Take Bharatnatyam. Add to it, some magic. Mix it with some opera. Sprinkle with the dreams and fantasies of math genius S Ramanujan. No, I’m not mixing a fanciful, illusionary cultural cocktail for you. Well, maybe I am, but, more than anything, I am describing Antariksha Sanchar: Transmissions in Space (Vol 01), a new album by Hyderabad’s electronic music artist Murthovic here.
The album follows a project for which Hyderabad-based seasoned producer M.S.R. Murthy aka Murthovic teamed up with visual artist Avinash Kumar, and veteran Bharatnatyam dancer and choreographer, Ms Jayalakshmi Eshwar. Together, they created what was India’s first trans-media dance opera show that brings together Bharatnatyam, Carnatic-electronic fusion music, and visual projections to depict a story inspired by the magical cultures of South India. Produced by Red Bull, the 90-minute opera show that debuted in Bombay at the Royal Opera House, made further stops in Delhi and Bengaluru in 2019.
What started as a Bharatanatyam dance concept by Ms Jayalakshmi in 2010, soon metamorphosed into a speculative science fiction video game. The game follows the journey of a family in South India living in a temple in the early 1900s, the main characters being Sita (the dancer), played by Ms Eshwar, her son, a character inspired by the great mathematician S Ramanujan, and his grandfather. The video game was further translated into a show by Ms Eshwar who used her expressions to depict every movement and emotion of the characters.
Says Avinash Kumar (aka Thiruda), co-founder, UnBox and Quicksand, “My mother, Ms Eshwar, had a Bharatnatyam recital in 2010 based on the concept of flight and its evolution in the Indian mythology. It seemed super-contemporary and so we adapted it as the backdrop to our video game. With time, we realised that Antariksha Sanchar could be more than just that and that’s when this live opera with live music and visuals was born.”
Murthovic says that in order to work towards the fusion, he had to internalise a new form of routine. Waking up to a shruti or a new ragam he had to learn, he worked on bringing together like-minded live musicians who had good knowledge of Carnatic music but who were open to adapting to other forms of music and its theatrical depiction. Murthovic’s live ensemble, over time, consisted of vocalists Gopika Jairam and Shridevi Keshavan, violinists Abhijit Gurjale and Sandilya Pisapati, mridangam player Raghuram Hari, bassist-keyboardist Yanni, Soumalya Sareswari on Sarod, and drummer Hitesh Kumar.
The album opens with ‘Improvisation in Dharmavati’ which is a soulful concoction of elegiac violin and smoothly flowing beats. Marking the beginning of a Herculean journey upwards, the tunes ebb and flow, as if responding to the heart of Ramanujan himself.
The album moves further to introduce the solemnly quivering rustle of soft flute decorated with luminous percussion in ‘Amrita Lahiri’.
‘Hindolam and Malkauns’, perhaps the album’s tranquiliser, opens with a completely obverse façade and descends into its true nature only after a minute. The smooth unfolding of the reality can be conflated with the slowly-acquired familiarity with the journey and the peace one makes with it.
‘Half Day’ and ‘Trill Drill’ are the most vibrant tunes on the album and it seems almost impossible to keep oneself away from the coruscating energy of the latter.
The album culminates with ‘Shri Vighna Rajam’. A tribute to the original composition by the renowned maestro of the 1700s, Oothukadu Venkata Subbaiah Iyer, the tune begins with a deep dip into simon-pure Carnatic, and transcends into the synthesis that the album and the project is all about. In a way, this beat is emblematic of the journey—its culmination narrates as much the story of the protagonist, as it does of the artists who came together to give life to this miraculous amalgamation.
Listen to the album on Soundcloud below.
You can also listen to the album here.
Watch the music video already out for the track Improvisation in Dharmavati below.
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