I Want To Be Able To Hold Sound, Throw It Around, Play With The Invisible & Make It Tangible: Arushi Jain
Image: Ose opening for Suzanne Ciani – image curtesy of the artist
“I compose in ragas. In the simplest form, a raga is a compositional philosophy with a certain set of rules within which one could improvise,” explains Arushi Jain , sound synthesist, singer, producer and academician who is also the founder of Ghunghru — a radio series and label based out of San Francisco, “Ragas are embedded in opinions — in what rhythm, at what tempo and with which words — on how to play them. It has its own scale, its own set of allowed and forbidden notes, of accidentals and note clusters. Each raga comes with its own emotional cocoon in which I sit and absorb the sentiment before starting to sing and create. I rely on this heavily to help control my own emotional spectrum. I truly believe I’ve discovered an art form that I will be working with for the rest of my life.”
Formally known as Modular Princess, Arushi crafts experimental contemporary electronica inspired by Hindustani classical music under her moniker Ose. Through her compositions, the artiste nurtures a sense of sonic luminosity that ebbs and wanes in complex melodic structures. Using modular synthesizers, analog drums and vocals, she often engages in interplay between ambient textures and modern aesthetics. Quite often, there’s an eccentric attempt at contextualising her artistic explorations both inward and outward. And, it is in those muted spaces amidst junctures of tonal articulation that she steers the listener towards notes that blossom in both sound and solitude.
“I grew up in Old Delhi. I started singing when I was 11 years old. I come from a big musical family. All my cousins were singers,” says Arushi, “I was one of the youngest kids in the house and I wanted to take after my older sisters who had beautiful voices. We even had the same guru who would teach us Indian classical vocal music. But more than just voice, my family always stressed on art.”
In 2012, the artiste moved to California to pursue Bachelor of Sciences in Computer Science at Stanford University. She now recalls how she gave up singing for a while in an attempt to attain further clarity on her career goals. Three years later, she dedicated a year towards working in different countries like Palestine, Kenya and India as a software engineer. “I was trying to challenge myself to do something more with my Computer Science degree. It was during my year away from Stanford that I found music again. At a house concert in Delhi, I sang by chance. And, it brought me so much joy. So, I started singing again,” she says.
Image curtesy of the artist
Upon her return to Stanford, Arushi undertook Laptop Orchestra with Ge Wang and Matt Wright at Centre for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) where she learnt more about audio programming languages, sound synthesis and instrument design. This played a pivotal role in the artiste nurturing a deep connection with sound and technology. In conversation, she mentioned the community of artists that has consistently inspired her and instilled in her the courage to experiment with the unknown. “In particular, Tape Ghost, Eugenia, Carly Lave, Viewfinder, Monophonik and AAKAARA have had a major influence on my artistic process from the very beginning. My ability to build tools empowers me as an artiste to create unique interfaces and better understand the world around me. I’m deeply interested in the use of sound to aid and augment our everyday perceptions of the world. It is often overlooked as a medium to understand our surroundings. I find that disappointing!” she explains, “This has sparked in me a deep interest for software instrument design thereby comprehending data via sonication, and building new perceptions of the real world in mixed and virtual reality via sound. I have multiple mediums of expression still but sound (not music) is definitely the most important at this moment. I’m intrigued by the use of sound to better control my own emotional space and mental health. If I wish to feel a certain emotion, how can sound help? This to me is very personal. It is something that I use to heal myself and stabilise my own nerves. And, I think this is apparent to those who hear my work.”
At the moment, she is driven to explore diverse philosophies with sound: its origin, its creation, the way it influences shape and form; the conceptual embodiment of human connection and spirituality. There have been several questions lurking in her mind over the years. Amongst her numerous explorations, Arushi often ponders over the process of transforming her synthesizer into a sitar and preserving Hindustani classical sound. “A part of me aches at the thought of it being lost as the original maestros pass away leaving us in a world where not many in my generation really care about this tradition. How can I make this philosophy a bit more colloquial? How can I get more people to understand the beauty of this art form? This is what drives me. In this regard, I am a singer, a composer, an instrument designer, technologist and musicologist,” she explains.
As a prototyper and audio instrument designer, through her work, she strives to explore the sound of digital platforms and audio communities. She also wishes to challenge the use of sound in augmenting our perception of reality with virtual soundscaping. “I want my audience to see and feel sound. Using sound as a tool to navigate data intrigues me. Our senses have a very tight feedback loop, and until now, the way we consume audio doesn’t really trigger it at all. Music is a complex science. Learning sound synthesis, building my modular rack, going back to the basic vocabulary of waves and voltage gives me a lot of joy,” she says, “Mixing reality with sonic layers where our personal existence in this real world can be more nuanced and distinguished from others is fascinating to me. I want to be able to hold sound, throw it around, play with the invisible and make it tangible. Won’t that do wonders for human imagination?”
In the manifesto of her experiential sonic project Ghunghru, Arushi writes every single ghunghru is unique; it varies not just in voice but also in the roles it plays in the collective. Where sound is sound without needing to be music, in such a place, the artiste attempts to nurture a realm that is an ode to the intellectual, emotional and spiritual identity of art.
In fact, in June, her label released a film titled METASILENCE — a protofilm about a theoretical primordial black hole that emerged from a chance density fluctuation within the early universe — by London-based architect and artist AAKAARA. Arushi strongly believes that as creators become more multi-disciplinary in their craft, one will see art that heavily challenges the conventional notions of what constitutes a ‘performance’ especially in the digital arts spectrum where lines between mediums aren’t that well-defined.
