Sandeep Bhagwati

ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR SOUND?

This is a website of re-collections and re-feelings.

Over three years, musicians in three cities
Berlin, Montréal and Pune
Had lived through ecstasies of influence
Creating music not in their usual way
But by trying to think and feel like
visual artists, dancers, architects and poets.
What is music when it is not about sound?

The workshops and concerts were filmed and analyzed.
For this project, the artists and musicians re-visit their encounters.
They re-imagine some of the pieces anew
Expand others into the lives they live day to day,
Corona-ing their communal experience.
“We are food for each other.” (David Szanto)
And we, in the past, will become food for our own future.

During this exhibition,
the blog
ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR SOUND?
Tries, in words, videos, music and gestures,
To re-create past moments of musical understanding and alienation
which might allow you to experience
the exuberant, funny and thought-provoking
traces that all ephemeral art leaves in its wake.

ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR SOUND?
is dedicated to the memory of Govind Bhilare
pakhawaj player extraordinaire and founding member of Ensemble Sangeet Prayog,
who died of Covid-19 in Pune on August 1, 2020.
He had helped on the frontline battling this pandemic.
His warmth and his musical brilliance throughout this project will not be forgotten
and his musicianship will continue to inspire us.

Sandeep Bhagwati

ANGKLUNGKLANG

A
Each musical instrument is a cosmos, in which living occurs. And this in a literal sense – sometimes instruments are entire ecosystems that harbour life in its many forms. Each musician, too, is part of a larger ecology – that of a community, a society, of history but also that of living and non-living beings beyond our human existence. 
(Sandeep Bhagwati)

N
My instrument shares everything that I live. So, if one evening I have a lively discussion, if I laugh a lot, or if I throw a big tantrum, the next day the audience will hear it all in my instrument. To work with this instrument is above all to accumulate knowledge, to carry a heritage, a baggage of traditions that took centuries to develop. Skills that took me years to acquire. A lifetime of daily practice to develop my vocabulary, to refine my modes of expression. 
(Marie Annick Béliveau)

G
We all perform and we are all food for each other. 
(David Szanto)

K
The long journey that I made with this instrument gives me great joy – to look at my sound, to listen to it, to contemplate it perhaps. 
(Guy Pelletier)

L
Medieval philosopher Jakob Böhme postulated that all things around us essentially are musical instruments – when they are conceived and imagined first they are heard as new sources of sound – and only then does their imagined sound seek a realization as a thing, an object. 
(Sandeep Bhagwati)

U
My instrument is different every day. I’m a bit like a cook who opens the fridge and has to compose a meal with what he finds and of course with his creativity, his experience, and his know-how. 
(Marie Annick Beliveau)

N
I am always looking for my instrument. In lots of different places. From hardware stores to art supply stores to warehouses and plumbing supply stores and in all of those places, what I think is the most interesting thing is the people that I encounter and the stories that they tell and all of the different multitudes that are contained within it. Each of those people bring something to my life, into my story and into my instrument that I ordinarily wouldn’t have encountered. Someone I shouldn’t have met, but did not. 
(Jess Tsang)

G
This instrument is also my way of making a place through what I loved, through music, through a society, through everything I had to say. And… it has accompanied me, all my life until now and certainly for a very long time to come, I hope.  
(Guy Pelletier)

K
When a man, my friend, GiGI, who has made bread all of his life dies. Not just his memory, but a very material part of who he is, lives on in his sourdough starter. 
(David Szanto)

L
Maple. Spruce. Ebony. Snakewood. Ironwood. Pernambuco. Horse Hair. Tree sap. Tinsel. Mother of pearl. Silk. Sheep’s gut. Silver. Steel. Tungsten. Leather. Plastic – to me my instrument is alive and my relationship with it is constantly changing. 
(Elinor Frey)

A
My instrument is very old. We have found copies, I think, in caves somewhere like this, that were 35 thousand years old or more. I can hardly imagine that kind of time, because it’s far beyond what I can think. 
(Guy Pelletier)

