There’s no safety net in guitar guru Amyt Datta’s music. “After playing for so many years I want to take risks with the music I am making. I want to hear things that are not conventional. Technically, it’s a different language, harmony-wise, chord structure-wise and scale-wise,” Amyt had told t2 a few years ago. Amyt’s latest acoustic album Red Plant is another sonic adventure with seven pieces of improvisational music. “Stylistically, it is an amalgamation of a lifetime of different musical journeys and experiences. The album was conceptualised, recorded and mixed over a period of about three years, from 2018-2021,” says Amyt. The first tune from Red Plant drops today. A candid chat....
Why did you decide to come up with an acoustic album?
I love the purity of the sound, it’s got its own nuances and language… with this instrument you are what you are…there’s nothing in between… I have a very deep relationship with the acoustic guitar… in fact, my first album Ambiance de Danse had the acoustic guitar, and the second album Pietra Dura was only acoustic… I love playing both acoustic and electric guitar, each one has its own beauty, language, sentiment, emotion. And treatment. They respond in a certain way and the beauty comes out in a different way. You have to recognise it, understand it and you have to feel it.
I play the acoustic guitar as much as I play electric. When you think of a piece of music or sentiment, you know from experience whether it’ll be an acoustic piece or not. You write the piece according to that sentiment. These pieces suited the acoustic guitar.
Why the name Red Plant?
Red Plant or Rojo Planta is a sweet red flower… but here I am trying to portray the red colour as “anger” . The flower itself is a representation of nature, it is beautiful but the ‘red’ symbolises “rage”. Basically, to say how nature is angry at the way humans have made this planet a sick one... therefore Red Plant. It is like a symbolical indication to us that I am angry and disappointed at the fact that humans have almost killed the planet. Strangely, we are living here and destroying it.
How did you go about the recording process?
I was thinking of these musical ideas for the last three years almost. I had small scattered ideas. Sometimes I would sit with the idea and work on it... sometimes with the instrument and sometimes without the instrument. The advantage of trying to write without the instrument is that you play outside your comfort zone. You write it and then put it to the instrument to see how it sounds.
Once the concepts were clear and solidified, I tried to complete it as a form. For months I kind of scratched it out and then rewrote it and restructured it, reharmonised it, changed the chords here and there, changed the melody or cancelled a part, or incorporated a new part, this carried on for many months.
Once it was sounding close to what I was thinking of initially as a piece of music, I took it to Arinjoy, the other guitar player, and to Akash, the bass player. I explained it to them so that they can work on it at home and expand on it a little bit. By then I had rearranged the tunes and changed the structure of the songs. Again we had another seating, another rehearsal, exchanged ideas, played a little... and from those jam sessions something else came out. I took it back again, and incorporated that in the pieces.
Once the compositions were formed I recorded them on my laptop with just a click track… then the rest came… strangely last came the drums … but Jivraj (drummer) has this uncanny quality of making it sound like we played together. When you listen to the album it’ll sound like we are playing together. Usually improvisational music is recorded like that, where the main instruments and the drummer play together. Ideally the whole band plays together. For many reasons we could not do that. There was the pandemic.
Is there an overarching theme?
Well, there’s no real obvious theme through the album but there’s a constant effort of indicating and presenting the musical experience that I have gathered over the years… the titles are somehow connected to each other. The tune Transoxiana has that triumphant feeling. Erraticus is like life — erratic. You never know what is going to happen the next moment. In a way the album has to do with the planet, and the history of the world. There is a thematic string of connect through the tunes.
Any particular reason why you decided to make it improvisational?
Yes, improvisation has always fascinated me and also challenged me. I always get a kick out of that and at the same time it stretches my mind into new areas of musical realms. Life is an improvised path, you have to improvise all the time. Life comes to you and you have to handle it and this music is challenging to us, so we train ourselves, and learn the techniques.
I wanted to utilise the knowledge and devise and see where I could go with the harmonic possibilities the way I saw it and heard it in my mind. And not really play the generic things. I try to be slightly outside the box. Hopefully, the music kind of reflects that. Improvising has always been my passion since childhood. Having said that, it also comes from memory and what you do with that information at that time on the fly. A good way to put it would be, when you are composing a tune, you are improvising at a slower speed... because you are thinking about it, writing it, scratching it and redoing it... you are improvising in your head and slowing it down, dissecting and correcting it. And improving is composing in a faster speed on the fly. It involves a lot of risk and the risk element is what challenges us. I like to navigate through the challenges.
Which are some of your favourite acoustic albums?
If I have to pick, there’s Belo Horizonte by John McLaughlin. His tone, virtuoso playing, his note choices, modulations. The choice of instruments. Incredible. He brought to the world a new sound. Even today when I listen to it I can’t believe how he thought about it. I went to his home many years back, and I should have asked him. But I didn’t. The human quality, his personality, how he saw things, how he mixed Mediterranean sound with jazz harmony, the scale change and the modulation... it is incredible. He is just beyond words. And Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. That quality of being brave, daring, challenging... always trying to push the envelope, always trying to stretch yourself is half the reason why I like the album. Miles is my greatest hero ever. It is not about what is going on in the album in the shape of notes and chords... see beyond that, see his personality, his character, his head space... that’s what reflects to me with the music.
Do you believe playing acoustic offers different opportunities, dimensions?
Essentially there are two types of acoustic guitar — the nylon string and steel string. Roughly steel string guitars are used for rock singer-songwriter pieces, more strumming, or people playing at home or house parties... also strumming the guitar on stage. The other one is country; country guitar players play finger style. That is very vaguely steel string guitars. With nylon string, you play finger-style classical guitar; European classical pieces. They have different techniques. There is a third kind which is the Gypsy guitar. There are different styles and the one I play is steel string with a pick. It incorporates a little bit of jazz versus flamenco, and Gypsy with a slight undertone of Indian sounds. There is a romance in it.
Coming to the opportunities part, acoustic guitar is a soft instrument and you play to an intimate kind of situation. Both acoustic and electric have their own opportunities. With the electric guitar you are playing at larger places, stadiums, venues. Acoustic guitar can play that but you need a lot of technical support for that. I love them both and each one has its own language. They speak to me, I have to listen to the language and hopefully do justice to them, and write or compose or improvise with those parameters in mind.