Text by Shaswata Kundu Chaudhuri. Illustrations by Aishwaryashree.
Photograph By Somdeb Sengupta
The embers of my cigarette snuff out as they fall onto the concrete, moist as a result of drizzle. Transfixed, I stare on the dying orange glow whereas the chilly wind bites at my physique. Shadowy snatches of music waft into my ears. It’s April 2018, and The Rohan Ganguli Quartet is thundering upstairs within the studio as the primary storm of spring looms within the sky above.
When I return, the 4 musicians are standing in opposition to every wall of the oblong reside room of BlooperHouse Studios, going through each other. There is not any barrier to eye contact, which is vital to the set-up for jamming-based music. I’ve a front-row seat on the opposite aspect of the glass panel, behind the console with the engineer.
Dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts and shades, keyboardist Arunava Chatterjee appears to be like like he’s out for a stroll on the seashore. But the haunting chords popping out of his fingers inform a very totally different story. They herald the passage into an intricate soundscape the place the guitar slowly intones scattered motifs and the drums emulate timpani. I really feel as if I’m listening to an 18th-century orchestra. The music, Acquiesce, then climbs to hair-raising climaxes, driving on blasts of the alto saxophone performed by Rie Ona.
A guitarist and prolific blues participant, Ganguli is engaged on his debut solo album. He first gained recognition in 2001 as a part of Cognac, a group of younger, recent expertise from Kolkata who used their very own materials at a time when authentic indie music was a nonstarter and solely a handful of multi-city festivals had been working within the nation. Then, he made his bones enjoying with seminal Indian rock band The Supersonics (2006 to 2015) and nonetheless leads the blues ensemble Big Family, which he’s been with since 2011. His solo music is closely knowledgeable by jazz, however it will definitely took a drastic flip towards an indescribable entity that attracts from numerous genres.
The album encapsulates his expertise of Kolkata, his hometown. “I’ve not sat down to write any of these songs. They came to me in bursts of inspiration, from real-life situations. Losing people, being in a city which is beautiful yet lazy…so it is pretty much a documentation of that, just not consciously,” says the 40-year-old Ganguli. The songs on King of Summer viscerally channel this indolence; they’re all marked by a soothing, gentle texture that solely shifts within the feverish Acquiesce and the powerfully emotive Devotion.
King Of Summer
When they play the title monitor, a nice languor permeates the air, and their physique language adapts to the meandering sonic movement. Ganguli sways idly from aspect to aspect. Aniruddh Saha, the drummer, strikes his torso in sync with the leisurely time signature. Chatterjee is smiling whereas Ona is soaking within the music, eyes closed. Soon, she launches into solemn baritone notes that make the musical mattress round which the guitar strikes playfully for a whereas till the hovering crescendo.
“It captures the laziness of the city as well as its regal vibe,” Ganguli tells me later. “I was riding a steamer in the city’s northern part and saw that the skyline was full of beautiful old buildings. That gave me the idea for this song.”
Saha sprawls out on the black sofa within the console room once they’re completed. Across the glass panel, Ona is practising traces for the subsequent music whereas Abhibroto Mitra, the sound engineer, hovers round checking cables.
“Working in this band is terrific. I can do what I want to. The songs are really beautiful, and they come from a good space – his sincere love for music. I just listen to the songs and react to them,” says the energetic and jovial Saha, who transforms into a dynamic machine as soon as behind the equipment. In reality, Ganguli acknowledges that working with Saha pushed him onto the musical path he had subconsciously been drifting in direction of. The duo had been enjoying collectively for a 12 months when Ganguli discovered himself in Delhi throughout a tour for a jazz compilation album in 2017. Here, Ona jammed on a couple of songs with them, and this collaboration helped him arrive on the sound he had been looking for.
Ona joins us and locations her sax in its case. She plops herself onto the sofa. “What are you guys talking about?” she asks.
“Rohan’s approach to songwriting,” I reply.
“Oh, it’s very interesting!” she exclaims. “After listening to his stuff, I had my own ideas for his songs. So when he invited me to jam, I could already see my alto sax lines in the songs.” Although she couldn’t be part of their rehearsals in Kolkata as a result of she lived in Gurugram on the time, Ona repeatedly listened to recordings. “When I compose my solo lines, I don’t really think from a chord or scale, I just listen to the song numerous times till my line comes naturally,” she says.
The band places on a pre-recorded model of Blue Sky, which they are going to be recording reside subsequent. The devices cruise like birds in flight, chasing one another. It evokes a sense of limitlessness, and the atmosphere within the studio expands because the sounds of the sax, guitar, drums and synthesiser proceed to unfurl over the audio system.
During the post-listening session, Saha has an thought for an overdub. He picks up Ganguli’s guitar and makes screeching bends fairly crudely. Waving frantically, he motions to Ganguli to take over and refine his thought. As a outcome, the latter a part of the music has a number of screeching calls that carefully resemble these of an eagle.
