Ga­bor Dornyei and Kor­nel Hor­vath’s per­cus­sive force

Rhythm - - CONTENTS - Words: David West pho­tos: press

The history of pop­u­lar mu­sic is filled with great part­ner­ships – Jag­ger and Richards, Len­non and McCart­ney, Si­mon and Gar­funkel – but what about in the per­cus­sive arts? There have been plenty of bands that fea­ture a per­cus­sion­ist and a drum­mer, but the tHUN­der Duo of­fer some­thing quite unique. Drum­mer Ga­bor Dornyei and per­cus­sion­ist Kor­nel Hor­vath don’t need a band to make their mu­sic. In­stead they weave rich fab­rics of rhythm draw­ing upon a stylis­tic spool that cov­ers the globe. They both hail from Hun­gary, al­though Dornyei now calls Lon­don home. Hor­vath first trained as a flautist – he cites Jethro Tull and Ian An­der­son as in­flu­ences – be­fore dis­cov­er­ing the joys of per­cus­sion in Bu­dapest in the 1970s. “Be­cause back then un­der the old po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, com­mu­nism, the coun­try bor­ders in Hun­gary were closed, it was im­pos­si­ble to see western per­cus­sion­ists or oth­ers from dif­fer­ent cul­tural and mu­si­cal back­grounds such as Latin or In­dian mu­sic,” says Hor­vath, “so I had to make my own per­cus­sive style, and prob­a­bly that made my play­ing more in­di­vid­ual.”

Dornyei, the younger of the two, was the only mu­si­cian in his fam­ily. “I had a really, really strong in­stinct and de­sire to play the drums, well the sofa ac­tu­ally, so I just car­ried on play­ing along to all the records we had at home,” says Dornyei. “I did this to the point that my dear mother took me to the lo­cal mu­sic school – to a great teacher, Ga­bor Bedo – and af­ter that I took pri­vate lessons from an ex­cel­lent fu­sion drum­mer Peter Szend­ofi in Bu­dapest.” In­spired by the heavy­weights of fu­sion – in­clud­ing Steve Gadd, Peter Ersk­ine and Vin­nie Co­laiuta – Dornyei has been push­ing his lim­its ever since and in Hor­vath he found the per­fect mu­si­cal part­ner for their voy­ages into the great polyrhyth­mic un­known.

What mu­sic did you lis­ten to as young­sters that helped to shape your styles?

Kor­nel: “I feel very for­tu­nate that in my late teens in the mid­dle of the ’70s there was al­most like a mu­si­cal revo­lu­tion in the world, par­tic­u­larly in jazz and pro­gres­sive rock. Pro­gres­sive bands like Chicago, Chase or the great­est jazz artists such as Miles Davis, Her­bie Han­cock or Joe Zaw­inul were huge in­flu­ences on me. In all those jazz bands there were in­cred­i­ble per­cus­sion­ists who blew my mind, such as Airto Mor­eira, Alex Acuña, Mino Cinelu and oth­ers. I’d like to par­tic­u­larly men­tion a Brazil­ian jazz duo with Eg­berto Gis­monti and Nana Vas­con­se­los, where Nana’s per­cus­sion play­ing was ex­cep­tional and

prob­a­bly the big­gest in­flu­ence on me. His mu­si­cal­ity and on­stage pres­ence, vibe and com­mu­ni­ca­tion really caught me.”

What stands out in your mem­ory from the first time you per­formed as a duo?

Ga­bor: “I had an in­vi­ta­tion to per­form at the Drum­mer’s Car­ni­val in Bu­dapest in Fe­bru­ary 2005, and be­cause I had per­formed there be­fore I thought I should come up with some­thing spe­cial this time around. Kor­nel’s name came up im­me­di­ately, be­cause I grew up lis­ten­ing to him and thought, ‘Okay, who could take my crazy polyrhyth­mic ideas to the next mu­si­cal level and add some very unique sounds and feel to them?’ Af­ter he ac­cepted my in­vi­ta­tion, we started re­hears­ing at his house and the chem­istry be­tween us was there im­me­di­ately. Our first per­for­mance was a huge suc­cess, that wrapped up in a stand­ing ova­tion and that mas­sively ex­ceeded our expectations. We started think­ing, ‘Hmm, maybe there’s more to this than a one-off fes­ti­val per­for­mance!’ The rest is history.”

How did you first be­come in­ter­ested in polyrhyth­mic play­ing?

