fact, not just drums, but anything that makes sounds," said Goldschmidt.
"It was in 2001 that I first saw the Hang; I was at a festival and met a guy from Switzerland who had the Hang with him, but he did not really know how to play it. So he gave it to the people around him to try it out and that’s how I got to play the Hang for the first time.
Though it was the first time, somehow playing the Hang seemed to come naturally to me and by the time I had finished the place was full of people wanting me to continue by concert. That’s when I knew that the Hang was the instrument for me. I found out that the best combination of melody and percussion was in the Hang," said the artist.
That same year, enthralled by the beauty of the Hang's sound, Goldschmidt went to live in the Negev desert, where the stillness and silence provided the perfect environment necessary to master the instrument.
Later, in 2002, he traveled to Bern, Switzerland to the 'Hang-house', Luthier, to study Hang manufacturing and tuning: "I sent an email to the Swiss people, asked them about the instrument and if it would be possible to learn from them. When they said ‘Yes’, I did not hesitate, I took the next flight to Bern. I found myself in Switzerland, working in the house of Hang, learning how to make it, more than learning how to play it."
Over the years he has evolved his technique and unique playing style and without doubt, Goldschmidt is today, one of the top international proponents of the instrument. He has developed a variety of playing techniques, producing music that has to be experienced to be believed.
He has performed in numerous international music festivals, concerts and events in localities as far afield as Spain, England, Italy, Belgium, Turkey, Egypt and Canada. He has also performed and given workshops all over the world. Lately, to be exact, since the last two months, he has been introducing his new instrument, the Oval.
It was in Barcelona that he went to work with an electrical engineer and built the first digital Hang. Soon, the two guys turned into a small team which designed applications for the instrument, finished its industrial design and took care of the public relations and other related aspects. "We came up with a Kickstarter campaign, to fund the project just two months ago," he revealed.
Goldschmidt's amazing innovation the Oval, produced by Ovalsound and developer Alex Posada, has different scales just as the acoustic hang, but in addition it also has several varied internal scales as well as sounds of different instruments.
He relates the music that Oval creates, to meditation, "The sounds that it creates are harmonious, cosmic and spiritual sounds. What is interesting is that it is circular and a lot of its melodic repetitions, in loop, behave like mantra."
The special sound of the Oval, which is based on Hang that was created in Switzerland about eight years ago, is in turn based on the Steeldrums of Trinidad and Tobago, which has a fair amount of history going for it.
However, the Oval's percussion platform mimics the new-age, multi-dimensional characteristics which are just as versatile as the shape of it. Kickstarter, the global crowd funding platform says it best about the Oval, "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts."
Through funding from their Kickstarter campaign, 700 more Ovals are already on their way to being manufactured for orders from people as far apart as India, US, Europe and other parts of the world.
Goldschmidt finds "the quality of sound and the harmonies inside the instrument, and the idea of a rounded instrument" an appealing factor in the Hang and the Oval. "Most of the musical instruments are linear and aligned, but the whole way of creating music changes with the Oval; it is like taking a piano and curving it."
Elaborating on his need to devise the Oval, mainly from the limitedness in terms of scale of the Hang, Goldschmidt said, “When I used to go for concerts, I had to carry at least three Hangs with me — one with a typical scale from India, one of a typical scale from Arab, the other for Flamenco or Europe.
“Whereas with the Oval you simply plug it into an Ipad or tablet, or Iphone or any android phone, and all the scales, simply work together for several instruments, through an app. The idea is to make it your own. It is a new thing, and it is equally good for musicians as it is for DJs as it allows for infinite explorations and sound effects," said Goldschmidt on a closing note.
Ravid Goldschmidt was invited to Kuwait for the Eid festivities by On Time. On the 17 and 18 July, he was featured in The Avenues Mall with the collaboration of Special Events and Creartys. Currently, the percussion artist is working with the London-based composer and DJ, Nitin Sawhney, who would be featuring a song for one of Goldschmidt's upcoming CDs.
Watch Ravid Goldschmidt play Hang and Oval at The Avenues Mall:
By Ghazal Kotwani