Sandeep Bhagwati


Listen to an excerpt from Inside A Native Land (2nd Performance, March 12, 2005 at Heiligkreuzkirche Berlin). Written by Sandeep Bhagwati. Inside A Native Land was commissioned by the Federal State of Baden-Wuerttemberg's Culture Funds and the Festival Maerzmusik Berlin. Performed by Mike Svoboda (Trombone), Ensemble Mosaik Berlin, Hannes Galette Seidl (Computer).

Refusing to make a distinction between his ideas about music on the one hand and music notation on the other, Sandeep Bhagwati’s work takes him beyond the limitations of traditional scores and the linearity imposed upon music by standard notational practices. To this end, he uses notation as a dialectical compositional tool to the extent that novel forms of notation emerge from his musical experiments just as new musical ideas arise from his notational experiments. Thus, each new piece is characterized by a unique form of notation. With Transience (2008), he creates a musical process of discovery such that musicians have to “ferret [the piece] out of the score” during a given performance. Bhagwati was inspired by theatre scripts which indicate the text but not the durations or the expressive emphasis of the words themselves. Rather, the final creative act is one that is worked out onstage in rehearsal and in performance.

The Score

The score for Transience consists of several small piles of cards that fit together as a kind of bento-box*. The matrices present ways of organising each pile of cards for each parameter, and thus, possible pathways through each parameter over the course of a given performance. Each pile of cards contains instructions for a particular parameter of the piece, including: the recitation style of the text; the phrase envelopes; pitch bending; the general mood of the movement; the interaction between the performers; musical entrances; the duration of the movement; the text itself in three formats (medieval Japanese, medieval Japanese in phonetic transliteration, and English); rhythmic motives; melodic motives; and finally, the “x” pile that tells the performers which piles to remove cards from in order to create the next movement. Thus, the relationship between the score and the performance is a dynamic one. The changes in the score present new parameters to integrate into the ongoing performance, and the navigation through these challenges leads to further changes in the score. Bhagwati integrates a wide range of notational styles into the score, including standard and proportional notation, textual instructions to inspire the mood of the movement, as well as graphic symbols indicating the dynamic curve of certain parameters. Bhagwati is negotiating the boundaries between fixed and non-fixed elements in the music such that the score facilitates the intended creative process of musical discovery.

*A bento box is the well-known japanese lunch box composed of several unequally-sized rectangular bowls with different dishes that together make a full tray – and a full meal. Thus the meal itself is presented neither in the dramaturgical flow of a menu nor in a hierarchy of tastes, but as a choice that can be re-composed in any order and layering at each mealtime and by each eater.

Strange Combinations

The challenge of Transience for the performers is in the negotiation of the musical contradictions that arise. In Bhagwati’s own words, “[i]t may seem difficult to combine all the requests that appear on the same page. [For instance,] how to follow F “Destroy” when E recommends “as on a silent lake”? . . . [S]uch strange combinations as above will occur - and are the reason this work exists. These “paradox” instructions will challenge your musical imagination to the fullest.” While Transience was originally written for koto, recorder and vocalist, the instrumentation is not fixed. Rather, Bhagwati’s intention with this piece is to bring together instruments from two different musical traditions, be they eastern and western traditions, period and modern instruments, or standard and new instruments. The performers are thus also challenged to reconcile contrasting, and otherwise opposing, musical cultures.

Upcoming Performance

Transience will be performed on Friday May 8th, at the Chapelle Historique du Bon-Pasteur (100, Sherbrooke St. East) at 8pm with Cléo Palacio-Quintin (hyper-flute, electronic bass flute) and Elin Söderström (viola da gamba).

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Copyright 2009. Last modified on February 23, 2009