Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pt. Ravi Shankar and the "Structured Freedom"! 1950'-1970'

The sitar player and composer Ravi Shankar exerted a greater influence on western culture than any other performer of Asian music in the twentieth century. Starting in the 1950s, he introduced audiences around the world to a new sonic universe in the art music of his homeland, India. At the same time, his collaborations with composers and performers from Philip Glass to the Beatles brought profound new ideas into our musical culture.

Around 1956, after becoming prominent in India as a performer and composer, Shankar began to give concert tours around the world. He collaborated with distinguished western musicians such as the violinist Yehudi Menuhin and the composer Philip Glass, and composed concertos for sitar and orchestra, as well as works combining the sitar with the western flute and the Japanese koto (a plucked stringed instrument).

Ravi Shankar & Yehudi Menuhin - Twilight Mood

It was through these creative encounters that ideas and concepts from Indian musical traditions spread into western musical practice. He showed that in Indian music, for example, improvisations “are not just letting yourself go, as in jazz—you have to adhere to the discipline of the ragas and the talas without any notation in front of you.” This idea of “structured freedom” found its way into the music of Philip Glass and other composers.

Ravi Shankar performing in Paris/France - 1967 - Extrait de l'émission 'Zoom', diffusée sur l'ORTF.

Shankar’s performances also exemplified the idea that music has a spiritual role: “My goal has always been to take the audience along with me deep inside, as in meditation, to feel the sweet pain of trying to reach out for the supreme, to bring tears to the eyes, and to feel totally peaceful and cleansed.”

Transmigration Macabre was composed by Ravi Shankar for the British art film Viola, which tells of the growth and eventual victory of a possessed man's belief that his dead wife has returned to life in the form of a cat that pursues him. The music traces his emotional turmoil as the man, dominated by his wife during her lifetime, struggles against her baneful influence after her death. It's hard to tell how successful the score functioned without access to this obscure film, but on its own terms, it's decently haunting Indian music. Perhaps it's more subdued and, at times, more disquieting than Shankar's usual approach, reflecting song titles such as "Anxiety," "Madness," and "Torment." The percussion and rhythm in those numbers gets rapid and tense, though that's not at odds with how passages in Indian classical sometimes accelerate and build in tempo. This is balanced by gentler numbers, again complementing the mood of the song titles ("Submission," "Reflection," "Fantasy"), though ominous undercurrents remain even in some of the quieter moments. [See for Miles issued the LP in 1973.] ~ Richie Unterberger.

It was this emphasis on the spiritual that made Shankar a superstar in the 1960s through his connection with the Beatles. In 1966, the Beatles went to India, where Shankar taught the sitar to their guitarist George Harrison.

George Harrison - sitar lesson with Ravi Shankar

Subsequently, Harrison wrote songs permeated by the sounds of Indian music, including Love Me To, from the album Revolver. George Harrison has aptly said that Shankar merits the title “godfather of world music” because “he has shown it is possible to introduce an apparently alien art form successfully into another culture.”
In the late 1960s, Shankar performed before hundreds of thousands in rock festivals including Monterey and Woodstock.

Ravi Shankar was another artist who was introduced to America at the Monterey festival. Eighteen minutes of Dhun in Dadra Tal and Teental, an excerpt from Shankar's four-hour performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, concluded the Monterey Pop film, introducing the artist to a new generation of music fans.

Ravi Shankar Evening Raga - Woodstock Aug 15, 1969

Raga  "A Film Journey into the Soul of India"(1971/2010). This fine documentary from the early 1970s has been lovingly restored and covers the life of famed sitar master Ravi Shankar (now 90 years old), with a narration track by Shankar himself. Featuring: Ravi Shankar, Yehudi Menuhin, George Harrison, Uday Shankar, Colin Wolcott, Baba Ustad Allauddin Khan. 
Director: Howard Worth. http://harmonyom.blogspot.com/2010/11/raga-film-journey-into-soul-of-india-by.html

Other sources about Ravi Shankar: http://www.answers.com/topic/ravi-shankar

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