in praise of long form

Ashok Roy was a beautiful Sarod player. His teacher was Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, the great and reknowned. I learned Hindusthani music from Ashok for 3 years in the mid 80’s.

The Sarod is wonder in my mind, a giant silver fingerboard wraps around the neck, attached to a great gourd. Most of the left hand activity happens on the index finger, with this nail grown over so that all the meends, and bends, are easily played and heard, reinforced by numerous sympathetic strings which function like an acoustic aura. 

This music is Sa Pa, (or occasionally Ma) grounded, often by Tampura, which is harder than it looks to play, and which has extra little bits of string wedged between the root of the string and the bridge causing a disruption in the vibration and adding a twang to the sound world.

A few yoga colleagues and I studied the basics: tala, sargam, syllabic singing, shrutti, bends, etc, and excursions into various Rags. in particular, “Rag Yaman” has stuck with me over the years, and which has the beautiful “Eri Ali” as the main melody: Counting the Stars.  

I was always taken with the long form of the Rag, the idea that through presentation, care, form, and the concomitant liberation,  a longer discussion is able to take place on an idea, a topic, or mood. In the case of Indian Rag, there is a huge amount of shared language in place: two or more players sharing knowledge of navigation, gathering and developing language, phrases, and rhythmical hooks, with ease, and alacrity. 

Further to this is the way in which material is gradually introduced, moving us from a free introductory melodic and phrase presentation towards pulsing, and then a formal presentation within rhythm, of the two parts of the melody. What follows is a serious and deep investigation of the many phrases, rhythms gathered, solos, shared hooks, tailing with a coda-like rounding down.

“Shady Gully”, “The Vanity of Trees,” and my new project, “The Danes of Poowong East" each exhibit qualities influenced by this long form. Each have phrase and language links, are well held within various pitch behaviours, incorporate invention and guided improvisation, and have strong connections between the various parts, or movements, or songs. 

It is possible that meaning has become too strong a feature in my music, however, I embrace this, and embrace connections between works. More and more music become a river, a flow.

Focus is liberation.