Ga­bor: “In my first ever semi-pro band we played some sort of rock-based World Mu­sic with in­ter­est­ing acous­tic in­stru­ments, such as vi­o­lin and flute. We also ar­ranged some folk songs for a rocky sound­ing band, where al­most ev­ery song was in an odd time sig­na­ture. So for me play­ing in odd times has be­come sec­ond na­ture. Our songs were in 5/8, 7/8 some­times even in 13/8. I was 17 at the time, prac­tised all day long – eight to 10 hours a day – and picked up any style very eas­ily. Later on I con­cep­tu­alised it and cre­ated a motto for my­self: ‘Be any­thing but av­er­age.’ I started play­ing th­ese odd note group­ings and rhythms over 4/4 grooves, which im­me­di­ately gave me some nice polyrhyth­mic ideas. The next thing I had to think about was my sound and the or­ches­tra­tion of my play­ing, be­cause I thought all th­ese dif­fer­ent rhythms would sound more in­ter­est­ing and mu­si­cal with some ex­tra sounds, so I started adding per­cus­sion stuff to my kit and a couple of ex­tra ped­als. For ex­am­ple I have a cow­bell that I play with my left foot and a Pearl Ca­ble hi-hat that I’m us­ing on my right-foot side, next to my dou­ble bass-drum pedal. Th­ese spe­cial ad­di­tional things took me even fur­ther away from an av­er­age drum­set player, and now it’s my big­gest plea­sure that at NAM 2016 we’re launch­ing glob­ally the Ga­bor Dornyei Drum Kit Per­cus­sion Add-Ons Set from Ty­coon Per­cus­sion, which will con­sist of a Black Pearl Mambo Bell, a Lip Block and aMount­able Tam­bourine, mainly aimed at kit play­ers.”

How did you de­velop your re­mark­able fa­cil­ity in polyrhythms?

Ga­bor: “Well, thanks for that but I’m not sure it’s very re­mark­able! When you see guys like Vin­nie, Cob­ham or Bozzio play­ing in the ’70s with Zappa and the Brecker Broth­ers – not to men­tion Joe Morello with Brubeck on ‘Take 5’ be­fore I was even born – and 30-, 40-odd years later you’re still im­pressed with it, now that’s re­mark­able for me! Re­spect for the mas­ters is a very im­por­tant fac­tor in my life. I guess it’s a hear­ing thing as well. As one of my other favourites Jojo Mayer said, ‘If you want to play fast, you need to hear fast.’ So the same goes for polyrhythms and odd times, you need to hear them and feel them first, then you get into their zone, and start en­joy­ing them in­stead of sweat­ing. Just last week I re­ceived a video from a fan in Italy, who tried to learn the con­cept of my ‘Alexan­der Hedge­hog’ solo which I filmed on DrumChan­nel. The left-foot cow­bell plays an os­ti­nato in 7/8 and I’m solo­ing over it some­times in seven, some­times in four. It was a really in­spir­ing feel­ing that some­one in an­other part of the world is tak­ing the time to try to learn and im­i­tate your mu­si­cal idea, and you know what, he didn’t quite nail it just yet, but he was good! I was so happy for him, and touched. And let’s not forget the most im­por­tant thing, you really need to prac­tise th­ese things a lot, there are no shortcuts. But it’s al­ways been easy for me, it’s never been a chore. I’ve en­joyed ev­ery sec­ond of my long prac­tice ses­sions, since no­body ever told me that I have to do it. I had no choice and I be­lieve that mu­sic chose me, not that I chose mu­sic. Now that I’m con­firmed for a solo global stream­ing on Drumeo in Van­cou­ver, Canada on 18 Jan­uary, my mis­sus told me that I’m not al­lowed to have a cof­fee ma­chine and food down at my Gabbey Road Stu­dio in our gar­den in Lon­don, be­cause she’s never go­ing to see me up in the house, I’ll be down there practising in the stu­dio 24/7 again, like back in the good old days! And she’s prob­a­bly right!”

How has the mu­si­cal chem­istry be­tween you changed over the years?

Kor­nel: “We felt there’s al­ways been a good chem­istry be­tween us from the be­gin­ning, but it’s ob­vi­ously im­proved tremen­dously over the years and play­ing to­gether has be­come sec­ond na­ture for us. We’ve al­ways tried to be as mu­si­cally ver­sa­tile and colour­ful as pos­si­ble. On top of this, we feel that our dy­nam­ics have be­come sig­nif­i­cantly big­ger and bet­ter, and that im­proves the mu­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ence a huge amount for the au­di­ences, drum­mers and all mu­sic lovers.”

How does the cre­ative process work? Is it born out of jam­ming? Does some­one come in with a pat­tern that acts as a start­ing point?