“In my honest opinion, the biggest barrier is not ability but affordability. Art costs money, and doesn’t earn anything. I don’t see this changing until it becomes easier to disseminate more projects that rely heavily on technology. With Ghunghru, I wish to create a space for artistes across all mediums to creatively collaborate and challenge the use of technology in their arts, to create art such that each individual’s respective work builds upon each other’s context. Art to me is rendering your emotional and intellectual analysis of the world into a tangible medium through which one can experience your own experiences first hand. It is, therefore, tied to your identity. I don’t think any artist can ever disconnect their art from their thoughts and neither should they because art just for the sake of art is indulgent. I want my art to be a reprieve for the receiver wherever they are in whichever world they are — real or fantasy,” explains the artiste who is also currently working on a new album of pure ragas that will be composed using a combination of electronic instruments and tools she is currently building. The process will involve working with instruments traditionally used in Hindustani Classical art and building digital versions of them that will give Arushi control over microtonality.
Coalescing shades of sonic opacity with organic melodies, Arushi’s album ‘With & Without’ creates an aural imprint steeped in immersive fluid textures and a minimal sonic palette. Not only does the sound embody involvement but it also sculpts complex rhythms and delicate tones with earnestness. Amidst dextrous musical interplay, the artiste’s contemporary re-interpretation of ragas displays concurrent phases of musical poignancy and vulnerability.
“Firstly, I am a sound synthesist in this album, then a singer, and then an academic. I like creating sounds from scratch. This is a big part of my art. How can I take a sine wave and make it sound like anything but what it is? I feel technically challenged by this process and also emotionally triggered by my modular synth-focused approach to composition. All these songs are rooted in ragas but I don’t always stick to the rules when I don’t connect with it. For me, this album is more about the sonic texture, and less about absolute correctness,” she says.
Coaxing a variety of unorthodox musical dialogues through her compositions, Arushi’s mastery in crafting swirls of elongated silences has enabled her to explore distinct narratives in perspectives that draw their influences from Indian classical music. There’s an underlying familiarity which condenses into overlapping sounds that implode in her songs. Underneath a canvas splattered in melodic sobriquets and edgy sonic impulses, lies harmonic tension and glistening vocal overtones that define her moniker Ose which means dew drop in Hindi. Her latest album breaks free from all existent sonic hierarchies thereby creating a space where thrives both simplicity and human connection.
“I feel incomplete without sound’ had so many synth layers that it was a nightmare to mix. The vocal sections are important in this track for they set the emotional tone. I play a lot with octaves here moving one’s attention between lower and higher frequencies which give it a slower pace. On the other hand, ‘Is It love?’, is full of sparkle, hope, wonder and joy. I wrote this in Raag Bihag which to me sounds like a celebration. As I worked on this tune, I remember being happy and asking if this is what love felt like? I sang in an alaap because words cannot do justice to what I feel when I synthesize sounds,” says the artiste who in conversation also reminisces the process of composing one of her older songs ‘Shanti – Just a Feeling’ (track 2 from first EP) which was a result of her experimenting with hardware synths for the very first time while being unaware of traditional forms of composition and arrangement. “I was inspired by collaborations between Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto as well as Ryoji Ikeda. Hence, one can observe all the glitchy percussion in it. I’m extremely interested in the unsettling energy that higher frequency static has and want to tame it,” she explains.
Her latest collaboration as a sound engineer with Carly Lave, GOLEM explores contemporary dance performance pioneering the human body through virtual space. Currently, a U.S. Fulbright Scholar in Germany working through Gamelab Berlin at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin and in residency with Tanzfabrik Berlin, Carly who is the lead architect of the project holds a BA in American Studies and Dance from Stanford University.
“Carly and I have a phenomenal working relationship,” says the artiste who is also working on an installation/collaboration on a performance piece with her that will focus on representing spaces for femme voices both online and offline which will debut in LA in May next year, “Philosophically, we are in tune with what thesis we wish to explore. It’s important that our mediums are so different because we approach concepts differently. While I think ‘internally’, with the goal of creating a stimulus, I believe she thinks ‘externally’ often in response to said stimulus. I know this collaboration will be a long one where we will push each other to grow.”
The performance also features the radical use of Optitrack Motion Capture System with accompanying Head-Mounted Displays (HMDs) on stage. Along with a cross-disciplinary team from Gamelab Berlin (of Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, the University of Applied Sciences Kaiserslautern | Virtual Design, Index Thumb, Ose and Carly Lave have envisioned new methodologies using motion-capture technology and virtual reality in a performance space. The project will explore the movement and nuances of a dancing body through motion-capture sensors, VR headsets, digital avatars and the physical stage to wield a narrative between man and machine.
“Music or sound or silence fulfils me in strange ways. Music is vulnerability, and I think I’m ready to share that part of me with the world. John Cage said silence was music. Ikeda says static is music,” says Arushi and explains, “Most people think it’s the pattern in which a sound exists that determines its musicality. I feel quite stimulated thinking about what makes an individual sound musical, and philosophically whether sound needs to be musical to be considered well-designed. I think most sounds have the inherent ability to be musical but they don’t have to be! A lot of the ideas I have about sound and music are reflected deeply in what I do. Since it’s just the beginning, it will take a while for it to truly represent what music is – exploration.”
Ose will perform at the Magnetic Fields Festival which will be held at Alsisar Mahal in Rajasthan from December 13 to 15, 2019.
written by Akshatha Shetty
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of Border Movement and its partners.