Masters of Indian Music series
By Mickela Mallozzi
Posted on February 10, 2012
We entered the main hall of the Upper West Side’s Symphony Space, a one-foot raised platform on the stage covered with a full, Persian rug and with multiple, classical Indian instruments. In the center, a beautifully carved sitar, deep brown wooden body with a silvery-gold neck of strings and tuners, sat proudly to be admired by the audience, waiting to share its voice with the crowd.
This was when you noticed why the instruments were ceremoniously tuned – the microtones and overtones used in this music are so exact that even a slight miscalculation would be as cacophonous as fingernails on a chalkboard. Throughout the first piece, Kartik had been simultaneously and seamlessly tuning his instrument as his fingers quickly plucked the metallic sounds out of the giant gourd instrument. It was like listening to magic, a story that unfolded before your ears with narrative and plot and heroes and heroines: a 30-minute composition that brought you on a journey to a place on the other side of the globe.
Kartik remained calm and almost in a meditative state, keeping his posture the same (cross-legged and twisted, sitar resting on his left bare foot). As I mentioned before, his right foot had been covered by a dark, brown scarf, and as he would ever-so-often keep tempo with that foot, his body shape-shifted into a mystical figure, found maybe in the oceans of Atlantis (a mer-man of sorts). His “tail” keeping odd-metered time with his song added even more to the idea of the demi-god like status to his musicianship.
Known for playing full-length solo recitals on sitar at the age of six, Kartik had truly been touched by the gods. The second piece, initially similar to the first, grew with its story, and Arup’s tabla playing joined in as a second voice. I had never noticed until this performance that true tabla playing is not a percussive accompaniment but a melodic voice adding to the piece. The tabla had hundreds of different sounds, tones, feels, moods, and voices coming from just two, quick hands and two, small drums. It was remarkable, hearing this melody from a drum; the interactions that the two musicians had while composing intricate polymeters and polyrhythms and then joining in unison for exactly three or four beats was synchronicity on a whole other level. At some point during one of Arup’s solos, his hands were moving so quickly, they reminded me of wings of a hummingbird; you know they are there and you can hear them working, but you can’t make out a clear picture of what they are doing.
With the two friends ending their journey together, the audience was reminded of the reality that awaited them outside: a cold and grey metropolis. A beautiful evening of transcendent music, thank you Kartik and Arup for sharing your life’s work – my hands touch both your feet in reverence.
Interview Part One
With Renee Lobo
Interview Part Two