Kor­nel: “Both! Ev­ery com­po­si­tion and idea has its own story. Nor­mally one of us would come up with a core idea, and ei­ther have an all-round sound in his head, which he tells the other, for how he would imag­ine the en­tire com­po­si­tion, or he leaves a com­pletely open space for the other mem­ber who would im­me­di­ately have a re­flec­tion on the rhythm, sound and the mood of the piece. From there the com­po­si­tion con­stantly evolves, im­proves and even dur­ing gigs some­times we change bits, parts, and sec­tions, or af­ter the gigs we

“Through the solo sec­tions we can really ex­press our­selves, our mu­si­cal thoughts, feel­ings, rhythms and vir­tu­os­ity. It makes us feel free and that’s the very point…” Ga­bor Dornyei

dis­cuss if there was some­thing new and good, and whether we want to keep any of that. Even the com­po­si­tions on our first DVD, tHUNderDuoWith

DomFa­mu­laro, have changed a lot since we recorded them, be­cause we’re con­stantly tweak­ing them to make them more mu­si­cal and in­ter­est­ing.”

When cre­at­ing a piece for the duo, how much do you ap­proach it rhyth­mi­cally and how much do you think of the mu­sic as a melody?

Ga­bor: “Both again! In our drums and per­cus­sion mu­sic both rhythm and melody are equally im­por­tant, and strongly be­long to­gether. When it’s ‘just’ a drums and per­cus­sion duo, it’s easy to fall into the trap of be­ing mu­si­cally and dy­nam­i­cally mo­not­o­nous, but in our play­ing, the melodies and dy­nam­ics are very im­por­tant. We be­lieve that qual­ity drums and per­cus­sion mu­sic can be melodic as well and not only be­cause Kor­nel plays the amaz­ing Swiss hang drum, which is sim­i­lar to theCaribbean steel drum in sound, but also be­cause through our dy­nam­ics and touch we can ex­plore a cer­tain tonal rich­ness that creates melodies on the per­cus­sive in­stru­ments.”

Is ev­ery­thing no­tated or is it done by ear?

Ga­bor: “Some themes and uni­son bits are no­tated – mainly the more com­plex ones – that really helps the other half of the duo to work out the rhythms and phrases of their own parts. If it’s an eas­ier com­po­si­tion it’s cer­tainly not nec­es­sary, we can go by ear, but with some com­plex odd time or polyrhyth­mic crazi­ness it is bet­ter to have it no­tated for safety rea­sons!”

How much of each per­for­mance is ar­ranged and how much im­pro­vised?

Ga­bor: “It’s 50/50. Ev­ery com­po­si­tion has a main theme, rhythm or uni­son bit to it, but there are im­pro­vised sec­tions in ev­ery sin­gle one of them. We be­lieve that this is very im­por­tant, be­cause we’re jazzers deep in our hearts and self-ex­pres­sion is a mas­sively im­por­tant part of jazz and world mu­sic. Through the solo sec­tions we can really ex­press our­selves, our mu­si­cal thoughts, feel­ings, rhythms and vir­tu­os­ity. It makes us feel free and that’s the very point and mes­sage of tHUN­der Duo.”

Is jazz your pri­mary point of shared ref­er­ence? And how much does jazz shape the sound and style of the tHUN­der Duo?

Kor­nel: “Jazz is the very style that pro­vides us with the sort of mu­si­cal free­dom and op­por­tu­nity for self-ex­pres­sion that is ex­tremely im­por­tant to us. Im­pro­vi­sa­tional mu­sic is one of the most im­por­tant and sig­nif­i­cant con­tem­po­rary styles of our age. When we say jazz we don’t nec­es­sar­ily mean jazz in its clas­sic swing form, much rather a mod­ern style that in­cludes in­flu­ences from all around the world, such as Euro­pean, African, In­dian, North and South Amer­i­can styles in an im­pro­vised man­ner, that ex­plodes in a new and spe­cial 21st Cen­tury sound. It’s more of an ap­proach. An­swer­ing your sec­ond ques­tion, we feel that this is very in­ten­sively present in both of our play­ing. If you’re a jazz player you’re go­ing to ap­proach your in­stru­ment dif­fer­ently, your phras­ing, sound, style and touch will be dif­fer­ent from the rock guys, prob­a­bly your dy­namic scale will be slightly wider as well and you’re go­ing to have dif­fer­ent mu­si­cal ideas. We still love rock as well though!”

Is it tricky to find op­por­tu­ni­ties to re­hearse and cre­ate to­gether, given you live in dif­fer­ent places and both have other gigs?

