Of Sitars And Synths – Ethnica by Instinct

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It is true, there is such a thing as a morning person. I vouch for it, because I am one. One of those people who wake up in the morning, put on music, brew tea and read. Mornings bring with them a sense of possibility, an invitation to start anew. More often than not, when I speak to people about my love for mornings, I am thought of as severely uncool to not stay up till 4 in the night.

You might wonder what this rant about mornings is doing in a music story. It is for the reason that Ethnica by Instinct, is an album that is filled with the same sense of possibility that mornings do. The album was composed, produced & mixed by Azaan Khan or Instinct, an artist who is accustomed to the workings of the independent and experimental music scene. He is a firm believer of drawing from his environment to fuel his creations, as is reflective in his name ‘Instinct’ which points towards his nature of letting his instincts guide his compositions. Ethnica is his first album, with art direction by his partner Rodali Dutta, mastering by Abhimanyu Mullick and which was released in December 2019 with the Mumbai based label Noosphere Network

The album borrows sounds from Indian classical music, recordings from the 70s, spoken word and sets them against the background of experimental melodies produced with a carefully curated hardware and software set up. Instinct has a background in Indian Classical music and wanted this album to be a coming together of his roots with his electronic persona, similar to the sounds of Yosi and Squarepusher. He describes Ethnica as Ethnic + Electronica, an organic synthesis of the ethnic with the modern.

Listening to Ethnica may transport you to an alternative realm where the boundaries between genres, audiences and styles are blurred into beautiful compositions. Instinct sees it as a representation of himself and his journey through music to understand the intersectionality between philosophy, society, structures among other things. These compositions can be seen as an environment or ambience of the current times. Over the seven months that it took for him to put together the entire album, the environment around him was changing rapidly – something that is reflected in the dynamism of the album’s compositions. 

After the first listen, it is evident how well the album has been composed. It moves through the tracks seamlessly, always tied together by a larger ambience. The first track ‘The Portal’ is a literal gate of entry into a colorful world of mandalas. With a wonderful amalgamation of electronic sounds and classical Indian sounds, it sets the tone for what is to come without revealing too much. 

Next up is ‘The Growthling’ where the album reveals its true nature of towing the thin line between darkness and light. We take a break from the high energy and walk through another semi-portal of Indian Classical music in ‘The Remorse’ before going full power. The next three tracks sound similar, but with each, you get the sense of moving forward into a culmination without knowing what that might be. By the time you’ve reached ‘Wandermust’ and ‘Back to Bassics’, you almost feel a sense of letting go akin to having walked a long road to reach a destination unknown. The last track, adequately titled ‘The Final Stretch’, is a beautiful end to a heavy drum and bass exploration, closing with the sounds of Sitars and chirping birds. 

In essence, Instinct’s treatment of his first album oscillating from dark to light sounds is a route that has been explored by many artists. What lends it novelty is the depth that he has explored with his compositions. Every synth seems to be present with the purpose of harmonizing the melody rather than stealing from it. It is no easy feat to bring together Indian Classical instruments with the sounds of a synthesizer set against the backdrop of heavy beats but Instinct has done it beautifully.

The artwork, done by Rodali of Spank Art, is a wonderful addition to the album. A turtle is a symbol of wisdom and considered lucky in many cultures. Instinct wants his music to defy time and be relevant to people of all demographics and the age-defying wisdom of the turtle represents this message to those who engage with it.

He is currently working on his next two albums which he feels would be leaps and bounds beyond Ethnica owing to the rate at which his work is growing. Of the Indian experimental scene, he is hopeful given the growth it has been seeing, despite the larger political scenario. He finds comfort in the fact that there are players in the scene who are now taking up the mantle of providing sustainable programming with a vision to help the society with music. He feels a strong sense of community within the independent scene and labels like Noosphere to keep the boat of experimental music afloat and step out of the shadow of Bollywood and EDM. With his genre and age-defying sounds, Instinct has a shot at propelling the boat forward by several miles!

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