Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Abstract Index Playlist - July 22/10

A little late to this acieeed party, but four months after its release, Charanjit Singh's Ten Ragas To A Disco Beat may hold up as the reissue of the year.

As with any reissue of the year candidate, there's gotta be a boffo backstory (such as some of my previous selections). Singh, a hot Bollywood composer during the 70s and 80s with ten albums to his name, should already be familiar to listeners of the amazing Bombay Connection label. His progressive grooves were a standout on previous comps, but Ten Ragas is a different story all together.

In 1982, Singh cobbled together a setup of two hot Roland products, the TB 303 bass synthesizer and the TR 808 drum machine, together with the very versatile Prophet 5 keyboard and set out to create digital, danceable ragas. The results are basically the dawn of acid house. The album is so fully realized that some people thought it was an Aphex Twin hoax, but this is the real historical deal.

I wish I had the liner notes of the actual release (suitably enough I bought a digital download) to tell me about the significance of these particular ragas, and his own words about what he modified and what he left alone. Then again, there's nothing to "leave alone" - the percussive scale of a digital keyboard doesn't match up with, for instance, the flexible pitch and intonation of a sitar. It sounds like above all else, Singh was a master of the pitch wheel, able to slide between notes to get the pitches he needed. It's not the first time anyone had successfully represented Indian scales in digital music (even Bruce Haack was pretty good at it), but there's something about Singh's playing that captures the ecstasy of the variations within the scales of each rag that elevates this experiment.

Acid House was fond of endless synth arpeggiations, but here Singh adds much more melodic interest than a repetitive 4 note phrase (not that I mind those...), he always seems to invert expectations about what's going to happen next, which is a feeling seldom associated to ultra-minimal 80s digital dance music. Considering how much digital music was DIY by artists with no formal musical training, to hear a great and learned player express himself with the same tools is just remarkable.

Judge for yourself, it's on vinyl too.


mt - ethnic heritage ensemble (delmark)
the subterrain - mark dresser/susie ibarra (wobbly rail)
solar plexus - mercury falls (portofranco)
lokombe moka - kenlo craqnuques (no label)
what a life - kaly live dub (jarring effects)
let it go - reefer rmx by flying lotus (alpha pup)
phase em out - dam funk (stones throw)
a town called obsolete - andreya triana (ninja tune)
tode que voce podia ser - milton nasciimento & lo borges (emi)
in concert - ofege (soundway)
sola - orchestra bella bella (syllart)
night in ethiopia - jackie mittoo (soul jazz)
rome - sugar minott (moll selekta)
tribulations - earth roots and water (light in the attic)
fighting youth - ljx (no label)
wild suspense - wailing souls (island)
juizo final - seu jorge & almaz (now again)
upsetting furriada - arogalla rmx by dadub (les cristaux liquident)
roforofo fight - havana cultura rmx by little louie vega (brownswood)
no bailes de caballito - grupo el mexicano (musart)
raga megh malhar - charanjit singh (bombay connection)
naxaniseka - tiyiselani vomaseve (honest jons)

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