Ga­bor: “It has be­come sig­nif­i­cantly more dif­fi­cult since I re­lo­cated to Eng­land over eight years ago, but we’re do­ing our very best to use ev­ery minute for re­hearsals when we’re to­gether on tour. The in­ter­net and the charts and no­ta­tions help mas­sively; we can send each other ideas and some­times we even re­hearse via Skype from my drum teach­ing stu­dio, Gabbey Road.”

How have you shaped and in­flu­enced each other’s play­ing over the last decade?

Kor­nel: “The duo for­mat is a very ex­cit­ing one – one of my favourites. It’s a hard one be­cause ev­ery­body’s equally im­por­tant and un­like in a larger ensem­ble you can­not hide! Lis­ten­ing to each other is vi­tally im­por­tant; mu­si­cal in­tel­li­gence and re­spect­ing each other and the mu­sic are nec­es­sary. We’ve come far in that re­spect too over the last decade. We’re con­stantly im­prov­ing it as well, but most im­por­tantly we’ve been en­joy­ing play­ing to­gether since the very first mo­ment we formed tHUN­der Duo.”

What has been the most sur­pris­ing ef­fect of play­ing with each other?

Ga­bor: “I’m not sure about Kor­nel, but I’ve

“We ig­nore all sorts of cul­tural or ge­o­graph­i­cal bor­ders in our mu­sic, so we’re tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from lit­er­ally every­where, there­fore any­thing can hap­pen” Kor­nel Hor­vath

cer­tainly be­come a gen­er­ally qui­eter drum­mer since we’re play­ing to­gether in the duo, and I’m more aware of the dy­nam­ics and gen­eral vol­ume of my kit be­cause that was the only way for Kor­nel to avoid break­ing his hands and fin­gers! On a se­ri­ous note, Kor­nel is a real in­spi­ra­tion for me. His com­mit­ment, ded­i­ca­tion, in­cred­i­ble knowl­edge, hand tech­nique and speed are sec­ond to none.”

Kor­nel: “Play­ing with Ga­bor is some­thing else be­cause it’s like play­ing along to a full-on drums and per­cus­sion ensem­ble! His re­fined tech­nique and mul­ti­ple in­de­pen­dence re­sult­ing in this ex­cit­ing mu­si­cal cli­max – which has been new for me at first.”

Do you have to be aware of leav­ing enough room for the other to play in?

Kor­nel: “It is ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary when you play in a small duo for­mat to leave enough room for each other and lis­ten to each other. Be­cause im­pro­vi­sa­tion is a very im­por­tant part of tHUN­der Duo’s mu­sic we’re of­ten chang­ing parts, grooves and whole sec­tions in­stinc­tively and nat­u­rally dur­ing gigs, and that will in­spire the soloist to play dif­fer­ent things and ex­plore dif­fer­ent mu­si­cal di­rec­tions. So, both the soloist and the back­ing mem­ber can be leader at the same time.”

You both draw upon a huge range of rhyth­mic tra­di­tions when you play. What in­spires you now and how do you con­tinue to find new ideas to bring to the ta­ble?

Kor­nel: “Be­cause our mu­si­cal win­dow is wide open, it’s fairly easy to find new ideas and in­spi­ra­tions for fu­ture com­po­si­tions. We do it de­lib­er­ately be­cause we’re aim­ing for mu­si­cal ver­sa­til­ity and would like to avoid cat­e­gori­sa­tion that we’re a ‘Latin duo’ or ‘funk unit’ or what­ever; there is room for ev­ery­thing in our mu­sic. We ig­nore all sorts of cul­tural or ge­o­graph­i­cal bor­ders in our mu­sic, so we’re tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from lit­er­ally every­where, there­fore any­thing can hap­pen in tHUN­der Duo’s mu­sic at any point! It also keeps us on our toes.In our up­com­ing sec­ond DVD, we’re open­ing the door for some elec­tronic sounds as well.”

How do you re­search dif­fer­ent rhyth­mic tra­di­tions?

Kor­nel: “We’re al­ways try­ing to go back to the roots and lis­ten to au­then­tic styles that in­spire us to go more deeply in that genre of mu­sic. The world of rhythm is so tremen­dously colour­ful that af­ter you learn from play­ers and styles with an open mind from all around the world, you’ll have the chance to cre­ate your own style and some­thing new! That’s prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant and the most dif­fi­cult thing in cre­ative mu­si­cian­ship.”

What do you have planned with elec­tron­ics?

