Stefan Cartwright
Category: Chakra

The Shruti Box

The Shruti Box is a friend and companion which has helped me to find my voice and develop my musical understanding. Wherever it goes, ears and eyes awaken.

The Shruti Box is an Indian instrument with its roots in Europe. The foot-operated bellows harmonium was invented in France and missionaries took it to India in the late 19th Century where it was adapted to suit Indian musicians. The keyboard was removed and a smaller, thinner floor based instrument was developed with the sole purpose of making drones. This offshoot became known as the Surpeti and subsequently the Shruti Box.

I first came across the instrument about a decade ago. I was immediately struck by its simple design and how easy it was to play. There was something familiar about the tone it made which made me smile and I found myself humming along to its sustained drone. I could see potential in this instrument as it was so accessible. Back then, the instrument was quite rare and the quality of Shruti Boxes available in India was comparatively speaking quite poor. It had also lost popularity due to people buying electronic plug and play drone units.

In 2006 I founded the Shruti Box Company and began working with the West Bengal based maker on the first prototype of a new instrument. After several months of research and development I discovered that spruce wood was the best wood I could use for resonance and warmth. For tonal clarity I chose Burmese teak, a scarce timber reclaimed from the timbers of old colonial buildings. The combination of a teak reedboard and spruce body gave me the sound I was searching for. I could feel the sound resonating in my heart, rich with overtones and pleasant on the ear. I reduced the size and was still able to maintain a good playing action with plenty of breath. I tried out different metal reeds made from bronze and brass before choosing the finest sounding ones. The M1 Shruti Box was born and over the years I have continuoulsy refined the instrument to a standard fit for everyday use and performance.

Nowadays the M1 Shruti Box has established itself as the leading instrument in its class and as a pan cultural instrument that can be played and enjoyed by anyone. Musicians use it for accompanying both voice and other instruments. Voice coaches and choir leaders use it to support singing. Meditators and Yoga practitioners use it for mantra and meditation practice. Therapists use it to help children with special needs relax and express themselves.

Why is it so popular?
Because it's so easy to play and sounds great. Within minutes you can be playing and enjoying the feel of a living, breathing acoustic instrument which works on the principle of moving air through fixed metal reeds. The resonance can be felt deep in the body and this actually helps you to find your pitch for singing. It is small (size of a laptop computer) and relatively light to carry. The reeds are of a fixed pitch, tuned to the concert standard A=440htz and it has a full chromatic octave meaning chords can be made in any key.


Stefan Cartwright is founder of the School of Creative Music Making and co-developer of the M1 Shruti Box. He leads Finding The Voice events around the UK. For further info contact <mail@innatemusic.co.uk>.

To hear a beautiful collaboration featuring the M1 Shruti Box, Voice and Oud visit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/womanshour/01/2009_43_mon.shtml

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