Indian Classical Mix

Ok, so let's drop some fuckin' science!

I wrote about these records, as cursorily and unprofessionally as is expected of me, at the original TWANBOC blog. In those antediluvian days one couldn't simply upload mixes which people could stream. That's all changed.

Currently I have 89 mixes on my Mixcloud page. My aim is to have 100 there. 100 mixes which cover the fields of music I'm interested in. Which do justice to my tastes. None of us lives forever. All good things must come to an end.

Accordingly I've been going through my collection of records by genre; slowly picking off the important ones. And Indian Classical music is very close to my heart. It surprises me that in a climate in which the "Composer", "Neo-Avant Garde" and "Drone" are such immutable fixtures that there is almost no coverage of this massively important music. No reissues. Like for instance (to pick a random example) INA-GRM has arranged for it. And yet, of all the "out" musics this is unquestionably the most lovely.

I picked up these records in the nineties. With both my own recent travels in the sub-continent and the post-Acid musical climate in mind. I can't claim to have any gurus with regards to guiding my choice, but I remember David Toop was also "out there". I suppose Arthur Russell's influence, "World of Echo" dropping in my world like a Neutron Bomb, is also tangible.

This selection amounts to a third, the best, of my collection of this music. The whole part in itself carefully chosen. 

The things I liked were almost always on non-standard instruments. That boils down to NO SITARS. I don't mind sitars actually, but once you remove them from Indian Classical Music its "unflavoured" sonic purity is made manifest.

You may not have enjoyed this music before, you may be prejudiced against it. But cast aside your preconceptions - zone out - think of it as summertime, Ambient Music if you like - but LISTEN to the awe-inspiring breadth of expression these masters bring to but single instruments as these sonic worlds unfurl like mandalas.

Sivakumar Sarma - Rageswari

On the legendary French Ethnographic label "Ocora". The Santur sounds a little like a Harpsichord - it's a strange instrument played by hammering strings with small wooden sticks. Sarma, or Sharma, was the undisputed master. This LP was on my WOEBOT 100 list and it justifiably belongs there.

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan - Ahir Bhairav

If the Santur is like a dulcimer, the Sarod is something like an Oud, guitar or mandolin. Much lower in tuning than the Sitar. I always think this stunning recording by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan has a bluesy, almost Rolling Stones-like, quality to it. A bit like that delicious, forbidden pleasure Ry Rooder's "Paris, Texas" soundtrack, even. Notes here like birds.

Ustad Bismillah Khan / Prof V.G.Jog - Jai Jawanti

Jugalbindi as a form is something like a jam. A duet between two master musicians. Bismillah Khan is the go to man for the Shenai, which is like an Oboe with X-ray powers. Jog, a magnificent violinist.

Another wonderful thing about this recording is the cicadas which mesh with the drone of the tambura to create an ecstatic, psychedelic background. Just wait till those spine-tingling, magic moments when they dovetail their phrases...

Ustad Nathoo Khan - Purbi

Sarangi, a bowed string instrument, is another fantastic "non-standard" Indian Classical music instrument. The "late" Ustad Nathoo Khan, yep he was dead when this record came out, was a legendary instrumentalist. Another great Sarangi player is Ram Naryan, of whom I have a number of discs, but there's something particularly eerie about this recording.

Pannalal Ghosh - Yaaman

Old pal Sacha Dieu and I have a shared appreciation for the gaussian waft of flautist Pannalal Ghosh. There's an unmistakably stoned haze about this perfect LP which, like the subsequent Pran Nath LP, is unique in its "high-in-the-mix" tambura. The tambura is that constant drone which sounds like electrical power-lines.

Pandit Pran Nath - Yaaman Kalyan

OK, so here's the bridge to Western music. You like The Velvet Underground? Well this disc was produced by La Monte Young, VU-godfather and Avant-Classical Titan - John Cage's chosen heir. La Monte frickin' loves the tambura, it reminds him of his inadvertently psychedelic childhood spent zonked out on gasoline fumes lurking atop industrial step-down voltage transformers, so here that instrument is pumped way high. Cover here by his wife the gifted calligraphist Marian Zazeela.

Pran Nath was the master of the Kirana school, in some ways an eccentric, non-central body in the Indian Classical Music Cosmos. I always think this is how Dr Seuss's Lorax would have sounded if he sang, rather than spoke, for the trees.

Hiralal - Yaaman

And finally another "Yaaman" - a supposedly romanic night-time raga of which there are three versions in this mix. This Barenreiter Musicaphon LP, like Ocora a top-flight ethnographic recordings label, is curated by the celebrated ethnomusicologist Alain Danielou. As one might expect from such a survey-type recording it takes a bit of digging round in the linernotes to discover the name of the master Hiralal. Always loved the incredible intensity of the Shenai on this one.