Algebra of Listening blends Carnatic music with contemporary sound art

The project is curated by Mark Fell, with Nakul Krishnamurthy and Rian Treanor

Jose Joy Published :  15th December 2017 06:00 AM   |   Published :   |  15th December 2017 06:00 AM

Carnatic music is marginalised by Hindustani classical in the West. Alasdair Campbell—the creative producer of Glasgow-based Counterflows music festival—realised this on his visit to India two years back.

Prompted by this, he invited musicians practising the classical expression to perform at the 2016 season of his fest which promotes experimental and international music.

The idea behind Algebra of Listening took shape when UK-based music producers Mark Fell and Rian Treanor were intrigued by the music they encountered at the venue.

“We were impressed by the formalised system of rhythms in South Indian traditions and set off to Chennai to research into its structures. We met Nakul Krishnamurthy who had similar interests and designed a performance called Carnatic Paradigm for the 2017 edition of Counterflows in April,” says Mark, who’s known for his sound installation practises and experiments in electronic music via releases including Multistability.  

Facing East
The project found prospects to reach out to an Indian audience through UK/India 2017, a British Council programme which celebrates the relationship between the two countries. The initial thread was brainstormed throughout the year, keeping in mind the different audience and technical infrastructure.

Audience in the installation space

“In the UK, we kept a reading room with texts on the South Indian classical tradition to initiate the people. But, in India, the challenge is that the audience has very little exposure to sound art as they’re played in European galleries,” informs Mark.   

Another area they found problematic is the elitist nature of the sub continent’s musical traditions. Alasdair Campbell even spots similarities in the way in which Western and Eastern classical music reinforces class values. 

“Festivals like Counterflows highlights artistes whose work is not easily accessible. So, we’ve tried to collaborate with similar local artists like the electronic artist Jessop & Co. at our destinations,” informs Rian, about their first two shows in Kolkata and Chennai.

Rhythm route
The two-day event will feature an installation by Mark and performances by those including native folk artiste Farah Mulla.

Mark’s work features deconstructed rhythms derived from Carnatic principles layered over a gentle spectral sound which is described as ‘hypnotic and relaxing’. Played over eight small and two large speakers, the sounds are said to be generative, meaning that it doesn’t play out in loops. 

The two-hour-long performance by Rian-Nakul duo on Saturday also builds on traditional Indian rhythmic structures.

Rian and Nakul at work

“I’ve been exploring sound art and wanted to see how Carnatic structures can be morphed into a form that it has not taken till now,” says Nakul, who has been trained in both Eastern and Western classical music.

Creating a fusion of multiple cultural traditions, Mark and his team hope that the tour will create a network of musicians who can collaborate on festival avenues in Europe.

On December 16 - 17