Kalab’s ‘Ank’: The Unholiness Of Fractalised Repetitions
Image credit: Brenda Alamilla
A few months ago, Ujjwal Agarwal and Eric Erre found themselves living in the same house in Kreuzberg, Berlin, owned by Andi Teichmann, one-half of Gebrüder Teichmann. Agarwal — also known as Kala/Kalab — was there for two months, from April till June, as part of the Border Movement Residency. Erre, a visual artist from Mexico with a strong DIY aesthetic, was in town having been invited to do the visuals for a gig held to launch the ‘Karachi Files’ album, released by the label NOLAND.
They were in adjoining rooms, and ended up spending long nights talking about music and art on the balcony in Kalab’s room (the only place in the house where anyone was allowed to smoke), over plenty of ‘bière’. A similar taste in music, along with an appreciation of each other’s work, led to a bond being formed. Says Erre, “There was an obvious connection. People even asked us if we were brothers.” Beyond their chats at home, Erre also ended up doing the visuals for all the gigs Kalab played in Berlin.
The smoking balcony
The music video for ‘4’, the first single from Agarwal’s upcoming album, ‘Ank’ has just been released. The album comes out on 4 November, via NOLAND. He’s also known as ‘Kala’, but ‘Ank’ comes out under the name ‘Kalab’. It’s not exactly an ‘Artist Formerly Known as Prince’ type situation; he hasn’t abandoned his name for a sign or something. Instead, Kalab functions as an alter-ego, a different extension of his musical personality. “I just added a ‘B’ to the name a while ago. ‘Kala’ is for the flutey, Indian stuff I do. Here I was doing exactly the opposite,” explains Agarwal. As Kalab, he ends up writing far more grimier stuff, rhythmically dense and shifty, drifting into atonality frequently. That sound, in fact, is what intrigued the judges on the panel for the residency, he feels.
The music for ‘Ank’, he tells me, had been gathering dust, so to speak, on the Internet for a couple of years. It was available for free download on his SoundCloud page, until his residency in Berlin, where the Teichmann brothers suggested that he work on it and release it as an album. It’s been mixed and mastered again, this time at Manmade Mastering studio in Berlin, and Agarwal feels it makes far more sense now. Further, the album should also be out on vinyl, which meant that he had to write one new song to the original track-list in order to make it an LP.
Image credit: Brenda Alamilla
Erre has created the video for ‘4’. Dark, glitchy, mostly-black-and-white visualisations hover around the screen, assisting the throbbing, dystopian-uprising-at-an-abandoned-factory intensity of the song. All together, the whole thing is a bit like a terrifying ordeal inside a disturbing sci-fi video game. It’s disorienting and puzzling, shifting gears at whim.
The concept for the video, Erre tells me over email, came from discussions he had with Agarwal in Berlin. “He told me he wanted to make a spatial experience out of his live act, like a musical theatre. That’s why I decided to use pseudo-architecture and ‘sacred-like’ monuments. I wanted to make some kind of an impossible landscape and navigate it. I tried to focus on Kalab’s musical concept of ‘Trimurti’, but translated into visuals: a golden pristine Brahma side referring to construction, a destructive dystopian ‘Shiva-glitchy side’, and the in-between, Vishnu the preserver, trying to keep monochromatic balance between both. I wanted to keep it dark and yet sacred. The unholiness of fractalised repetitions,” he says. Erre has worked with glitch art in the past, but ‘4’ is his first attempt at exercising control over it. “I calculated a couple of transitions via ‘datamosh’ and experimented a little bit, messing [up] the videos with a hexadecimal editor.”
NOLAND played an important role in facilitating this entire exercise. While the two spent most of their time discussing art, mulling over long periods of silence, performing live together, attending concerts and eating Sudanese food, Andi Teichmann suggested that maybe they should do a video together. NOLAND, as a label, functions in an unconventional manner, encouraging cross-cultural communication between artists from different disciplines, as well as focussing on the socio-cultural context within which art resides. As Erre explains, they’re increasing the possibilities for “distant universes to collide”. They tend to trust their artists, leaving room for experimentation. “NOLAND works as a node, the inter-zone for all of us to converge.”
Agarwal is keen on playing gigs in India regularly, but his experimental stylings, he feels, don’t quite fit in with the regular, DJ-heavy programming that’s far more common here. He hasn’t managed to get any gigs since he’s returned, which he finds a little depressing given how frequently he played live in Berlin, but he’s already written five new songs for his next album instead of sitting around twiddling his thumbs.
There are no concrete plans that Erre and Agarwal have of working together in the future, but they’re pretty sure something will materialise. Agarwal, being a “half-coder” himself, is keen on working out a music video with Erre in processing (an open source programming language). Erre is forever looking at noise, sound design, and experimental music artists for collaborations, and he’d been interested in something in the future as well.
written by Akhil Sood