Arushi Jain applies the magic of the modular synth to Indian classical music



Arushi Jain applies the magic of the modular synth to Indian classical music

By Dhruva Balram July 20, 2021

The link between light and atmosphere is a constant point of fascination for Jain of Arushi. The New Delhi-born, New York-based composer uses the countless colors that appear at dusk as a fulcrum in her work, and the proof is everywhere in her debut album, Under the lilac sky. An LP specially composed for the sunset, Lilac sky is a dazzling meditative project that interweaves various elements of Jain’s identity – his childhood in New Delhi, his adulthood in America – through a finely tuned balance of Indian ragas and modular synthesizers, all supported by his captivating voice.

“One of my secret – and not so secret – goals is to make people fall in love with Indian classical music,” says the 27-year-old. “Unless you grew up with it, [Indian classical music] can be shocking.

Born and raised in New Delhi, Jain grew up in an extended family of nine girls and six boys, all of whom lived under one roof, with a guru teaching the whole family. When she moved to San Francisco to study at Stanford, she found herself running out of ideas; one day, while on a hiatus, she stumbled across the Laptop Orchestra class at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (whose alumni include explorer and AI pioneer Holly Herndon.) There, Jain discovered the world sound synthesis.

After her eureka moment, Jain found herself languishing at home while taking root in a new country. These feelings were reflected in the music she made, in which her Hindustani-influenced voice wrapped around the synthesizer, creating a singular sound that began to tie together the disparate strands of her identity. “In a more traditional sense, Indian classical music is linked to the fundamental practices of rituals and traditions that center certain instruments,” Jain explains. “Maybe modular synthesizers can play a role in a hybrid world, but I’ve stopped trying to copy something that’s happening elsewhere with its own culture and history.”

Ragas, which have no real translation in a classical Western system, represent a universe of floating and complicated notes: motifs and motifs inspired by specific moods and times of the day, reassembled at the discretion of the artists. Each raga is created for a particular time of day when it is supposed to shine at its strongest; through an artist’s interpretation of the raga, an infinite number of melodies are possible. Under the lilac sky is rooted in the Sandhi Prakash ragas, which are typically performed at dusk or early evening when the nuances of the sky come alive as you examine them.

At Lilac sky, Jain demystifies the intricacies of raga by layering it on top of modular synthesizers. The end result is a series of six floating ambient arrangements that reflect the transition of mood and feeling from the exhaustion of a busy day to the stillness of hours before sleep. Over a hum of rumbling electronic bass, Jain’s sweet falsetto vocal harmonies drift over the opening track “Richer Than Blood”, allowing the listener to reflect on another day’s passage. Darkness sets in in the nine-minute exploration of ‘Look How Far We Have Come’, where Jain’s voice becomes the focal point around which the synth spins, eventually igniting midway – the tension s’ attenuates and calm emerges.

Lilac sky is Jain’s debut record, and she is wary of being cataloged – her sound being defined by a reductive white gaze, rather than interpreted on her own terms. “It made me realize how many questions I have about performance,” she says. “I don’t want the identity of my work to necessarily be tied to writing a raga on a synthesizer. What interests me more is how these two very distinct and separate cultures come together to create something new and new, but which also has its own identity. Originally performing as OSE, which roughly translates to “morning dew,” Jain only reverted to his first name recently. “I almost felt like I was hiding behind something and wanted my real name attached to my music,” she says.

Closer to the album, the sprawling 12-minute title track, Jain summons India and home, evoking cozy nights with a cool breeze blowing through the windows. She hopes the album will foster empathy and kindness at a time when India, like the rest of the world, is be ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic. In the record’s press release, Jain writes a call to action to help alleviate the suffering of people in India, stating that “everyone I know has lost someone they love, and I cry. death of my loved ones alongside my family and friends. This is a very sensitive time for my people, and since my music is a celebration of Indian culture, I want to take this opportunity to create empathy for our loss.

For Jain, making the album was a balm during a pandemic that allowed him to find refuge in the midst of the turmoil. “The only time I really feel peaceful is when I’m writing music,” she explains. “I feel centered, which was important, during all of this. It’s a form of therapy which I think is just the beginning.


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