ZerOclassikal: ‘Divergence’ proposal notes

 


Additional notes: Parameshwari quartet & multimedia resources (please just ignore if this unduly stretches the intentions of a word limit!)


 

Proposal summary: An all-acoustic quartet setting of Raag Parameshwari: for (my) sruti-tuned acoustic guitar, tabla, violin, & bass clarinet. Plus: an online ‘learning zone’ of multimedia resources, demystifying the workings of the raga for global listeners and learners.

 

• Quartet composition •


Instrumentation: All-acoustic arrangement of Raag Parameshwari, for:

  • Steel-string guitar: sruti-tuned
  • Tabla / jori: low-pitched Sa-Dha
  • Violin: legato articulations
  • Bass clarinet: melodic drones

Above all, I seek to interconnect the distinctive essences of diverse musical traditions. I believe this setting is ideal for blending the idiosyncratic strengths of Hindustani raga, Western functional harmony, and Carnatic melodic accompaniment – without diluting their core fundamentals. Broadly, I envision a four-part structure (also see video demos below):

  1. Alap [gtr-vio-bcl]: patient, melody-led harmonisations of core themes – slowly expanded as per the raga’s curious geometry. My guitar is strung slack, low, and heavy, opening up fresh access to sitar, sarod, and bansuri-style articulations – still largely unexplored zones on the acoustic steel-string.
  2. Jor-jhalla [“]: unbroken rhythmic-melodic swara-streams: here, the main themes are ‘hidden’ – only implied, kayda-style, via the architecture of Hindustani-derived ascending structures, fractal sequences, three-layered tihai, etc. Maintain a ‘spotlight-sharing’ balance between all instrumental timbres.
  3. Gat 1: madhya ektal [+tabla]: using the triple-melodic lead to explore the polyrhythmic possibilities of 12 – around a mellifluous, wide-roaming gat reshuffled from the classics. ‘Safe spaces’ for flexible improvisation, over lehra/nagma-style loops – and, of course, ample room for a tabla solo.
  4. Gat 2: drut tintal [all]: uniting the ensemble’s combined firepower – tightly-arranged, but structurally expansive and rhythmically intense (‘convergence & divergence’). ‘Cadenza’ for sawal-jawab – and conclude with a vast, rolling tihai (adapted from an amazing but seldom-seen Pt Shiv-ji idea). Scattering of ‘jungle/DnB kaydas’ (it’s London…).

This way, raga retains primacy – the composition is classically structured, and never leaves Parameshwari’s phraseological bounds. But it also allows for genuinely fresh zones of transglobal musical interchange: e.g. sruti-stretched acoustic guitar tunings, jazz reharmonisation of Carnatic violin lines, using the momentum of the bass clarinet’s low overtones as a ‘controllable drone’, etc. Some guitar-based demos:

 

 

On more practical levels: London has a ready supply of superb musicians for all these instruments – although the setup is also flexible to circumstance (violin parts also work on sax, bass clarinet on cello, etc). I can only offer you diverse experience, not heritage – and will gladly prioritise ensemble musicians from underrepresented groups, including female performers (no challenge given the depth of the scene). Similarly, the rhythmic structures could lend themselves to choreographic collaborations too.

 

Compositional process / AV: I can score for sargam and Western stave, and home-record ‘guide part’ demos, tabla loops, and performance notes for all musicians. I also have the composition software to explore the ensemble’s possibilities without relying on face-to-face performers in an era of COVID uncertainty – and am experienced in the studio via previous work as a session guitarist.

 

• Multimedia resources •


Presenting the composition itself is only one slice of what can be brought to the listener. Why not share my learning so that others can also use it as a bridge to (and from) the world of Hindustani music? Naturally, this process will also drastically extend my own understanding of the raga…

 

Demystification: I believe Parameshwari is an ideal ‘gateway raga’ for new listeners – with unusually wide fusion potential too. Its sparse, ominous scale (SrgmDnS) is simple yet globally unique, with an intriguing modern origin tale to match. Last year I compiled the most extensive analysis of this raga to date, with input from leading artists, covering its origins (dreamed up by Pt. Ravi Shankar in the back of a car), phraseology, geometry, mythology, performance history, and more.

