Prasanna's Carnatic Convergence Concept Produces Potent Panethnic Potion
AAJ: Tell us how the explosion in worldwide awareness of Indian musical culture has affected your thing. Do you get any more or less attention for tour of festival appearances?
P: The worldwide awareness of Indian musical culture tends to be restricted to Hindustani music mostly. Carnatic music is still a relatively unknown form of music. Most people tend to associate Indian music with Sitar and Tabla. While I am quite proud of the fact that these two beautiful instruments and the tradition they represent- Hindustani music has become universal- I can't help feeling that Carnatic music never got and may never ever get that kind of recognition. I can definitely understand the various dynamics that shape this scenario and I am only concerned about providing access to Carnatic music to as many people as possible and leaving it to them to embrace it or not.
So, in all fairness, I have had to really struggle to explain what I do, where I come from, why I am not playing the Sitar etc. Adding to the list of perceived paradoxes', I play Carnatic music on the electric guitar and I also play Jazz, which are rather unusual among Indian classical artists. In the last few years, I have been fortunate to see a growing following of people all over the world for my music, including my traditional Carnatic music, and this gives me so much encouragement to pursue the path of excellence to the best of my abilities.
AAJ: Changing the discussion to your technique, please tell us about what goes into it- especially your incredible fretless, or fretless- sounding anyway, technique -how that started and how it continues into today, with now what sounds to be a technically transparent facility. In short, how do make it sound like there are no frets on the instrument even though there are? Also, tell us about the quarter-tones/half-tones/microtonal aspect of your playing and how you make it fit/not fit with western harmonic concepts-and then jazz concepts.
P: Interestingly, I would be able to play most of the gamakas only on a fretted guitar and not on a fretless guitar. The other day, I tried David Fuiczynski 's fretless-by the way, he has just started studying with me-and I found that the Carnatic gamakas were not really coming out that precisely on a fretless.
I would look at what I play more as a vocabulary rather than technique. Carnatic music is sophisticated and complex melodically, because of the gamakas that give life to the ragas and compositions. I prefer to call it just gamakas, as it should be called. Microtones, quarter-tones etcetera is terminology that tends to sound very Eurocentric, and doesn't really apply to Carnatic music.
The octave is divided into 16 pitches, unlike the 12 in western music. There are 72 parent ragas in Carnatic music which are seven note scales in the ascent and descent. 36 of them are with the natural 4th and 36 with the #4th. The various permutations and combinations of scale design possibilities out of this gives rise to more than 22,000 different ragas. Since several of these ragas can be very similar except for minute differences, the single most important distinguishing factor is the gamakas. These become the all-important and distinctive 'phraseology' for each of these ragas. Therefore the gamakas are very highly developed and with very precise, minute color shadings, and are essential to bring out the character of each raga.
So, whiIe I improvise on a particular scale-for example a Lydian flat 7 scale over a dominant seventh chord, I use the corresponding raga and play with the gamakas of the raga. That brings out a completely different color(Note: the Lydian Flat 7 is the same scale as Vachaspati raga), in contrast to playing Lydian flat 7 as a 'scale'. I also constantly change between ragas to suit the chord changes and many times, constantly shift between playing carnatic ragas and other jazz phraseology, like bebop vocabulary, to make it even less literal and more fun for me.
AAJ: What aspects of your compositional style would you point listeners to? How would you attempt describing your own compositional style?
P: I try to find a balance between meticulous written parts and interpretative sections in most of my compositions. Many of them take Carnatic ragas as source material melodically and harmonically, and Carnatic tala calculations, which are the mathematical groupings/sub-divisions etcetera, as rhythmic material. They are also in varied time cycles. Again, I hate to use the term 'odd-time' because these are very natural from the culture I am coming from. I also enjoy writing counterpoint. Chord changes are also staple stuff in my music, but then it all depends on the genre I am writing for.
AAJ: Now tell us about your latest conceptual focus. What events transpired that have brought it into focus.
P: Of late, I am very heavily influenced by African music and an off-shoot of that is my interest in the concept of creating separation between the various parts rhythmically. The result of it is that much of my new compositions seem to have very specific and lyrical bass lines, which are quite displaced from the downbeat of the drums. I love bass lines, by the way. To me, a great bass line makes a song so much fun! I am also having fun writing music that has only a pulse and no time signature. Lots of new music like drum n' bass, trance etc seem to influence my writing and thinking too.