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Innocently enshrined in them is also the dual or binary thinking prevalent in western thought as a whole—an either/or mentality that leaves little room for the ambivalence that might break the dichotomy down—for a note is placed either on the line or in the space, and that difference demarcates a defined musical interval. Indian music, on the other hand, thrives on exploring the minute gradations that exist between the intervals taken for granted in the west. In the opening section of Raag Bhairavi, for example, there is an extended melodic improvisation called an alap. It is, as I learnt, the art of ‘tasting’ the notes of the raga, a melodic mode in Indian music. Significantly, the literal translation of raga is ‘colouring’ or ‘tingeing’, and the tasting process reaches beyond the sounding notes to explore how they are connected, how they are arrived at, withdrawn from, embellished and re-imagined—in short, it is ‘the space between’ that colours the raga.
Years of dedicated practice are needed to be able to move with total freedom within a certain raga. In the West we practise scales primarily to develop our technique, considering them primarily as a means to an end—the skill set that facilitates the performance of a work of music. It would, for example, be odd to walk out on stage and announce that you intended to spend the next twenty minutes ‘tasting’ the notes of the C major scale. In India, in sharp contrast, a musician might work on a single raga for six years without ever venturing beyond it because the process of learning to play is as much a spiritual journey as a musical one. Discussing Raga Bhairavi Soumik Datta said:
it is often considered the queen of all melodies. Like many other ragas, it is assigned to be played at a particular time of the day and in the case of Bhairavi, that time is dawn. However, its soft komal (‘flattened’) notes and its lilting, graceful stride have bestowed upon it a timelessness. Much like the queen in a game of chess, Raga Bhairavi can freely roam the board, unbound by the strict rules of the raga world.
The scale uses seven notes including a flattened second, third, sixth and seventh and could be compared to the Phrygian mode in western music. But to invoke the true sense of the raga, a performer must flirt with the accidentals and grace notes that span all the black and white keys of a piano. Much like white light which carries all the colours within a spectrum, embedded within Raga Bhairavi are all the twelve notes and beyond.
Beyond the notes, Bhairavi is like a map of the human experience. It is a raga that grows with you, generating new phrases as we live, learn, make mistakes and journey on. As there are only a few rules to the raga, the artist must decide how to find its internal balance—a balance that must be found in life first, before its application to music. In many ways, we can think of this elusive raga as a glass mirror that reflects, grows and meanders with us throughout our time on earth.
from notes by Hugo Ticciati © 2018
|White Light - the space between|
From the Antony Gormley ensō adorning its cover to the final strains of a chamber orchestra raag, the restless shade of contemplative exploration haunts an album which includes seminal works by Vasks and Pärt.» More