 

I would absolutely love to expand this work into an open-access multimedia ‘learning zone’ – published/hosted in whatever form ZC prefers – aimed at demystifying the raga’s workings and human context for a global audience. Some ideas:

  • Annotated playthroughs: with ‘live sargam’, phraseological comments, etc
  • Interactive scale wheels: bringing the swara geometry to life with clickable santoor tones 
  • Fusion considerations: e.g. diatonic jazz voicings, harmonic implications, 
  • Sociopolitical dimensions: examining the structural injustices underlying the raga’s origin tale
  • Artist insights: interviewing those who learned the raga directly from Shankar – Pt Ronu Majumdar, Pt Gaurav Mazumdar, Pt Tarun Bhattacharya – and, hopefully, Sukanya too
  • Social media clips: use the colourful, visually intriguing nature of Hindustani music to distract, inform, and uplift bored, feed-scrolling office workers…

I’m experienced with html/css/php, plus interactive web elements (I built this site) – and would relish the time to upskill my presentational coding for this specific mission. I guarantee minimum managerial or technical faff on your part: I can handle everything required for the ideas above (i.e. I could just present you with a fully-formed website, or a formatted set of pages for the ZC site…or a printed take-home resource to give out at performances, etc). I just need the time!


(In case you’re interested…some of my other raga-relevant writings:)


  • For a superb taste of the raga’s rasa blend – a fascinating excerpt by Pt. Ronu Majumdar:

• My music & sounds •

In rough order of raga-relevance (stop whenever you get bored)…


Parameshwari: quartet ideas

  • Steel-string raga-guitar: scattering of demo ideas for the quartet. I want to use Indian ideas to broaden the expressive capabilities of the ordinary acoustic guitar: embracing fun, but always aiming for emotivity over technical flash:
[see above]
  • Quartet demo passage: A quick mockup of some scored/arranged sequences (forgive the MIDI samples for now):

 


No Kanjira (w/ Jesse Bannister)

2018 track for my acoustic guitar, drum samples, and (broken-skinned) tabla solo – plus a resampled shattering of Jesse’s soaring sax improv (thanks for funding him!). I guess it’s ‘SACC’ – if I’d known the term back then…

  • Bageshri/Kalavati at ambient jungle tempo (159bpm):

 


Lewisham lockdown loops

Homebound improv ideas to bide the lack of live interaction…

  • e.g. George Benson-style ‘vocal mirroring’ improv:

  • Meend-style’ electric bends (…before my hands were strong enough to play them on acoustic too):

  • …old-style Delta blues – Robert Johnson’s jagged slide rhythms:


Guitar World lesson studies

Dozens of short, fully-scored etudes for my Fresh Repertoire lesson series: focused on distilling core concepts from various global musical traditions, and reappraising some familiar guitaristic ideas along the way…


  • Also: Whether I get a grant or not – thanks for backing the growth of this sphere! It’s a testament to the depth of the British SACC scene that I’ve somehow ended up in London as a raga-focused musicologist (…an obsession I’d always assumed to have zero economic potential). And let me know if ZC has any other ideas I might be of use with).

George Howlett is a London-based musician and writer. I play guitar, tabla, and santoor, loosely focusing on jazz, rhythm, and global improvisation. Above all I seek to enthuse fellow sonic searchers, interconnecting fresh vibrations with the human voices, cultures, and passions behind them.


ONLINE LESSONS •

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Recently I’ve worked long-term for Darbar, Guitar World, and Ragatip, and published research into tuning and John Coltrane’s raga notes. I’ve written for Jazzwise, JazzFM, and The Wire, and also record, perform, and teach in local schools. Site menu above, follow below, & get in touch here!

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