Redefining the drum-set with Rama Parwata

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Redefining the drum-set with Rama Parwata

Rama Parwata Manifesto
Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

The Stephanie Lake Company's Manifesto truly is a sight to behold. One for all your senses, a single viewing simply isn't enough.

Rama Parwata is a musician and sound artist living and working in Naarm. He has a huge catalogue of work under his belt in various bands across various genres, trying his hand at both the traditional drum-set as well as traditional Indonesian percussion elements.

Most recently, he’s been performing with the Stephanie Lake company as part of Manifesto, a drum and dance spectacle.

Rama, thanks for taking the time! For those unacquainted, can you introduce yourself?

Thank you so much for inviting me to talk about Manifesto! My name is Rama Parwata, I’m a musician based here in Naarm/Melbourne. I work primarily with the drum-set, but I work with percussion, gamelan, electronics, and essentially anything I can make noise with. I currently perform in a few bands, primarily Black Metal band, Kilat, Doom Metal band Whitehorse, Experimental Gamelan/Metal hybrid, Rinuwat. In addition to my work in bands, I perform experimental music as a solo artist, and together with collaborating with many other artists in many different sonic worlds.

Read up on all the latest features and columns here.

Stephanie Lake Company Manifesto

How did you get involved in Manifesto?

I received an invitation to be a part of the initial development phase by Robin Fox, the composer of Manifesto. I hadn’t met Robin properly at that time, but we both knew of one another on the peripherals. We caught up for a coffee and the rest, as they say, is history.

Manifesto is a show that combines nine drummers and nine dancers. The opening moments of the show display some unbelievable synchronisation. How are the nine drummers doing it?

Manifesto is a show that is just as impressive behind the curtain as it is in front. As many theatrical shows go, Manifesto is a spectacle that is fueled by striking lights and panoramic sound as it is by the performers themselves. To synchronise much of the precise lighting and dynamic sound mixing changes to the drumming, a cueing system is used that feeds a click track to each individual drummer, via in–ear monitors. These abrupt yet steadfast changes in the show assert a sense of synchronicity between each drummer, and further, the drummers and the dancers.

Along with the synchronicity between drummer and lighting, the click provides an invaluable tool for us drummers to stay tight as a unit. An interesting facet of working with 9 drummers, is that it redefines the role of a drum-set. The drum-set being an invention of the early jazz era, to integrate various percussion instruments from varying cultures in order to amalgamate several percussionists into one person. To double up, or in this case multiply it by nine-fold seems theoretically counter-intuitive. As the ‘metronome’ of a musical ensemble, which drum-set would dictate the tempo? Who would count in? The click track answers these questions for the ensemble, and is a necessary tool to ensure and maintain the synchronicity of the drummers.

The incredible lighting/sound team of James Wilkinson, Bosco Shaw and Rachel Lee are the ones who keep it all afloat, and we are only as good as they are. Thankfully enough, we are in very safe hands.


Photo by Wendell Levi Teodoro

How composed are the drum parts throughout the show? Have you got space to improvise?

The show is fully composed, however the compositional process was highly informed by improvisation. The initial development phase saw composer Robin Fox working with myself, and fellow drummers Nat Grant, Alex Roper and Robbie Avenaim to create much of the body of the final score. Largely deriving from a place of improvisation, we bounced off ideas to one another, experimented with sounds, and saw what we could possibly do with multiple drummers. Many of these ideas were formalised into the final score of Manifesto

Improvised drum solos

In the final score, there are a few sections that allow us drummers to have improvisational freedom. The most conspicuous one being the ‘drum solos’ section where we trade a long continuous drum solo throughout the ensemble, in which a light follows each drummer, back and forth, gradually increasing the speed of which the group drum solo travels. More subtly, other sections would allow ‘guided’ improvisations, wherein we would improvise, but to a structure that would follow the choreography. 

Fascinatingly enough, improvisation also had a significant role in the development of Stephanie Lake’s incredible choreography for Manifesto.

What was it like working with different drummers from such varying backgrounds?

With such varying backgrounds of genre, training, style, experience, gender etc. it’s such an amazing opportunity to connect with such a diverse and incredible group of people.

Even though the score is uniform and set, part of its brilliance is that it allows for enough of our personalities as drummers to shine. Small idiosyncrasies feed into the score, which give the show character and genuinity. These distinctive slight variations keep each run fresh and exciting, even after us running it over at least a hundred times at this point. 

I feel that in the early stages of Manifesto, each drummer had the ability to input their own take on the score, and seeing each drummer grow into the show, and become more confident with the piece has been such an incredible thing to witness. As the show has gone along, we’ve gelled more, and now when we perform the show, it gradually feels like nine friends having fun on stage. The combined jovial nature of us as a unit, is reciprocal towards the audience, which then comes back to us etc. 

As stated regarding the role improvisation played in Manifesto, the choreography also addresses the various backgrounds and personalities of each dancer and uses them as foundational creative anchors to build the work. The work shines because it displays the character of each performer, drummer and dancer alike.

How has playing in Manifesto influenced your playing outside of the show?

The biggest influence Manifesto has had on me and my playing has honestly been observing and learning from Stephanie Lake and Robin Fox’s incredible work ethic along with their acute and sharp attention to detail, not to mention their incredible leadership abilities. They strive for perfection in everything they do and I would confidently say that they have influenced the entire cast of Manifesto.

Who do you think would enjoy Manifesto?

The beautiful thing about Manifesto, is its impressive ability to appeal to so many different people. It’s a spectacle for the senses. The score, the choreography, the lights, everything. The most common comment we receive is “I wasn’t sure whether to look at the drummers or the dancers, I need to see it again”. It makes people feel something, whether it be a rush of life-affirming positive energy, or simply an hour of escapism. 

We’ve performed Manifesto all over the country and now, internationally. Every single show has received a standing ovation. I’ve had people who are renowned artists come up to me singing its praises and people who aren’t involved in the arts whatsoever approach me with rave reviews. I don’t believe that it targets a certain demographic. Anyone can see it and hopefully get something out of it. 

Thanks for taking the time. As a closer, surely you’d have some stories about rehearsing to share?

My absolute pleasure. 

More of a performative story than a rehearsal story, but Robin Fox sitting in on the drums in our debut international performance in Recklinghausen, Germany was pretty wild. It was his first time publicly playing drums in 30 years, and it was to a sold out one thousand capacity theatre. He absolutely nailed it. 

Keep up with Rama here. Manifesto will be taking place at Auckland Festival in New Zealand in March, as well as Madrid, Spain and Châlons-en-Champagne, France in May. For more info visit the Stephanie Lake Company.