N
Instruments are repositories of many time scales. Each part of it exists on a different plane of time – the metals that were once formed in stars and never really change; the wood that takes decades to grow and decades to mature; the animal elements and body parts for which we are indebted to our co-inhabitants of this world, the time it takes them to grow and accumulate what we need from them, all within a life as short-lived and ephemeral as our own; and finally our own breath or muscle move, a matter of split-seconds and speed – all these time-scales make up our instruments. 
(Sandeep Bhagwati)

G
A small moment, a microvariation of maybe a centimetre, a millimetre, of pressure increase can change the playing technique completely, can change the vowel, the note.
(Gabriel Dharmoo)

A
My instruments come in families of all kinds of different sizes related to each other, made to be played together and they are often made by families of builders. People who have been making these instruments for generations. And we play them together, as groups, as families. We share the instruments. We share our ecologies. We share our saliva. It’s a very close relationship. 
(Terri Hron)

N
If I don’t clean my instrument, stuff grows! Alright? It’s disgusting! It’s me. It’s my saliva. Grows and then when I clean it [spitting noise] it’s me on the floor. Again. 
(Felix Del Tredici)

G
Microbial beings, micronutrients, organelles perform me: an eater. A thing to eat, sustenance. Histories and landscapes and technological and political powers. Hunger, taste, perform what you could call milieus. Societies. Their cuisines, our identity. Together and apart, these are all ecologies of food and they perform us as we perform them.
(David Szanto)

K
Multiple cultural references, different traditions that I have, that I was exposed to. Through listening or through training, I ingest them, I digest them, and then I find a way to bring them out. 
(Gabriel Dharmoo)

L
Instruments insist that we take them seriously. They transform our bodies and re-make them in their image. They brook no carelessness. Once we are in, they offer no easy way out, they structure our mental and physical being beyond recognition. A musician is a human being transformed by an instrument, more in tune with the intangible demands of sounds and their instruments than with other humans and their desires. This inescapable grasp can lead to rebellion – history records musicians rebelling against their instruments, against their presumption to teach us what the world really is – if indeed there is one beyond their frail body. 
(Sandeep Bhagwati)

U
When I look at my instrument, I think about how it’s something that I own but something I don’t care about. It’s something that, it doesn’t matter if it breaks or someone takes it or if I don’t have the same one again, today or tomorrow, because it’s everywhere and it’s everything. 
(Jess Tsang)

N
I think that in 300 years my instrument will still be played, even though I may be long forgotten. 
(Elinor Frey)

G
My instrument, mine, it lives in me, it’s a part of me, it’s a part of my identity. And when I die, my instrument will die with me. Only a few memories will remain. 
(Marie Annick Béliveau).

Montréal 2018 – Zürich 2021

 

ECSTASIES OF INNOCENCE

Ecstasies of Innocence I (Elinor & Felix)

 

Ecstasies of Innocence II (Elinor & Gabriel)

 

Ecstasies of Innocence III (Gabriel & Marie Annick)

 

Ecstasies of Innocence IV (Terri & Gab)

 

Ecstasies of Innocence V (Gabriel, Felix & Marie Annick)

 

ECSTASIES OF INNOCENCE (music composed by Sandeep Bhagwati/Kasey Pocius/musicians)

Each musician listens to a one-minute composition by Sandeep Bhagwati on their headphones and improvises a response to this music while they listen. Afterwards, Kasey Pocius layers these solo takes into short musical miniatures, duos and trios. Inspired by a common but absent musical ancestor, they fit together quite well. Innocently, they speak to each other, even though the other is not listening to them. True ecstasies, true moments of being beside oneself.

 

 

Sandeep Bhagwati
MIRRORRIM 
Hearing Music In A Place Where It Never Sounded

Mirrors are creators of identity – and of confusion. Jorge Luis Borges once wrote: “Mirrors and copulation are despicable because they multiply the number of people” (in his short story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”). Musicians especially have a hard time thinking about such cumulative mirror effects. A famous device in counterpoint is the retrograde – a melody played backwards. The problem: no one will recognize the melody, and often it does not even make sense (in the style of that same piece). Language twisters encounter the same problem: a retrograde of a text, its palindrome, rarely makes any sense, whether the unit chosen is the letter or the word. Moreover, palindromes rarely concern themselves with the sound of spoken language. Reversing the sounds of spoken language, as we all know from experimental radio, almost never yields intelligible sense.