Kor­nel: “Cur­rently I’m us­ing the Wave Drum from Korg. That pro­vides me with count­less ex­cit­ing sound pos­si­bil­i­ties that direct me to new di­men­sions. In the fu­ture we’re plan­ning to cre­ate new com­po­si­tions and broaden our spec­trum with the aid of th­ese great new sounds. On our cur­rent tHUN­der Duo 10th An­niver­sary Tour we’re al­ready play­ing one of the new songs on Wave Drum and acous­tic kit.”

Ga­bor: “I like the Roland TD-30s, and I use them in sev­eral dif­fer­ent ways. In tHUN­der Duo I’m plan­ning to have some ex­tra sounds that you can­not pos­si­bly get out of an acous­tic kit – tim­pani, chimes, gongs, or­ches­tral bells or even bass lines. It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing mu­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ence to say the least! But also, be­cause the world slowly moves to­wards ac­knowl­edg­ing the achieve­ments of tech­nol­ogy, and I re­ceive an in­creased num­ber of re­quests for pri­vate Skype drum lessons from all around the world – which I like and ap­pre­ci­ate, and also I’m Head Of Drums at DIME-ON­LINE – I find the Roland TD-30 ex­tremely use­ful in on­line mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion. Their vol­ume is eas­ily con­trol­lable so you can talk through/ above them and still sound great as if play­ing on a drum kit, while if you were play­ing an acous­tic kit, its vol­ume would be sig­nif­i­cantly louder, caus­ing dis­tor­tion on the other end via Skype. So they are

great for on­line ed­u­ca­tion pur­poses as well and help­ing me out a lot.”

Do you think you both feel time in the same way? Is there ever any push-pull be­tween you in terms of the time?

Ga­bor: “In our mu­sic and in the duo for­mat in gen­eral, the com­mon time feel – al­most like breath­ing and puls­ing to­gether – is very im­por­tant. We al­ways fol­low each other what­ever hap­pens and try our very best to make the mu­sic pulse to­gether. We have a very sim­i­lar time-feel nat­u­rally and it doesn’t mat­ter who’s right or wrong for us, the most im­por­tant thing is that we’re play­ing to­gether as a unit and sup­port­ing each other re­gard­less of who’s rush­ing, drag­ging or making any mis­takes. Of course we trust each other and know that no­body’s go­ing to do any­thing ex­treme, so it’s very easy. We just enjoy play­ing to­gether a lot, we play the mu­sic that we be­lieve in, we’re hav­ing fun and that’s a great state to be in.”

Do you mainly per­form at events geared to­wards drum­mers and other mu­si­cians? Is it im­por­tant for you to reach be­yond an au­di­ence of de­voted drum­mers?

Kor­nel: “It is cru­cial for us that our per­cus­sive mu­sic reaches out to ev­ery­body. We’re aim­ing to play for all mem­bers of the au­di­ence who enjoy mu­sic and rhythm and strictly not only for drum­mers. We’ve of­ten re­ceived a great re­ac­tion from fans who are just com­ing to our gigs and get­ting into the vibe, zone and en­er­gies of tHUN­der Duo’s mu­sic and per­for­mance. As much as you like to be ac­knowl­edged by the play­ers and mu­si­cians, that’s prob­a­bly the big­gest ac­knowl­edge­ment and com­pli­ment that a drums and per­cus­sion duo can get.”

What have been the high­lights of your part­ner­ship as tHUN­der Duo?

Ga­bor: “Wow, we’ve had quite a few but to name prob­a­bly the most sig­nif­i­cant ones, we would cer­tainly men­tion that on top of all the sold-out clin­ics, per­for­mances and in­ter­na­tional fes­ti­val ap­pear­ances over the years, the sign­ing of our first DVD, tHUNderDuoWithDomFa­mu­laro, to Hud­son Mu­sic was one of the first great, in­spir­ing plea­sures. And we started this year 2015 – our 10th an­niver­sary year – on a really high note since we were in­vited by our good friend and sup­porter Don Lom­bardi to record at DrumChan­nel in LA, which went really well. On the top of that, one of our favourite drum­mers, Pro­fes­sor Peter Ersk­ine, in­vited the Duo to give a per­for­mance and clinic at the Univer­sity of Southern Cal­i­for­nia in LA, which wrapped up in a stand­ing ova­tion. Th­ese are the things it’s worth do­ing it for and won­der­ful mem­o­ries we’ll never forget.”

Kor­nel: “Ev­ery com­po­si­tion and idea has its own story”

Says Ga­bor of play­ing in a duo: “I’ve be­come a qui­eter drum­mer, more aware of the dy­nam­ics of my kit”

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