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Amyt Datta and Jivraj Singh speaks about the innovation of making experimental music

The performance by guitar guru Amyt Datta and percussionist Jivraj Singh at Skinny Mo’s Jazz Club (on March 16) was an unforgettable sonic experience

Sramana Ray | Published 25.03.24, 11:08 AM
Guitar guru Amyt Datta 

Guitar guru Amyt Datta 

Picture: Rashbehari Das

The performance by guitar guru Amyt Datta and percussionist Jivraj Singh at Skinny Mo’s Jazz Club (on March 16) was an unforgettable sonic experience. From the noise of creaking doors, and haunting tunes to Jivraj’s experiments with his unnamed, collected tools, his sporadic drum beats, and the noise that arises from blowing into the water in vessels — the duo’s improv session wowed the audience. t2 spoke to the duo after witnessing their magic on stage. Excerpts:

Amyt Datta Tell us about the improv idea...


The first electronic music composers started doing this in the 1950s, from (Karlheinz) Stockhausen to (Arnold) Schoenberg. And this stayed within the niche group of musicians and composers, those who’re deep into music as an art and not just for popularity. People who do what their soul wants. We got into this music because at this stage of my life there’s nothing I shouldn’t try. If I feel I need to do something, I need to go up on stage and do it. This type is not new, yes our improvisation — every ounce of it is improvised and on stage, quite unprepared and we’re probing a risk zone. We’re working with too many electronic cables, the setup is complicated. So, the first half of the gig was disharmonious.

Coming back to the point of the technical glitch. When this happened, it felt like a part of the play, like you all breaking the fourth wall. So how did you create such an impact?

(Smiles) Right, we kept some bit of silence and natural sounds in our act, maybe that’s why. Let’s say the opening of a door, someone whispering from the audience, the sound of the wind blowing from the AC. See this is philosophical, there’s a bigger picture, the universe is in a musical sequence. We wanted to deliver this concept to the people and get into that space, where all is synchronised, but not in an obvious way. It is beyond the music reference we are associated with daily. It’s not better, but it’s different. So, when you come for such gigs, your reference point should be different. Not like in reference to the mainstream music.

How did you arrange all of the sounds?

When Jiver (Jivraj Singh) and I play, we don’t talk music. We talk about scapes and not chords. We decide to keep three to four seconds of silence and pick it up from there. It’s all about the moment, so every time we play it’s different, it’s from the core. Every day isn’t the same, and that’s how we work with the arrangement. It is an open slate, where the artiste can write what he or she has to write, without you coming to a concert with a preconceived notion.

As a duo, you’ve broken age barriers…

His parents were my bandmates and he grew up in my lap, while I practiced guitar and then he grew up to be one of the best musicians, this country has ever seen. He’s way more mature than his age. We talk about life and silence. The connection we share is higher. We are exploring and pushing our boundaries of creative thinking.

What’s the future of this kind of music?

There are many people in the audience who don’t get what we’re doing, but the key is to take the risk and do it. We need to push our barriers and explore, and there’s no harm in doing it. If India can have scientists who explore space, and people are taking it normally, then why not for music? You need to educate yourself about different kinds of music, to be able to soak in everything with an open mind.

And you pass this vision on to your students?

Yes, absolutely! I love sharing, but we need more women in number. We need more women at the forefront of experimental music. Ratio-wise it’s not even 20:1 and that’s a major problem in Calcutta.

Jivraj Singh What’s your take on experimental music? Many might not understand it. How do you deal with it?

I think it’s good to have questions. In fact, I don’t have any expectations either way from a listener. I think all reactions and interpretations are valid. And I think this kind of music is intentionally a bit challenging. Because I think when art is a bit more challenging, and the observer or the listener has to make a bit more of an effort to get into it, the reward is also potentially greater. And it’s not just entertainment. It can be something deeper, a deeper experience. That’s how it is for me when I’m listening to some kind of experimental music. So hopefully some people were able to experience that deeper experience or journey but of course, there will be people who also have the question, “What is this? Is this even music?” That’s also fine... all reactions are valid.

Your instruments are fascinating! Tell us more about it...

It’s just that all materials make different sounds and for percussion specifically... that’s basically what we are working with as percussionists, just the texture of sound. So, it’s about spending time with objects... whether they are pieces of stone or glass or wood or metal... it’s about exploring the sonic world that is contained within these objects... it’s also somewhat like the way nature makes sounds of various kinds and we’re able to just listen and enjoy them without naming them or analysing them or even thinking that it’s music but still, we can have some kind of aesthetic experience... emotional, intellectual, spiritual. That’s how I’m approaching this kind of music-making.

Jivraj uses commonplace tools to create music

Jivraj uses commonplace tools to create music

What challenges did you face while putting it all together?

We had a lot of technical difficulties throughout the gig and there were some major malfunctions, which happens when you’re using music electronics. So when such a thing occurs, it disrupts focus and concentration. That’s the major challenge.

Which artistes have inspired you to do experimental electronic music?

John Cage (American composer), Edgard Varèse (a 20th-century French composer), Karlheinz Stockhausen (from Germany) were quite active in the experimental way of composing music. I think the 1950s and 1960s were a great time for music, people would come into the field of music and be as experimental as they could get. However, I feel these innovations have got lost with time, once electronics entered the mainstream. I think ruthless experimentation is important and I’ve been trying to rediscover that.

The soundscape of Parekh & Singh is really different from the improv session we heard…

Switching isn’t an issue or a problem. I enjoy it. I’ve been interested in a variety of things from the very beginning of my journey — the different experiences have different flavours.

Did you enjoy playing at Skinny Mo’s?

Yes, the gig (organised by the club and Smoke Inc) was fun. However, the rehearsals I had with Amyt were a tad bit more enjoyable. We had unbroken concentration there.

What kind of bond do you share with Amyt Datta?

He’s like a brother, a friend, and a father. It goes beyond all these terms. I can sit in a room with him, and share the same space without speaking a word with him and the connection has become so telepathic now that it’s like we’re one composite person and we’re playing one composite instrument and then it’s just the music coming out of both of us together. It’s just the one integrated thing as a result of just spending decades with someone. It’s definitely very special for me to be playing with him.

Apart from music what do you like doing?

I spend time reading, doing yoga, and I spend a lot of time thinking about the city and being a citizen — which includes thinking about the architecture, and how humans function... all these things are quite connected for me and to my music.

Last updated on 25.03.24, 11:09 AM

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