In the above poetic example, this sonic reversal is not done by machine – it is done by mouth. Reversing the sounds of each line in one’s mouth – and then writing them down in the orthography of the language chosen: this quasi-oulipian method yields strange poetry, where meanings seem to appear, but can never be pinned down.

This, essentially, is the method at the heart of the MIRRORIM video. Musicians seated in a space filled with mirrors were asked to mirror the sounds and movements of other musicians they saw – in a mirror or directly. Their actions were observed by yet another musician mirroring them. Of course, if one musician has a cello and the other is a singer, direct copying of the sound and the actions is not possible – it becomes, in many ways, a gratuitous non-sense music and dance. This imitation game is common with dance companies, and it was brought to the “Ecstasies of Influence” project by choreographer Angelique Willkie. In itself, the musical mirror game is creative fun at the border of nonsense.

In tune with the spirit of “Ecstasies of Influence” where we ask non-musicians to compose music, filmmaker Ralitsa Doncheva then took the footage from several such games played by four musicians on December 1, 2020 – and composed them into a video that translated the multiple perspectives of a mirror space into a two-dimensional video surface. She edited the video for its visual logic – and thereby, as collateral result, she created music under the visual influence, composed, yes, but not by following any inner-musical logic. Composer Kasey Posius then took Doncheva’s proto-composition and cleaned up the sound, and subtly added acoustical mirroring processes into the mix. Therefore, everything you hear is a sound from the room, but not necessarily present in the room – in the same way that a mirror may show you things that are not really where they seem to be.

MIRRORIM is thus neither a re-enactment nor a re-mix of the concert piece we performed in December 2016 – it is, rather, a distant reflection or a distorted echo that reminds us how changing dimensions creates intriguing discombobulations of time and space.

Ecstasies of Influence / Are You Out of Your Sound?

The Thinking-Feeling of Food and Performance
David Szanto

What would an “un-concert” about ecologies, improvisation, yeast and death look like? How might food art become music, and how can darkness illuminate gastronomy? If I were to paint my palm with sourdough starter, and then clutch the hands of ten creative souls, what would be exchanged? What residues would remain? How might we be transformed?

None of these questions were in my mind in mid-2018, at the outset of the Ecstasies of Influence project. Many others were, however, largely relating to Sandeep Bhagwati’s idea about “translating” the processes of artistic creation and musical composition. I myself am very interested in process, both in art and in food. And I too ask questions about what it is I do: What is food art, anyway? How is it different and similar to other food practices? What does artistic research show us about food issues like hunger and identity and sustainability? Can what I do become meaningful to other creators and makers and performers?

As Ecstasies of Influence started to unfurl, I quickly realized I was in good company. From the very first collaboration discussion in my living room, when we ate some food I had made and talked about what we might do together, I felt a kind of resonance. This “studio visit” became an organic extension of what Sandeep had already expressed to me, and I to him. My “studio,” itself a rather organic thing, is an entangled ecology of all the spaces in which I work—kitchens, grocery stores, streets, galleries. Ecology, eh? A theme began to emerge.

Further into the process, when Ensemble Ekstasis met for the first time as a group, I shared more images and stories, and more things to eat. The attention and generosity reflected back at me was powerful. Notably, that day (September 19, 2018) was Yom Kippur, and I was fasting. Though I am not religious nor particularly observant, the Jewish “day of atonement” has always been important to me, an occasion to think-feel the centrality of food in our lives. The fact that I was recounting memories of my friend and inspiration, Gigi Frassanito, and of his death from stomach cancer, made my emptiness of stomach and lightness of head particularly apt. The group seemed to enjoy our yeast-covered handshakes, as well as the taste of the bread I had made with that same starter culture. 

I discovered right then that these people were all too willing to play and to improvise, to tinker and to taste—to just go with it and see what would happen. It was reassuring and gratifying. I felt that my meanderings through digital art and speculative design and even critical epistemology had now brought me to a human ecology of like-minded, like-hearted humans.

