The Stealthy Sounds of Cocktail Parties

by Gautam Pemmaraju A month or so ago, at a dinner party, my ears locked into a conversation between two men from a reasonable distance away. Drinks and hors d'oeuvres were still being served; glasses clinked in cheering, and the chinaware made all sorts of bright, transient sounds as they were picked up, put down,…

Seditious Sounds: On Conlon Nancarrow

by Gautam Pemmaraju In a desultory speculative history, an affliction caused by the febrile May heat here in Bombay, I imagined a current day encounter between two old scheming radicals who spent their entire lifetimes up to no good—from global-trotting revolutionary activity to cloistered tomfoolery. I saw MN Roy, a founder of the Communist Party…

The Pellucid Sound of Rain

by Gautam Pemmaraju The Bombay monsoon has finally fallen into character, after a destitute June. As I was falling asleep to the sound of heavy rain a few nights ago, my attention was once again momentarily drawn to the dense ecology of sounds that the droplets made as they struck several surfaces. There was the…

The Mystic Circle: Sufis, Sants & Songs of the Deccan

by Gautam Pemmaraju Legend has it that Ibrahim Adil Shah II, the medieval Bahmani sultan of Bijapur, styled as jagadguru badshah (master of the world) and author of the famed treatise on classical music in Dakhani, kitab-i-nauras, advised Hindu litigants to go to Paithan in the Marathwada area of upper Maharashtra to have their disputes…

The Enemies of History

by Gautam Pemmaraju Haram aur dayr key jhagdey, kahan tak koi suljhayey Jisey har tarah fursath ho, voh is maidaan mey aayey. (Till when can we unravel what is sacred, what is profane? He, who has nothing else to do, let him enter that battlefield.) —Habib Painter Qawal Over twenty years ago, if memory serves…

The Northern Moment

by Gautam Pemmaraju Because I could not stop for Death He kindly stopped for me The Carriage held but just Ourselves And Immortality. – Emily Dickenson The wise emperor of Marguerite Yourcenar’s masterful Memoirs Of Hadrian, says to his successor Marcus Aurelius that his frail, diseased body is fast approaching its demise. It is the…

The Syncretic Crucible: Another Trip To Medieval Deccan

by Gautam Pemmaraju Aib na Rakhe Hindi bola Maine to chak dekhe khola Hindi bola kiya bakhan Je gur Prasad tha muje gyan. [Don't think bad if I speak in Hindi, What I experience I speak openly In Hindi I have preached in detail All the wisdom from my teacher's blessing] – From Burhan ‘al…

The Tangled Knots of History: A Trip Through Medieval Deccan

by Gautam Pemmaraju The relatively impoverished landscape of Zaheerabad, in rural Telangana in central India, transforms as we approach Humnabad town of northern Karnataka. Lush, verdant pastures straddle each side of the highway, and the pregnant monsoon air animated by a fey, impish wind, forces our brief stop into a leisurely meditation. This pleasing landscape…

Washed Away

by Gautam Pemmaraju It is that time of year in Bombay when the city collectively awaits relief from the heat and humidity of the summer months. “The creature of grandeur and complexity that defies comparison with anything” (see here) is but round the corner, and if recent newspaper reports are to believed, relief from the…

Slapping Cabbages

by Gautam Pemmaraju If you have ever been set the peculiar task of imagining and creating the sound for ‘Alien Pod Embryo Expulsion' and found yourself at a loss, not to worry, a quick web search will provide an answer. One of the suggestions on this excellent resource is to use canned dog food, or…

Some Kind Of Melody

by Gautam Pemmaraju If you talk a language they are familiar with you’ll communicate quickly. But in artistic matters ease of communication tends to link itself with lightness of worth. Significant depth often involves a new language. – Terence Dwyer This January saw the passing of Stefan Kudelski, the inventor of the Nagra portable magnetic…

Sliced, Frozen and Lapsed

by Gautam Pemmaraju The world about us is a set of ends to be reached or avoided, and the spatiotemporal distance of the ends is organized in perception as the means by which these ends may be so reached or avoided. – George Mead in The Philosophy of the Act Eadward Muybridge’s pioneering experiment Sally…

Exeunt Omni: The Story Has Turned

In a recent critique of Pankaj Mishra’s book The Ruins Of Empire, David Shulman points out interestingly, that in attempting to articulate a composite notion of Asian modernity (and thereby resistance to the West), to configure modernity in context with attendant modernizing processes, negotiations, and ‘modern’ ideas, one must take note of pre-colonial times wherein, as Velcheru Narayana Rao has argued for South India, there are intriguing, ‘organic’, ‘forms of awareness’ that are to be found in Telugu and Tamil speaking regions towards the end of the fifteenth century.

Locomotif: A short survey of trains, music & experiments

by Gautam Pemmaraju I have always loved locomotives passionately. For me they are living creatures and I love them as others love women or horses. —Arthur Honegger The influential electronic music artists Kraftwerk, saw their 1977 concept album Trans-Europe Express as a symbol of a unified Europe, a “sonic poem” enabling a moving away from…