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In the nature of fusion

Xavier Pourcher held a series of workshops across the country and gave a performance at the Rafi Peer Cultural Complex Lahore with Shahzad Santoo Khan and Markus

In the nature of fusion

It is clear that the process of music making has undergone a sea change with the intervention of technological inputs. It should not even be mentioned as intervention; the very process involves massive tranches of softwares and other computer-run programmes that may even force a change in definition.

What Xavier Pourcher was carrying was a Live Sequencer, APC Controller, Keyboard, Korg Monologue Synth, Sound Card, Headphones and two speakers within all that there was the mechanism of making music. He held a series of workshops in various institutions of the country and then gave a performance at the Peerus Café at the Rafi Peer Cultural complex on Raiwind Road last week.

The performance had the airs of being, in comparison, a more conventional affair. Pairing up with Shahzad Santoo Khan and Markus, it was more in the nature of fusion music that one has been inundated with in the last decade or so. Shahzad Santoo Khan belongs to a family of qawwals whose manner of music making or performance has much that can be explained conventionally. Their repertoire consisting of various bandishes has been conventional, some even being said to be as old as the form itself, 700 years, and in the course of the centuries, much has been added to the repertoire.

All said and done, till the middle of the twentieth century, qawwali did have a standard repertoire, a certain beginning, middle and an end; the form standardised with its rhythmic accompaniment. Invigorated by “girah”, the sequencing was based more on “amad”. Being inspired by improvisation in terms of lyrics and the raags it had a free floating indirection that often determined the quality of the performance, rather than fixed pre-composed phrases and predetermined musical movements.

This all changed with the qawwali becoming a form that was offered international platforms, especially in France. It then was exposed to greater intervention and invasion from musics from all around the world. The improvisational and free floating nature of the form probably facilitated this makeover than it would have been possible in the more rigidly framed classical forms (those too were/are based on improvisation but not in the same free floating manner of the qawwali). As time has gone by, this fusion of intervention has become an accepted method of innovation, even if it has not been properly evaluated in terms of its quality.

Xavier Pourcher would encourage the participants of his workshop to just create any sound, it could also be noise, ask four or five of them to make a package of various sounds and noises, then put them in his computer. A series of such sounds of noises were recorded or captured by him, whatever the term that is used these days, and then in the mixer or synthesizers put these in as many variations as possible. Actually he used these sounds or noises that he recorded as raw materials and then went about creating something out of it.

In conventional manner or terms, what he created or produced could not even qualify to be music. But then definitions too have undergone a change. All noises, sounds can be the grist of mill of dissonance, distortions in testing the limits which go far beyond in experimentation than natural sound.

The next or pertinent question to ask is whether the process of making music will also change the way music sounds. In many ways it does; because the computer-generated sounds are tonally or in terms of timbre very different. But will it also change the way music from various cultures appears to the ear.

It is being said in terms of architecture that the buildings all over the world appear to be looking alike as compared to the vast variety in form and materials that existed let’s say about a hundred years ago. Structures in Shanghai look like those in Dubai and then in Santiago, or that the difference is not that stark as it was. It is happening in music as well, and it is beginning to sound alike.

Is it a good thing or bad is a question that still hangs in the air. There may be voices on both sides of the divide. There are those who seek virtue in globalisation and a more uniform facilitation and then there are those who bemoan the loss of individuality and distinctness of expression specific to each culture.

Sponsored by the Alliance Francaise, the workshops and performances were held in other cities of the country as well. It has been quite active in holding cultural programmes, mostly bringing French artistes for performances to the country and it is hoped that it continues so despite the financial constraints in the home country.

Sarwat Ali

The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

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