|Sandeep Bhagwati: Do you think of Indian Art Music in its entirety as something fixed in some ideal state, only to be re-produced by tradition or as something moving and fluid?
Ashok Ranade: Indian art music has a durable tradition and that, by definition, means that it has changed, and it is still moving but according to norms arrived at by a cultural consensus .The overall thrust has been to introduce changes smoothly, continuously but cautiously! Cautionary notes are sounded through formulations of rules and codes, while dynamism of change is realized through observation of norms aimed at aesthetic fulfillment. Thus the impulse to change and tendency to hold back for while combine to make a living tradition that Indian Art Music continue to enjoy.
I think the whole process is comparable to the lively relationship which usually exists between our drive to play and our need to have games to channel this powerful drive .Ultimately, the play impulse can become fruitful only if it succeeds in evolving games! You can of course jump in the air, run up the mountain and tumble down on the ground and be happy!
There is an unmistakable, sheer and physical exhilaration and excitement in these acts! Yet, you are happier to have football, cricket and also the Olympics! Children play but soon tend to invent games! While playing liberates, games offer freedom! After all freedom is the authority to frame ones own rules! Indian culture encourages making music at every step and thus liberates. Indian theoretical traditions make rules to offer freedom and this demands skills to explore it! Who fixed rules of musical games we play? Of course those who practice it .Later, some come forward to write down rules that appear to have stability .They are like dictionary makers who include words that have stayed in use long enough .Then some others come on the scene to bring about changes! Thus continues the process of playing and inventing new games!
While doing so Indian Art Music firmly believes in two norms: "We" and not "you" should introduce changes -and dont change everything all the time! Secondly, know what you change! Easy is it not?
S. B.: Does Indian Art Music depend aesthetically and practically on the expectations and training of its audience?
A. R.: Indian Art Music, like many other developed traditions in this vast universe of Music, simultaneously appeals at numerous and varied levels. (As do the epics, one may add!). So there is something for everyone. But if you want to enjoy music on many levels you have to acquire a taste. This is different from having a mere personal liking! To like sound of a sitar, a sarangi or a tabla is a rather preliminary, though perhaps an inevitable, level of appreciation. But to follow the structure of a raga, discern intricate patterns or perceive complex elaboration of a tala, these would require training.
There are Indian Art Musicians who are happy to appeal to the Western audiences mostly on the preliminary level! They have done harm to the cause of music both in India and abroad! Yet I will not say that Western audiences have changed Indian musicians; I would say they have tempted them! Unfortunately we have such audiences in India too! I can truthfully say that the guilt is equally shared and credit well distributed!
S. B.: Does living and/or performing in the West change the music Indian Art Musicians play?
A. R.: There are musicians who are eager to produce effect and there are those who wish to create an appeal! Those performing only in the West are likely to succumb to the temptation to be effective somehow! This makes us sad in India! But I must add that over the years Western audiences of Indian Art Music have become more demanding and that makes us glad wherever we are!
S. B.: What are the most persistent myths and false ideas about Indian Art Music that you have encountered abroad as well as in India? What can be done to defuse them?
A. R.: Quite a few! Let me give you some endearing examples: Indian Art Music of today is ancient! To learn Indian Art Music one has to go the Himalayas, observe fasts, grow a beard and wear beads! Indian music does not change and has not changed! Indian raga-tala music is the only music that India produces! All Indian music is spiritual, devotional or sacred etc!
The best way to counter such myths is to admit that they are myths (but not falsehoods)! The second best way is to invite persons like me to explain and perform Indian music to those who can face the music and me or us!
S. B.: What are in your opinion the real strengths of Western Art Music? What are the real strengths of Indian Art Music?
A. R.: Strengths of Art Music systems are, in the final analysis, very similar. Art Musics are paradoxical. Art Music simultaneously disturbs and pacifies, it lulls listeners into acceptance and also provokes them into a questioning attitude; finally, it manages to liberate persons who hear and then bind them in a society of individuals!
On more technical and tangible levels I would like to say that Western music appeals to me because of its pervasive quest for subtler timbres, its enveloping and accommodative stance and care it bestows on collective orderliness in music-making. Indian Art Music is strong in its keenness to intensively explore numerous and given limited frames, whether in melody, rhythm or literary aspects. Further, Indian Art Music tradition is strong because it coexists with five other streams of music: primitive, folk, religious, popular and confluence.
S. B.: Is there any movement in Indian Art Music today that one could call an intellectually and musically satisfying "contemporary" approach to Indian music?
A. R.: Today, Indian Art Music is exploring one dimension it has so far ignored the potential of sound as a medium of music understood in a wider perspective. To be melodic in raga and circular in tala and yet to combine many expressive resources is the challenge it is battling with. Many Indian Art Musicians are contemporary but unfortunately not many know that they are so! Some are so much afraid of the process of change they fail to notice actual changes taking place in them and their music!
In fact I believe that whole of India is in search of a New Song, though such searches are often unconsciously carried on!
S. B.: In what way would you imagine an aesthetically and philosophically fruitful use of Western Contemporary Art Music in Indian Art Music as a kind of countermove to the many uses Indian Art Music has been put to in Western 20th Century Art Music?
Deeper musical developments take place when cultures do not confront but approach each other! The attempt must be to create platforms for Western Contemporary Art Music and Indian Art Musics to have and perform a consistent dialogue. To know is to change .To know, it is necessary to take the other seriously! As exemplified in the effort of the Ensemble and the present project, Contemporary Western Art Music displays knowledgeable curiosity about music systems and also about music outside systems. It has an insatiable desire to distinguish between modern, new and the original. Further, it is ready to accept artistic or creative defeats and of course commercial failures! Hence, it is well positioned to aim at research-based creative designs. What is necessary is not searching for new sounds but for new approaches to sound! That would enable us to be creative rather than generative!
I must add that the present project of consciously approaching the process of change is worth many individual projects .We have come with our compositional sketches which you are to convert into paintings. This is collaboration in the right sense of the word! We are taking risks but collectively! That matters very much, as all criticism will be self-criticism! This sort of concerted attempt makes us humble and puts us in a true learning mode. Indeed a difficult task to achieve! Let us musically wish each other well!