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The return of the one-man band

Last week, musicians from around the world came together for an impromptu jam called ‘OK World’ at the Blue Frog performance club in Mumbai.

music Updated: Apr 25, 2012 11:21 IST
Bhairavi Jhaveri
Bhairavi Jhaveri
Hindustan Times

Last week, musicians from around the world came together for an impromptu jam called ‘OK World’ at the Blue Frog performance club in Mumbai.

The group included three percussionists, each from a different country, a flamenco guitarist from Madrid, a new-jazz pianist from Oslo and Shrikant Sriram aka Shri, an Indian bassist who lives in London.

The diversity and dynamic musical equations were compelling, but what was also interesting to watch was the layers of music produced independently by Shri and percussionist and mridangam player Vivek Rajagopalan.

Both used something called the loop station, a device that records short snatches of music that can then be played in a loop to create multiple layers. This enables the artist to assemble a song live on stage, as a sort of one-man band.

Rajagopalan used the loop station to pre-record bols and then add a smooth, vibrating layer of mridangam over them. Shri played bass and percussion on the loop station and performed taal scripts over those layers, leaving the audience awed.

“Vivek and Shri’s experimental soundscapes were great. Both solos wouldn’t have had the same effect without the loop station,” says Sunny Amlani, 27, a music enthusiast and digital marketing professional.

Elsewhere in the country, contemporary musicians such as Sidd Coutto and Vasuda Sharma and even Carnatic musician Mahesh Vinayakram have started dabbling with the loop station to produce new types of solo acts.

“Live looping is a gorgeous spectacle to watch as you hear the track being made stage by stage. It adds more value,” says Viraaj Braganza, 31, a music enthusiast and creative director at an ad agency.

The loop station, a device that has been used around the world by beatboxers, a capella artists and by guitarists for textural effects since the 1980s, is the latest entrant on the music scene in India, as musicians from diverse backgrounds deploy it to enhance their live performances.

Music lovers in India first got a taste of its effects in 2010, when beatboxing sensation Shlomo from the UK and Dub FX from Australia performed. The audience stood entranced as Dub FX pressed a foot pedal on the device to alternate between vocals, bass, drums, harmonies and textures.

“The audience likes watching these performances,” says Laiq Qureshi, director of Inroom Records, which, over the past two years, has brought down Dub FX and Bristol beatboxer Mr Woodnote, who creates beats and bass lines on the spot using the loop station, meshed with live saxophone.“Dub FX and Mr Woodnote both explained the technique before they performed. That got people even more engrossed,” says Qureshi.

Singer-songwriter Vasuda Sharma was one of the first Indian artists to use a loop station, in August 2010.

“I think its charm, for the audience and the artists, is that you can do almost anything with it if you use your creativity,” she says. “And each user can bring to it something entirely different.”

Shri, who began using the loop station in India in August 2011, performed the world premiere of his new solo act, Shrilektric, at Bonobo with the help of the loop station and says it allowed him to communicate more directly with his audience.

“With the loop station, I can create and put out there exactly what I am hearing in my head,” he says. “You can never truly do that with other musicians because even the greatest musician is not going to understand you 100%.” Live looping, he adds, also offers the audience a glimpse of the process, a sort of ‘music processor’ that enables them to see how sound is moulded.

Music enthusiast Kiran Makhija, 25, a business development manager at a digital marketing agency, would agree. “It’s thrilling to watch an artist virtually create a finished track live, all by himself,” she says. “At each performance you get to hear a new music piece with a different sound. It’s very exciting to see it all come together, and is definitely adding an edgy new element to the live music scene.”

So what’s next for the loop station? “Who knows which artist from which genre will pick it up next,” says Shri, laughing. “Maybe [classical flautist] Hariprasad Chaurasia.”

First Published: Apr 22, 2012 01:10 IST