March is ending, but the weather is remarkably cool. Many of us, at least in parts of India where the seasons are well defined, would remember March as the month when it started to get hot enough to crib about it on social media. Now, days are filled with thunder and hail which constantly makes Delhi feel like a hill-station. If this is not a proof of climate change, I don’t know what is. As hard it is to believe, there are still people who find the conviction to say that climate change is a hoax.
In the midst of all the naysayers, it is comforting to know that there are artists who are using their art to drive home the message. Case in point is EP ‘2°’ by Seasonal Affected Beats, the trans-media electronic project by one of India’s most respected drummers, composers and educators, Tarun Balani. Named ‘2°’ after the Paris Agreement, which aims to curb the rise in global temperature under 2 degrees celsius within this century, the EP was inspired by Balani’s experience of living under the infamous dystopia-like blanket of smog that covered New Delhi around the onset of winters.
Listen to 2° by Seasonal Affected Beat here.
The album is a beautifully ambient introduction to improvised electronic music. One of the biggest challenges with electronically produced music is to prevent the sound from becoming repetitive. Guided by his training in multiple instruments, Tarun has taken the art of layering dynamic sounds to Seasonal Affected Beats and created an EP that pushes to look beyond the sound and to the subject. At a recent Listening Session held by Wild City, the artist took us through his thought process behind the EP. With his conviction to prevent over-dubbing and following the long revered practice of recording in one-shot, he’s been able to reconcile his worlds of music.
The EP starts with ‘The Prelude’, the single that was released in anticipation of the EP. In his own words, Tarun describes The Prelude as a palate cleanser to the rest of the album. It builds an ambience of expectation slowly and peaks when the bass drops, leading into an ambience of euphoria. With this track itself, one is able to peek into Tarun’s modus operendi – to keep it natural. Throughout the album, there is ample use of instruments like drums, piano and even trumpets. Wherever sound has been designed, it has been done with the help of analog synths like Korg Minilogue and Prophet 8.
Following up Prelude is Jitter, a track that Tarun wrote after getting inspired by a jam with Jivraj Singh (of Parekh and Singh) while recording an episode for a podcast. He pictured this song as a sonic portrait of Jivraj when the idea came to him. The next track by the name of ‘Let the Light In’ is Tarun’s collaboration with Kavya Trehan, a rising artist in the electronica/pop scene in India. In a collaboration that took shape over a year, Kavya and Tarun co-wrote the words and melody of a song to inspire light in times of darkness. It is a song that is envisioned as a fuzzy hug rather than one that will send you skipping down the road. There is beauty in the confidence of Kavya’s vocals, but the clarity with which they harmonically work with the instruments never fails to amaze. Both the artists work to their strengths to produce a strong vocal melody to the track that stays with you long after the EP is done.
In recent times, the idea of sampling parts of speeches from important national icons has been gaining popularity. Tarun has sampled a part of Dr. Ambedkar’s speech in the ‘Annihilation of Caste’ and produced a track called Dr. Escher. Towards the end of producing the EP, the country was in political turmoil and he considered his album as a vehicle to spread a message of peace. The track itself is more poignant than the rest of the EP, in that the emotion it will evoke is that of questioning oneself rather than flowing with the sound.
The title track of the EP and the last, is the highlight. The entire album is thought of as a suite with one track leading to the next. The last track, therefore, should bring a feeling of contention, of conclusion. 2° leaves you with a feeling that while this road is a long one, there is still hope. Tarun has used the piano and trumpet in this track which gives it a beautiful jazz-for-the-modern-age feeling. He has written this track for his niece, Naima, and hopes that when she hears it she will know that there is a better world out there to reach for and that it is worth working towards.
A review of this EP is incomplete without mentioning the amazing work done by Anhad Khanna, the recording engineer, Ishaan of Okedo and Anhad in mixing it, and Alex DeTurk in mastering it. In difficult tracks, like 2°, Anhad has found a way to mic the pianos so perfectly that every sound is captured in its purest form. Where the instruments are many, they all work together to produce a single melody rather than stand out on their own.
In the listening session, Tarun explained that as he worked on the album, it grew from just climate change to a commentary on the larger environment of the society. While it is a small dent in the much larger conversation, it is commendable that musicians are doing their part in channeling their art to create a safe space for this conversation to be had.
Listen to 2° by Seasonal Affected Beat here.