Saturday, March 24, 2007

Ragas To Play In The Dark

Currently, I am listening a lot to Pandit Pran Nath's "Midnight - Raga Malkauns": truly Musick To Play In The Dark.

It is a double cd of Indian classical music recorded in the United States in 1971 and 1976, the raga chants slowly, carefully, deliberately and sometimes fiercely intoned by Pran Nath himself. He is acccompanied on tablas and tamburas amongst others by minimalists Terry Riley, La Monte Young and Marion Zazeela.

Traditionally, Raga Malkauns is sung late at night: it is a raga for the witching hour. According to The Raga Guide, superstitious musicians describe it as a raga with supernatural powers, and some believe that it can attract evil spirits. In Pran Nath's performance, it certainly has a hypnotic, menacing quality, his vocalizations and the drones that accompany it a dark and consuming fire.

Little wonder Sunn 0)))'s blackened doom guru Stephen O'Malley has repeatedly namechecked Pran Nath on his blog as well as on his myspace page. Listening to Raga Malkauns, a Sunn 0))) vs. Pran Nath sound clash isn't too hard to imagine.

The voice of Pandit Pran Nath seems to work as a Coilean Time Machine, removing the listener from "temporal reality", facilitating time travel. Terry Riley, in a tribute to his musical guru, writes on Pran Nath's uncanny ability to manipulate time: "He was also able to create spaces in time which seemed to go against the laws of time's passing, in that he would get many, many more notes into a phrase than should be allowed to happen in the amount of time allotted to them".

But Pran Nath's music isn't all phantasmagoria: listening to his chants is also hearing a human body intimately, hearing how that very physical body resonates with sound, hearing hair, flesh and bones, hearing breath itself.

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