Throughout the fall, many moments reinforced this generosity of spirit. As we slipped toward winter, our “rehearsals” deepened my sense of connection and rightness. At the same time, however, not much clarity was emerging about what our project—and the eventual performance—was about. We had plans for staging and dramaturgy, there were texts written and gestures proposed, and then, right before the end, we had a lighting design, blocking and instruments in place. But beyond ecology and improvisation, what was the meaning? Was there a point to this piece? And did that even matter? After all, we all seemed pretty okay in the ongoing state of not-knowing. We seemed great, in fact.

At many moments during the performance, I felt overwhelmed, connected to sound and emotion, both my own and the others’. I felt Gigi’s presence, and a continuing sense of togetherness. When the lights came up, I lifted my final prop—a paper-wrapped loaf of bread made with Gigi’s sourdough starter—and flung it toward Sandeep. He caught it with grace, and our un-concert concluded.

It was then, or about then, that I realized what had happened. I understood what the meaning and point had been. In isolation, death is loss; in communion, loss is transformed into connection, succour and new creation. The truth of the performance had emerged—as so often it does—through its own unfolding. Perhaps this sounds like artistic babble, but to me, it was a profound discovery, a way to understand better what I—what we all—do.

We transform by doing. We make meaning out of action. We sense and react to those around us. We give and we receive. We make, we think, we feel. This is art. This is my food art. We are all food for each other.

 

sandeep bhagwati
the sound and the unsound
on the “ecstasies of influence” project

1

in this threesome of cities,
through two falls, one monsoon
in a green deccan valley, in a sandbox in prussia,
near a mohawk river embroidered with ice
the sound and the unsound
of our spindrift existence
slowly convolved and took shape

 

2

our wings lifted with – music

 

3

all the songbirds, the cattle, the raindrops,
all the phone calls, the algae, the mothers, the fathers,
all these memories, sore inside our bodies
slowly rose through the uncharted unsound below
gasping for air.

(montréal)

 

4

our mouth filled with – music

 

5

o my companions
how did you wander
all sphinx and larynx
through these rains through these drifts
arriving in sync
your eyes full of monsoons
your sounds fragrant with sighs.

(pune)

 

6

our eyes tore up – with music

 

7

who twisted our tongues
into intricate turns ?

who seared our songs
into thousands of burns ?

who challenged our skins
to stretch into ears ?

who made us grow fins
to encounter our fears ?

who crushed our bones
for more affable chants ?

who fashioned our tones
from the voices of ants ?

(berlin)

 

8

our palms crawled with – music

 

9

what went broke, what we keep
what we spoke in our sleep
haunts our songs when we reap
the returns of the weeks
when confusion was cheap
and bliss dear, and bliss dear…

(berlin)

 

10

our dreams ablaze – with music

 

11

there is nothing to sound
but the air that we eat
that we swallow and knead
into food for our ear

there is nothing to sound
but the being we meet
that we beat and caress
till it yields what we need

there is nothing to sound
but a tear.

(montréal)

 

12

our cheeks burned – with music

 

13

that daily conference of birds
on the soggy lawn outside
got it right:

never stop listening
even when noise prevails
never stop being subtle
even when mountains slide
never cease to make music
even when no one listens

they cast their voice
on our art long ago.
we still hardly know theirs.

(pune)

 

14

our hearts fluttered – with music

 

15

in this threesome of cities
we rambled through music’s abysses
only the air made some sense
it guided us through this entangled maquis
of instruments, bodies and unforeseen grief
of temperatures taken from within our minds
audiations coming alive in our hands.

our sounds and our unsounds
pooled in our blood
thickened, became part of our skin,
our recondite ears.

their skin made of tunes and detunings
their skin made of chords and delicious discords
                             of rhythms and reveries
                             of words as much as of silent complicity

a resonant vista, a rugged and uncertain land.
can our unsounded instincts traverse its terrain?
what from our sonic odyssey will they remember?

 

Zürich, Oct 21-28, 2020