The Broken Lines & Half Circles Of Kala’s Musical Vision
Image credit: Kala
Functioning right alongside the grand theatre of Kala’s music is a clever sense of restraint. Sprightly, intermittent bursts of machismo are almost instantly undercut by minimalist textural movement within the music.
Live instruments and carpeted electronic percussions co-exist; odd melodies begin to fade away before ever fully emerging. A philosophy of contradictions seems to reside at the core of Kala’s sound: slithery, down-tempo, exploratory, introspective, moody. It’s the musical manifestation of Ujjwal Agarwal’s vision — a 28-year-old producer and multi-instrumental from Jaipur who has been selected for the Border Movement Residency, for which he spends 2 months in Berlin, Germany, beginning 1 April.
Agarwal is a self-taught producer who’s been fiddling around with electronics for the past 5 years, a journey that began after an eye-opening experience while working in Mumbai and getting involved with the multi-purpose electronic music organisation Bhavishyavani Future Soundz. He’s flown under the radar somewhat, playing live only sporadically and existing on the fringes given the experimental, somewhat pensive leanings of his music, as well as the absence of a strong ‘scene’ in Jaipur. He even recalls a chance gig he got to play at a café in Jaipur just a month or so ago. A polite request found its way to him, asking him to turn off the background music and just play the bansuri.
Yes, he plays the flute, which finds a surprisingly prominent place of purpose in his music, as well as the guitar and keys. Discussing his approach with this writer over a long phone conversation, he calls it “accidental music” (isn’t that the best kind?). “You keep experimenting with plug-ins, presets, or other stuff, and something interesting strikes you. You keep it, then you wrap it around. Of course, an ear is very important — you need to know your scales. Things need to be a little ‘correct’ in a way. Even if it’s noise, it has to have some sort of integrity to it.”
He’s always been around music in some form or another, from picking up the flute in the first grade to playing in a punk band called Dent in college (“We weren’t exactly a ‘punk’ band; we just looked like punks.”). So the fluid absorption of different styles and sensibilities that’s so integral to the music comes almost naturally. Amon Tobin is a clear influence, not just in terms of composition but as much the grand multimedia aesthetic of the Brazilian artist. He fondly recounts bawling to himself in his bedroom as a fully grown 25-year-old after experiencing Tobin’s stunning concert film, ‘ISAM Live Spectacle’, which inspired him greatly. (He also cites the music by 21-year-old Mumbai-based producer Kumail as particularly stirring.)
It’s where his maverick streak as an artist comes to the fore. Beyond operating purely on instinct (which is no doubt essential), Agarwal has a broad, thoughtful view of music and the role art plays. He understands the need for recording, for producing albums, but it’s a format he’s practically ready to ditch. Instead, Agarwal is fascinated by the idea of live electronic music, performed with a sense of grandeur and eloquence that extends beyond just the auditory.
He’s interested in live installations, in performances that have an “element of risk” to them — “It gives you a little more to think about. Moving to music and dancing, while great in itself, is just one aspect. The music enables you to think a little more about things — it’s different; it’s not in your face.
“I really stress on composition,” he continues. “You can arrange things, track them, add more [to the] structure live. It’s about making sure you keep everything in the same palette; I’ve been trying to keep my music minimal and reduce that palette. To make it closer to an Indian classical performance. You know, you’ll have two guys exploring a raga, infinitesimally. Design a system with a few tweaks to keep exploring that same atmosphere, with different energy levels.”
He’s of course kicked about the residency in Berlin, conceding that he’s excited with the direction of his music. He has no calculated agenda for his time there — “I want to do the whole deal,” — instead, Agarwal is leaving things open-ended, waiting to see how the city affects him and his sensibility. The spectacle of a multimedia sensory experience is no doubt vital. But he’s also open to the idea of collaborating, playing gigs, writing music. “They’ve told me I shouldn’t come with any pressure. I’m sure I’ll be overwhelmed with all the analogue gear and these veterans who’ve been doing this for years. There are lots of things I want to do, and I hope I’m able to generate some sort of output without getting bogged down [by everything around].”
written by: Akhil Sood