26 January 2011


Xeni mentioned on BoingBoing, that Pandit Bhimsen Joshi passed away a couple days ago.  He's a classical Indian vocalist.  I'm fascinated by a lot of modern Indian culture (in my typically flighty, attention deficient fashion), and by the arc the nation is taking, internationally, economically, politically, this century.  I've honeymooned there, and would love to go back plenty more.  However, my familiarity and appreciation of Indian music is mostly relegated to the output of its various regional filmi industries.  While I have a few Ravi Shankar albums, and have enjoyed some dance performances by Chitresh Das, my awareness of Indian vocal styles largely consists AshaLataKishore, and R.D.  So, in the examples included in the memorial post for Pandit Joshi, it was educational for me to hear someone using his voice like Shankar uses his sitar, establishing the modality in the alap section of a raga.  It was interesting, too, listening to some bhajans Pandit Joshi sings, in an extensive Youtube playlist that includes a lot of Panditji (along with Lata, and Shankar, and, oddly, videos from some Italian rock band), to hear him singing in unison with the tanpura, or harmonium, rather than in the call and response, which, it seems to me, is how the members of a classical Indian ensemble seem to go about establishing the modalities in their ragas.  But, honestly: I'm writing at the outer reaches of my grasp of the art form.

Last night, we started listening to the khayal Xeni embedded atop her post.  A khayal apparently starts with something like an alap, and that's what most of this first 9 minutes of the khayal seemed to consist of: droning subtle variations, in which Panditji establishes the key with his accompaniment (or something like that):

Deb said to me, "It sounds like--", and I completed her sentence, "Like Bieber 800% Slower?"  She said, "No, like Trololo without Autotune".  I feel like I run in circles that get all that, but it may just be Deb and me (at least here, in meat space).

Bieber 800% Slower popped up, or rather blew up, on the interwebs, when someone apparently used some fancy free software to slow down a Justin Bieber hit to 1/8 of its original speed, without altering the pitch.  The original song is called U Smile, and I'm not sure if I'd ever heard it before (I'll admit to being aware that there's an incredibly popular kid around, name of Bieber, and that there are a lot of lesbians with his haircut, but I don't know much more about him than that).  At any rate, it's unrecognizable, in it's new form, which is full of cymbal washes and cathartic crescendoes of vocal drone.  It's also some 35 minutes long.  I can't find it on the web, anymore, but I put my own copy up, here.  It's pretty beautiful, mellifluous stuff, suitable for meditating, in the same way you might so deem the Vilambit Khayal, above.

Now, Trololo without Autotune is another matter entirely, and is not especially soothing to listen to.  It's based on...  Well, knowyourmeme.com has an excellent history of the thing put together, worth reading and learning from.  I'll just note that it originates in the pleasures of this video:

So, along came someone making the ridiculous suggestion that Eduard Khil, the singer above, was actually using autotune to stay in tune.  The proof is this video, in which the autotune has been turned off:

I just think that's flat out hilarious.  I can listen to either of those versions on an endless loop.

Anyway, here's my tribute to Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Brahman rest his soul.  It is perhaps flawed by my own failure to grasp the modalities of a khayal, but is imbued with the naïve glee of musical ineptitude, the desire to prolong youth, and the wisdom of many years.  In this spirit, I present Khayal+(Trololo-Autotune)=USmileSlowly:

Deb thinks she hears ghosts in it.  Ken, at work, says it sounds like the demons in my head.  Well, they're having fun, ignorant li'l runts...