Thursday, October 31, 2019

Evening Ragas from Benares (1981)

by G. Jack Urso

From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.
Evening Ragas from Benares is a 1981 Academy Sound & Vision recording which was later released in 1986 and 1994 by the Musical Heritage Society. Originally recorded in December 1967 in Benares, India by Deben Bhattacharya, the 40-minute recording is comprised of three pieces. Click on the links below for individual tracks or on the video above for the complete album on the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel:

1. Raga Puriya Kalyan (21:06)
                Debendra Krishna Chattopadhyay, Sitar
                Surendra Mohan Mishra, Tablá

2. Raga Pilu (11:00)

                 Amiya Bhattacharya, Subahar
                 Narayan Chakravorty, Vicitra viná

3. Raga Darbari (8:00)
                Narayan Chakravorty, Vicitra viná

Selections from the liner notes to Evening Ragas from Benares:
The sitar (right) is undoubtedly the most popular stringed instrument of north and central India for raga music today. It is the direct descendant of the vina, the stringed instrument of India played for 2,000 years. The present form of the sitar is attributed to 13-century musician and innovator, Amir Khusru, and is less complicated to play than the vina. Most sitars have seven playing strings together with a number of sympathetic strings which resonate to enrich the sound. On its long neck are movable metal frets fastened by silk or gut strings. Hollow gourds are attached to the back of the neck, usually at each end, to increase the volume of the sound. The strings of the sitar are plucked using a wire plectrum fitted to the right index finger.
The surbahar (left) resembles the sitar in appearance but is larger in size and scope. It is nearer to the vina in its quality of sound and is regarded as superior to the sitar as an instrument. The vicitra vina belongs to the vina family of stick zithers and has five melody strings, three built-in drone strings, and 11 sympathetic strings. Unlike the sitar, the vicitra vina is fretless, but the skill and expertise of the musician enable him to unerringly find the exact note in its long neck. 

Vicitra Vina (top), Tambura (bottom)
The accompaniment on the recording is provided by the tambura (above), a four-stringed drone instrument, and the tabla (below), a pair of drums which make the tala or rhythm which is an essential part of Raga music. The table is played by both hands — the right hand drum gives the strong beats and the left hand drum the soft strokes.

The raga Puriya Kalyan is associated with the early hours of the evening and is heptatonic or in the seven-note scale. The rhythmic accompaniment, or tritala, is in 4/4 time. This raga, also known as Purva Kalyani, is of a feminine nature and expresses tenderness and love.

Pilu, a raga of the late afternoon, is in the seven-note scale and expresses a bashfulness and timid love. The severe and courtly midnight raga Darbari is again in the heptatonic scale. Both Pilu and Darbari were recorded during a gathering at a private house and the sounds of passing travelers and the cries of a vegetable salesman in the street outside combine to bring the atmosphere of India to the listener.                                                                   
                                                                                             — Deben Bhattacharya


Halloween Howls: 45 Minutes of Fear

by G. Jack Urso

From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.
Halloween offers an opportunity for Aeolus 13 Umbra to entertain two of its favorite subjects: the ghastly holiday itself and ambient music. While typically regarded as a contemplative soundbed for peaceful and positive meditation, ambient music also has a dark side. Not evil, but as the seasons shift from the vibrancy and warmth of summer to the cool autumn winds, so to do our thoughts change to meditations on our mortality, and inevitably to the afterlife and the spirit world.

Halloween Howls, released in 1999 by Gemstone Entertainment and posted above from the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel, is one of several similarly named albums for All Hallows' Eve. Typically, these sort of holiday-themed CDs have a collection of campy Halloween sound effects, dialog, and maybe a ghost story or two. Halloween Howls, however, takes a more subtle approach. Moody and atmospheric, yes, there are the expected groans and moans and the cackling witch, but long periods of environmental noise mark this work, sometimes penetrated by a blood-curdling scream, a frantic heartbeat, a chainsaw, or slow, plodding footsteps that punctuate the silence. In real life, the only demons dogging us are the ones we create ourselves, but for those who have encountered crime, mental illness, and misfortune also know that the darker side of life, like a hurricane, can be a natural, unpredictable force unto itself.

If, by chance, Halloween happened never to have originated in late October, surely it would have to be moved there. In the Northeast, the colorful cacophony of leaves is past its peak and the transition to the dead and dormant state of winter, though still nearly two months away, is soon to settle in.  The 21st century modern human seldom affords itself time for contemplation, private space, and to be alone with our thoughts. We are never too far away from our cell phones, computers, car radios, TV in office waiting rooms — all clamoring for our attention. Convenient distractions from our fears and which protect the tenuous psychological barriers that buffer our sanity from the stark reality of our fragile mortal existence.

Halloween Howls, whose composer remains a mystery, is not music per se, but if John Cage’s three-movement composition 4’33”, which consists entirely of the ambient noises of the listener’s environment, can be considered music then I think we can afford Halloween Howls some measure of inclusion into the ambient music world.

For more Halloween-themed entries on Aeolus 13 Umbra, please visit: An Aeolus 13 Umbra Halloween (with some classic horror films on Aeolus 13 Umbra’s YouTube channel), The Monster Club: Classic Horror 80s-Style, and the spoken word performance, Medieval Death Poem.