March 11, 2021 4 min read
Interview: Aurelio C. Hammer - Instrument Maker
Early this year, EarthMoments launched a series of virtual instruments called 5Elements, which features 8 unique handmade instruments crafted and designed by Svaram Musical Instruments & Research situated in Auroville, South India. We caught up with Aurelio C. Hammer, founder of Svaram to tell us all about his inspiration behind creating musical instruments.
Tell us about yourself and your process of creating instruments. How did you become an instrument maker?
I was born in Austria in the Alps and had the good fortune of being raised in nature where, every day the birds announced the sunrise. I think I was always more on the listening side of life…I was listening to nature. In my 20s, I started to work with instrument making. During my Masters in Switzerland I suddenly realized that I wanted to co-create with sound. The process of having inert material and working this material to bring sound to life was very exciting to me.
That does sound exciting! Could you describe to us what music means to you personally?
Music gave me the opportunity of connecting or creating my own world. I could dive into and change reality with this sound. And now, after 50 years of this exploration, music for me is representative of the vibration and dimension of our very existence. Music can be a medium for us to connect from our material universe to other dimensions of existence, across inner and higher realms. I practiced stillness for quite a few years, sitting for moments in silence. Music would bring me back from silence to life. So I see music as this channel that opens the possibility of traveling between existences.
And your journey with Svaram is nearing 30 years. What inspired you to start Svaram and why particularly in Auroville?
In my 20’s I travelled all over the world, explored different cultures and their expression of music in ceremonies, rituals, and healing. When I came to India in the 80’s, I was very attracted to the Indian sound of the Tambura. Studying Indian music was like entering into the deep domain of the science of music. Indian Classical music is so scientific and detailed, and studying it was like opening a portal into the infinity.
I began a cultural centre, interested in family heritage work and the traditions of indigenous people especially around Auroville. Together with the youth at the village and across professions like carpentry, mechanics, painting and electrical workers, all of whom were unemployed, we began creating instruments.
Your instruments are so unique. What’s the seed idea behind each instrument?
I have always felt that music is the link between worlds. Most instruments begin from the imagination. And if this can be brought to shape, with feelings and patterns, suddenly there is a longing for a certain sound quality. From this, we can bring it to form. Instruments extend our human faculties and further enhance them.
The process is long, from thought, to exploration and experimentation through trial and error. It can take a year for a new sound source to be created. It is a beautiful co-creative process from an idea until all of us come together to bring it to life.
Once a prototype is created, then we begin refining, tuning, diving into the ergonomics. An instrument too has to go through the various stages of schooling like a child would, before it ‘graduates’, and can be presented to the world.
Are there other processes of harnessing inspiration?
In India river Saraswati is the embodiment of inspiration. We tap into the source energy which then flows through us, almost in an altered state. If I work with somebody and there’s an intense deep process there, touching altered states, and in movement, new ideas come to light.
I call music instruments sonic tools for being able to move from sound to space. I remember when I spent time with the Aborigines, we would make music in the Canyons. We drummed on the canyon walls, and even if you were a kilometre away, you heard the sound! So I think it’s basically material, vibration and resonance that comes into being which spreads through space.
Is there a process involved in crafting instruments? What are the stages?
We begin with raw material, such as wood or stone. The first stage is planning and cutting. Next would be refining and then finally tuning. Once this is done, you consider the body or form. Instrument makers know that instruments involve harmony. So the mood while creating is important. Is there a specific intent? Who are the people to be involved? What are the qualities to be included into the instruments? These are some of the questions we ask ourselves when we start a new instrument.
Do nature and surroundings influence instrument making?
Auroville is a utopian community which brings people from all over the world to co-exist together in nature. I think we are very fortunate that our instrument workshop is in the midst of nature. We have a huge Bodhi tree which is kind of like the focal point of the whole project. I think that’s a beautiful foundation because what we are looking for in our instruments is capturing the atmosphere and the inherent harmonic structure of nature. What makes nature so attractive? Because the aesthetics are right in nature. The divine creator is the big artist.
What materials do you use to create instruments?
The whole palette of nature can be used as materials. We start with seeds from the palm trees, from bushes, from rainforests, even bamboo. We also have a fabulous collection of local tropical hardwoods.
We also work with metals such as Aluminium alloys, Brass and Copper.
How do you feel about the transformation of your instruments into virtual instruments within 5Elements?
I have to admit, about 15 years ago I collaborated with an artist in California who had a funky old analog synthesizer. It was amazing.
Now I am equally excited for EarthMoments to bring 5Elements and the instruments and sounds of Svaram to the people who don’t have easy access to these instruments. I hope these instruments inspire people to tune in to the vibrations of nature.
5Elements is now available
Click Here To Find Out More
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