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Raag Bhairavi

composer
composer

 
A little over a thousand years ago, scribes in the monasteries of southern Europe began marking lines and dots above their plainchant texts in order to trace the ebb and flow of the sung melodies. It signalled the end of music in the west as an exclusively oral tradition and ushered in the age of musical literacy. Neumatic notation, as it was called, did not indicate intervallic relationships and therefore acted solely as a mnemonic device, reminding singers of melodies they already knew. In the early part of the eleventh century, however, the neumes were arranged diastematically (so their vertical positions represented pitches) on the lines and spaces of a cleffed staff (invented, according to tradition, by the monk Guido of Arezzo). At that point music could finally be transmitted without any oral intervention—soundlessly, as it were. These lines and spaces are the basis of the notational forms that are the bedrock of the western art tradition.

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and the tasting process reaches beyond the sounding notes to explore how they are connected, how they are arrived at, withdrawn from, embellished and re-imagined—in short, it is ‘the space between’ that colours the raga.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

Recordings

White Light - the space between
Studio Master: SIGCD532Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available

Track-specific metadata for SIGCD532 disc 2 track 9

Artists
ISRC
GB-LLH-18-53214
Duration
20'57
Recording date
20 August 2017
Recording venue
Petruskyrkan Danderyds, Stockholm, Sweden
Recording producer
Thore Brinkmann
Recording engineer
Thore Brinkmann
Hyperion usage
  1. White Light - the space between (SIGCD532)
    Disc 2 Track 9
    Release date: April 2018
    Download only
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