Classical music can be very cool. We just need to liberate it from the layers of stereotypes, quirks and prejudices it has come to be associated with, and let it breathe. Let new ideas bubble up. We might love them. We might not.
We love music videos. They are beautiful. They inspire us. It’s a short rollercoaster ride into a new world with new sights, new emotions. New discoveries. New awesomeness.
Rhythm Drive is part of a musical series by IndianRaga to create new-age compositions inspired by Indian classical music. We were inspired to try making Indian classical music accessible and relevant to today’s generation, without having to change the music itself. So we selected the best young musicians today from across North America, and brought them to NYC in August 2013 for a week of jamming, video shoots, fun!
Check out the final video here.
Let the games begin…
Rhythm Drive is an innovation within the framework of Indian classical music, and the process of creating the music video was a first for both IndianRaga and our Fellows, Akshay Anantapadmanabhan, Hrishikesh Dharam and Rohan Krishnamurthy. The challenge, as Rohan puts it, is that “Music, and especially Indian classical music, can be a fiercely individualistic art form involving years of isolated practice and creative development. The entire process of working on Rhythm Drive highlights the power of collaboration. Akshay, Hrishi, and I exchanged countless ideas for weeks before coming up with something really new that we all loved.”
Hrishi says,”Getting to know Rohan and Akshay and their playing styles was particularly interesting. Their music is similar but can be very different. I learned a lot about Carnatic percussion and I’m seriously considering learning mridangam just because I’m so curious.” Akshay adds, ”There were times in our practice where we played each other’s instruments. Although this was completely for fun, it us to get into each others shoes a little more. The immediate common point for us was groove although the concept didn’t strike us until later.”
The challenge was much more than collaboration. It was about breaking stereotypes and putting on two hats at the same time – One that pondered over how to create something ‘cool’ for a young, global audience, and the other about the framework of Indian classical tradition and how to work within it.
“Mridangam and Tabla are pitched Indian hand drums that require an advanced level of dexterity, precision and power using our very own hands. It was a challenge to make percussion alone speak to the lay listener, especially given the complex nature of traditional compositions.”, says Akshay. Rohan adds,“I remember one of our original musical ideas was very rhythmically complex and kept getting more complex as we developed it! We got frustrated wondering whether the piece actually sounded good, or if it was just an awesome idea that failed in implementation and no one would want to listen to it more than once.”
The first few review sessions had lots of awkward silences. The music wasn’t bad, but something was clearly missing. It was technically great. Complex, fast, and innovative. But it wasn’t making us tap our feet, bob our heads, or clap our hands with the beat. “At one point, we took a break and lied down on the floor in the studios. As we relaxed, we all kept tapping grooves on our instruments, the floor, our bodies, and anywhere else we could get our hands on.” says Rohan.
“Hrishi was playing some form of upbeat hip-hop music when I came into the room. We were all exhausted because we were in the midst of planning recordings for the other two pieces. He was lying down and tapping his hands to the music and I actually played a groove along with this a few times. That’s when we knew it – groove speaks!”, adds Akshay. The team tossed out the original idea and went back to the drawing board to create something engaging. “Over the next 24 hours, we performed our piece to anyone we could find at the studio, and the feedback was unanimous: ‘I love it!’”, says Rohan.
“Wow, this is cool…and intense!”
There were clearly a lot of firsts for the team. “The video shoot was a lot of fun but a lot more work than I thought It would be. Video shoots are usually glorified in commercials and the media so the sheer number of retakes and the time for setup and such was pretty surprising.” says Hrishi. Capturing the beauty of Indian percussion on camera made us all think for the first time about the unique features of these instruments, and how they are played. The team spent hours capturing footage from multiple angles, and patiently playing the same piece over and over again for the cameras.
Time was another challenge. “Having only one week to record and shoot the video, in addition to performing multiple shows and participating in workshops, added a time-crunch factor that inspired us to be efficient and organized without rushing the creative process.” explains Rohan. Passion worked hand in hand with practical reality that week, just like in a startup. You are constrained, yet you want to, and have to, deliver nothing less than your best!
Musicians are Entrepreneurs
Musicians have to be entrepreneurs. If not by choice, then by circumstance. At the IndianRaga Fellowship, the week-long process was an incubator where the Fellows had one shot at creating a product that would appeal to their consumers. “The IndianRaga Fellowship is an experience for professional musicians to push their own creative barriers during a week of non-stop intellectualization and presentation of music. The creativity, collaboration and leadership involved while composing the pieces definitely reflects several aspects of entrepreneurship”, reflects Akshay.
Creating the product in a team meant incorporating different points of view, iterating, and pivoting. “Developing a new, creative idea can be extremely challenging. During the summit and the weeks building up to it, the three of us went through so many original ideas. Collaboratively composing a piece with two other artists, mostly online no less, was challenging because none of us could simply “go with our idea,” but had to explain and justify it to the rest of the team.”, says Rohan.
“Scrapping ideas and hours of fruitless brainstorming were tough. We relied on Google hangouts and email for the most part and sent each other short audio clips of ideas,” says Hrishi.
But as it is with successful startups, the journey is as enriching and rewarding as the end result itself! The Fellows came out with a unique video that represents a novel direction for Indian percussion towards collaborative composition, layered polyrhythms, expanded groove, and universal appeal.
“Creating, developing, communicating, and implementing a new and profitable idea is at the heart of entrepreneurship. Successful, professional musicians are successful entrepreneurs, and the IndianRaga fellowship spots and promotes these complete musicians. I think it’s fair to say that many great performers would struggle to live up to the expectations of the fellowship, but those who can are uniquely poised to succeed and expand the boundaries of the international music industry in the present and future,” says Rohan.
You can purchase the audio track at http://cdbaby.com/cd/indianragafellows2
For more details on IndianRaga, and the IndianRaga Fellowship, visit www.facebook.com/indianragaproject, or www.indianraga.com, or email [email protected]. Applications for the 2014 IndianRaga Fellowship for musicians in North America will open in December 2013.