Percussivo Mundo Novo Merges the Past With the Future

Percussivo Mundo Novo is not your typical electronic band. Leader Mikael Muti and his colleagues hail from Salvador in Bahia, one of Brazil's largest provinces where percussion instruments and traditions hark back more than 500 years to Africa. Muti has combined the old and new cultures in his ensemble of re-designed computer-operated drums. After working…

Percussivo Mundo Novo is not your typical electronic band. Leader Mikael Muti and his colleagues hail from Salvador in Bahia, one of Brazil's largest provinces where percussion instruments and traditions hark back more than 500 years to Africa. Muti has combined the old and new cultures in his ensemble of re-designed computer-operated drums.

After working with electronic music since '96 to get the flavor of Brazilian percussion on the keyboard, he was not content with the standard method. Doggedly, he played around until he discovered how to do it with video game controls using a touch-screen and Guitar Hero controller.

On his guitar, he has an iPod, a video controller and a telephone. Each button on the phone makes a different sound. The idea was never to replace the real instruments but to find interesting ways of using new technologies to enhance them.

Because Bahia originally was a major destination in the slave trade, it is today the largest African state outside the continent. The African-Brazilian religious culture colors all aspects of society there, none more than the traditional street party, where Muti and his ensemble first exhibited the concept that had sprung to life in his studio.

While they were playing, he kept hearing a voice inside his head telling him that they must give something back in their performance. He did not realize that they were performing a religious ritual at the street party until a spiritual master approached him and confirmed that they had done something important for the gods.

The samba rhythm leaps to life on the instruments Muti and his percussionists re-imagined. One drum, the Brazilian surdo, is double-headed. Its two skins have different tunings mating the powerful bass sound with the loud, high sound of the timbau of African origin that's played like a Cuban drum. Another instrument which adds flavor to Muti's keyboard and the drums is the berimbau, a single-stringed bow with a twanging sound. It arrived in Bahia with African slaves and dates far back in time.

Muti is so excited about his electronic discoveries that he has approached companies making video controls only to find that they simply do not understand what he is talking about. He plans to continue canvassing them until he meets someone in the business who sees the logic. Even audience members are skeptical at first until he invites them to play the instruments as they would a video game.

Since video games have become part of our culture and all children know how to operate them, Muti believes it only natural that the technology can be adapted for use in other ways and desires its audiences to discover that it's possible to look to the future without losing the past.