AMN Reviews: Various Artists – Anthology Of Exploratory Music From India (2021; Unexplained Sounds Group)

The Unexplained Sounds Group is back with a new 2CD release of modern experimental music from India. Stereotypes of Indian music are common outside of that country, perhaps not helped by the popularization of Bollywood soundtracks. While Indian musicians have collaborated with western classical, jazz, and rock artists, there is an ongoing (and incorrect) belief amongst some that music from India is still largely produced by instruments such as the sitar, sarod, tambura, and tabla.

This compilation unasks the question of what music from India is or should be. Yes, there are elements of traditional music throughout, with characteristic strings and percussion. But these are combined with drones, field recordings, electroacoustic processing, and post-industrial influences.

Some of the resulting compositions do not resemble Indian music at all, such as the 11-minute Illuminen by Surabhi Saraf, which incorporates pulses, rumblings, liltings, sculpted static, and rattling and crackling elements in a slow-moving amalgam of sounds. To live work and die in East Kolkata from Jessop & Co is more influenced by musique concrete, and consists of irregular percussion and disconcerting waves and textures. Hemant Sreekumar’s Ajivika has a rather simple pattern of processed white noise, throbs, and echos that ebb and flow, and yet is strangely appealing.

Other pieces employ traditional instrumentation to varying degrees, consist mostly of bells, or include recordings of chanting and street noises. A number of these have the feel of an outdoor sound installation, with voices fading in and out of constituent tones and noises.