This freedom that Ganguli permits his bandmates units him aside as a bandleader. Though he composed all of the songs for King of Summer, he left room for the others to herald their particular person kinds. “I do not want to tell anyone what they should play. I’ve already given what I had to give,” he says, swivelling in his chair.
However, probably the most unorthodox choice he took was to not use a bass participant – one thing which is comparatively extraordinary. The bass, with its low sound spectrum, is an integral a part of Western music. Not solely did this variation the soundscape massively, nevertheless it additionally created a problem for the musicians as they needed to cowl up the decrease registers of the musical spectrum.
“The bass fills a huge part of the sonic space, and all of us were conscious of its absence – who’s gonna handle it, when and how? I had tuned my guitar to sound heavier. Even Aniruddh tuned his kit to a bass guitar’s frequency,” says Ganguli. Pointing in direction of Chatterjee, he continues, “The rest fell on Arunava, who did a great job covering up the space by playing bass-heavy chords. So between the three of us, we tried to fill the space so that it didn’t get missed.”
A soft-spoken man, Chatterjee likes to go by the guide, enjoying actual notations and figuring out what is predicted of him. Ganguli’s freestyle strategy threw him off. “I am not accustomed to this kind of music at all, but they were kind enough to send me links of what they are looking for. That helped me to visualise their ideas,” he says.
The open-ended compositions require fixed communication between band members, and it was subsequently essential that the songs be recorded as single takes to retain the free-flowing improvisations that include jamming collectively. Ganguli wanted this to be pulled off with minimal trouble. During an earlier session, he had been impressed by Mitra’s views on capturing a band on the supply and never doing a lot post-production, and that’s how the younger sound engineer got here on board. I ask Mitra what preparations he needed to make. “After listening to the references Rohan sent, I understood that the album definitely needed to be recorded live. So I put all four of them in the live room together,” he replies.
Usually, bands report first after which tour, however Ganguli did issues the opposite approach spherical. Doing concert events strengthened the band’s chemistry and allowed the songs to concretise into the specified shapes. And in order that they entered the studio backed by the pulsating power of getting performed collectively onstage.
Before the recording course of started, Mitra had positioned Ganguli’s amp in a totally different chamber whereas plugging within the synthesiser immediately in order that the sounds of those two devices might be recorded independently. The solely drawback was that as a result of they had been jamming, the drums and the saxophone had been in the identical room. So he positioned them as distant as potential and tried out totally different mic placements to minimise sound leakage.
“The only bleed was the sax into the drums’ mic and vice versa. Usually, people think that instruments’ sounds leaking into others is bad, but that can always be used in a healthy way. That bleed adds ambience to the recording,” says Mitra, whose precedence is to make the artists really feel comfy within the studio and permit them to deal with their artwork.
For that very cause, Mitra performs a Buddhist chant on the audio system and dims the lights earlier than the band goes in to report the ultimate music, Devotion. Ganguli had envisioned a smoky, darkish soundscape after witnessing a puja for the tantric goddess Kali – an avatar of Durga – and needed that religious vibe within the music.
Once the chanting ends, Saha jumps up from the sofa and dashes to the reside room, harking at Mitra to get mics arrange as he needs to “try some things”. Ona goes outdoors whereas Chatterjee pulls out an iPad and performs atonal sounds that carefully resemble an esraj. Ganguli silently observes Saha, who’s pulling out a brass ingesting glass, beaded bracelets, ghungroos and cowbells from a duffel bag.
“Look…he has a crazy look in his eyes,” feedback Mitra earlier than switching off the lights within the reside room on Saha’s orders. And then, in full darkness, Saha’s inventive juices begin flowing – he howls and screeches into the mic, creating eerie, wordless chants. Then, utilizing the varied “instruments”, he works up a frenzied soundscape that reverberates by the studio, just like the interior sanctum of a temple within the throes of worship.
The hairs on my physique get up. Ganguli continues to be centered on Saha. Chatterjee has gone quiet. The silence is barely damaged when Ona rushes in with a piece of paper that has a Japanese poem written on it.
“This reminded me of a small village in Japan where a woman is seeing the sun set into the sea. She is talking to herself, wondering who might be on the other side. She looks 30 years into the future, and the scenery remains unchanged until she herself melts into the sea along with the sun. But till then, she keeps talking to herself,” she shares because the mic continues to be recording.
Ona’s narration of this courtship of illusionism turns into the one spoken factor on the instrumental album. Her phrases will probably be laid over Saha’s chanting to type the primary a part of the music, lending it an much more supernatural air.
Then, the room fills up with one of many moodiest items of music I’ve ever heard. As the band is cooking up a menacing chaos, all of the lights within the constructing immediately exit, apart from those within the studio. They preserve enjoying, unaware. When they end, Mitra lets out a lengthy sigh as if a spirit is leaving his physique. I’m too shocked to talk.
Ona whispers, “This song has some mystic power in it.”
The ambiance is unbearably intense. We all stroll downstairs to get some recent air, however it’s raining closely. The late afternoon sky has turned almost black, and the wind is howling in rage. The storm is right here in full power.