In discussion with L’estasi Dell’oro on “Passages” by Ravi Shankar and Philip Glass (1990).
Do you remember when you first got a hold of „Passages“?
I would have to say approximately 8 years ago. I believe that I first became aware of this album through familiarity with Ravi’s work, as opposed to the more likely channel of Philip’s. It was just the well-worn process of hearing a great musician’s work for the first time and then digging through as much of the rest of their discography as time allows.
What makes this album so important for you?
The simple answer is that this is the best collection of modern music that I’ve ever heard in my life so far. There’s other individual songs that I feel reach higher than any single piece from „Passages“, Jimi’s „1983, A Merman…“ for example, but taken as a whole, the variety and almost unwavering quality across the 55 minutes are very impressive to me.
Are you generally interested in either the Minimalism school Glass is a part of, and the heritage Ravi Shankar represents, or are there preferences?
Both traditions are of interest, for both similar and differing reasons. The Western minimalism side’s long form accuracy of performance is astounding. Of course many pieces utilize synthesizers or machines for part or all of the sound, but there are many examples of highly trained musicians playing these very fast and demanding arrangements in sizable groups with amazing accuracy. Hearing a quartet of woodwinds or vocalists arpeggiate 32nd notes for 20 minutes in synchronization is certainly impressive, especially when each player is playing in the pocket of another’s notes and one weak link could lose the all-important groove.
I feel that the general Hindustani music I’ve been able to discover, not too much beyond key names are readily available to foreigners like myself unfortunately, is an amazing marriage of musical rules and improvisations. Other cultures undoubtedly have similar structures, but the long form interplay between a sitar and tabla create a sound that appears loose and informal at first, but one where the performers are very highly trained and aware of their actions as a group. I’m certainly not deeply aware of the compositional rules of ragas & talas, etc. but familiar enough to appreciate what those musicians know themselves. Even in the related vocal styles of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Pakistani performers, the communal aspect of group support for the soloist is wonderful.
In common, the two traditions place emphasis on extended songs beyond the popular format, which when done correctly, can leave a profound impact on the listener. Also, the aforementioned backing of smaller choral support often features drawn-out vocal melodies that really appeal to my ear, especially with the female voice. I’ve enjoyed working with a couple vocalists in this style, which can even sound great just floating over a groove alone without the usual emphasis on a soloist drawing the main focus. Read the rest of this entry »