Rob Thorne
Rob Thorne

Rob Thorne in discussion with Jono Galuszka
Rob Thorne lays out his instruments on a deep-green tablecloth. Most are handmade but the detail of the work is stunning, many adorned with intricate carvings He picks up a putatara, known in some cultures as a conch. It is made from a large shell with a wooden blowing tube. Thorne says the conch was one of the gifts given to Buddha, and is said to hold "all the sounds of the universe we can and can't hear". He puts it to his lips, fills his cheeks with air and blows. The deep drone of the instrument fills the room, reverberating, rising and falling as Thorne moves his hand in and out of the large shell. While slightly eerie, it is peaceful at the same time. It is not surprising when Thorne says it has a calming effect on people. "I've had people bring in screaming kids and, by the time I've finished playing they're fast asleep."

The traditional Maori instruments Thorne plays are known as taonga puoro. They are a far cry from what he was doing when he first started performing music in Palmerston North at the end of the 1980s. He first did solo acoustic-electric material under the moniker Man Alone, before working with others. "I got into bands, played (and smashed) guitars." It was while playing with the band Brickshithouse that a big musical change happened for Thorne, involving a screwdriver, a guitar and having his arm in plaster. "I cut my arm pretty badly in 1996. It was in a full cast to keep the tendons together.  I played some of those first Brickshithouse songs with a screwdriver, because I couldn't move my arm. The theory behind the music was 'free noise', the type of thing where they can't tell you what to do, and you can't tell them what to do; there is no right or wrong. You're working in a musical field, but have non-musical or non-standard outcomes."

The free-noise ethos is something Thorne has carried with him since then, and incorporated into his work with taonga puoro. He began playing taonga puoro about 10 years ago, shortly after moving from Levin back to Palmerston North to finish his bachelor of arts. Making the transition from rock music to the more traditional sound did come with challenges, he says. "I had to work really hard at not expressing ego; it's more about tradition and spirituality." 

 

Rob Thorne on WHAIA TE MARAMATANGA

So often, the recreation and revival of lost tradition comes from out of an experimental process. This is what I am trying to achieve with Whāia te māramatanga. Playing the instruments has given me a direct channel into my heritage, and now I see this as a two-way street, where it has given my ancestors a way to access me, to fulfill my ancestral destiny.

Ancient magical knowledge, across many cultures, recognises that ‘purposeful thought’ has the power to change people’s worlds, especially when coupled with sound. The album is breath-based and embedded with layers of ‘purposeful intention’. I believe sound can carry meaning, and that breath is the vehicle upon which consciousness rides. The rhythmic layer of breath that underpins this album is subliminal, encouraging a trance state that invites them into a deeper inner realm.

With so many layers of feeling and meaning, the listener can choose how deeply they explore the music. It affects people in different ways, and I have noticed this in live audiences. Some are calmed, while others key into a more intense inner journey or spiritual experience.

Whāia Te Māramatanga is a musical passage of identity and connection. It is a journey of knowledge through action and practice, reclaiming the past for a stronger future. It is a work in which ancestor and descendant are reacquaint, where ancient practices and their sounds are not just revisited, but actively reborn and reworked. As past and future become one in the present, time dissolves in a transcendental celebration of unity.
Rob Thorne, 2014

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