(Youth’s Recording Studio, London 2016)
Perhaps one of the only true aims in life is to live close to beauty, and of a kind that is conjured from the small pains of man. On Monday October 10, 2016 I was privileged to sit in on a recording session at seminal Polymath producer, artist, poet and musician, Youth’s London base which featured two maestro’s of Indian music, Sitarist Clem Alford and Santoor Player, Kiranpal Singh. Over four hours both men recorded five composed and improvised songs and patterns, ranging from three to fifteen minutes in length as part of the Indo-TranCeltic sessions arranged by Elfic Circle Project Producer and Manager R. Rovers, and curating artists Dr. Frances Shepherd and Anjan Saha from PRSSV Management, for an album to be released by Manodharma Records.
Seated on the floor, first Kiranpal and then Clem and then Kiranpal again summoned the musical landscapes of the ancient east in the London room, transporting all in attendance from a rain infused day in the south.
One is struck at the ease by which such masters create and configure the sounds they represent and convey. Indian music is based on a series of patterns and systems, of which the raga is the most famous, but other forms such as the dhun are just as beguiling. From these approaches, melodies, harmonies and rhythmic patterns of effortless beauty emerge.
Two new Santoor compositions began the session, emerging from Kiranpal Singh despite the acute discomfort of a head piercing toothache. Music, as R. Rovers commented would be his healer and so it proved as the faultless performance betrayed no sign of unease. The Santoor is both percussion and strings and each strike resounds with emanations from an ancient bell, quickly supported by the smooth scratch of the strings, creating the impression of voices within a fluid cloud, taking shape as the music plays on. It is an instrument of celebration and premonition and seems to speak with a voice of both warning and wisdom. On listening one feels guided, not only into song and the Indian classical traditions of which it is part, but also on a journey whose destination it has somehow seen. Perched on the lap, Singh plays with both power and delicacy, communing with the gods of perfection.
The drone-cloud of tuning that typifies Indian instrumentation is shared of course by the sitar. From this spell of sound the notes arrive, unbidden and Alford’s mastery over forty years takes us straight to the long sought for mystic terrain. While one instrument is in the key of D and the other in C Sharp, these separate voices create a unified language. And in this session their separate expressions combined to make the most beautiful of statements. As Clem Alford played, he transcended his own earthbound condition to become one with the music he knows so well and represents with such skill. After his two new compositions he overdubbed two ambient, trance like tracks from a new project by Youth, and while we could not hear the music he could in his cans we in the room, were treated to a perfectly formed live sitar composition that emerged spontaneously and complimented the assignment with not one misstep or misplaced intention. On hearing the piece on playback we were struck by how organic his part had been, as if it had been at the root of the new song from the start. When Clem left for a performance engagement later that day he had completed four new contributions in little more than an hour. With a shrug, a fastening of the coat and a slipping on of the shoes he was off on his next pilgrimage.
Kiranpal Singh resumed the seated position and although ailing slightly by now, played on the same new pieces and two others with stunning fluidity and flexibility. Both men are true masters of their form and style and cross the field of their endeavours like the most elemental of forces. A few strikes for sound on the strings and awareness of the given key, and Kiranpal Singh’s skill and talent were once more unlocked. All of us listening were aghast at the beauty he brought into being. Youth listened and guided the session as he worked on other projects on other levels of the house and at one point his fellow esteemed Producer, John Leckie popped in to say hello. Having worked with everyone from the days of Abbey Road, the old Harvest label and through The Stone Roses, onto other world masters such as Santoor Maestro, Shiv Kumar Sharma at Peter Gabriel’s Real World HQ, it was delightful to see these musicians connect and align with some of western musics’ most prominent guiding forces.
More than any other artists, musicians of this calibre are able to surmount any obstacle and attain the summit of achievement through nothing more than their experience and inner voice. Singh’s santoor was made for him and so speaks with his own inner mode of expression, as does Alford’s Sitar, his companion across his long and distinguished career. It is in these instances of normality that new worlds are truly brought into being. Music is the means and mode of travel and from these sounds the seeds of our potential are sewn. As the highest and purest form of art, music is its own prayer, its own means of transubstantiation. It is the method by which the unsteady world achieves peace.
We are all of us gods when close to beauty. Music like this is religion, making each of us our own priest.
On a normal day and with no ceremony.
And in casual clothes
Our ascendence remains ours to choose.
It was under Youth’s auspices that this session took place. This small poem was offered in tribute.
In your house of sound,
To your musical Babel,
Rooms bred for voices, each resonant with a truth.
Sun at each touch, while rain taints the window,
A palace whose subjects join the ancient to now
Thanks to Youth.
With gratitudefor your time, we celebrate these endeavours.
Priase and peace to you,
As you draw from trhe greyness of day,
Gold, then blue.
David Erdos 11/10/16
Montage: Claire Palmer