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If you thought Charanjit Singh's 1982-released acid house precursor 'Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat' was prophetic, this set is gonna make you question everything you thought you knew about the history of electronic music.
The NID Tapes is an incredible haul of early Indian electronic experiments uncovered at the archives of the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad by Paul Purgas over the last few years. Recorded between 1969-1972, the collection chronicles electronic works from the previously unknown Indian composers Gita Sarabhai, I.S. Mathur, Atul Desai, S.C. Shama and Jinraj Joshipura who worked at the nation’s first electronic music studio founded at the NID during the utopian years following India’s independence - a radical period of visionary experimentation and artistic freedom.
Arriving at a point when our interest in contemporary Indian music has been sharply piqued by the likes of Shubharun Sengupta and Nakul Krishnamurthy, plus the soundsystem styles of DJ Smiley Bobby, this 19-track compilation dives into a rich pool of nascent work by poets, architects, technicians and musicians encountering electronic equipment for the first time, far from electronic music’s usual western hotspots.
The compilation presents excerpts from 27 reels of archive tape spanning the three years of the studio's operational history, extracted by Paul Purgas of Emptyset and as detailed brilliantly on the 'Electronic India' documentary on BBC Radio 3 a couple of years ago. Now made available for public consumption for the first time, the set chronicles a sliver of time when the influence of Indian music was resonating thru both Western pop music via The Beatles, and the avant-garde via likes of Terry Riley and a wave of artists enchanted by its just intoned tunings and rhythmic intricacy. The studio was in fact founded with support from the New York composer David Tudor who personally gifted and set up a Moog modular system and tape machine at the institute in the autumn of 1969, and the collection includes an excerpt from Tudor’s work discovered amongst the collection of tapes.
S.C. Shama opens the set with 'After the War', feeding hard panned analog bubbles over disoriented drones that lodge somewhere between Indian classical music and the American Minimalism that drank so much from the subcontinent. Levitational at times but never lacking anxiety, it captures the era's precarious hopefulness, struck through with the discombobulation of the recent past. But it's with his 'Dance Music' tracks that Sharma has our jaws dislodged and dropped into the dirt: using cycling, detuned oscillators and kick drum sine bumps, his trio of rhythmic experiments could almost be some lost Ø / Vainio production sizzling into sub-voided dub. 'Dance Music II' is more manic, with xenharmonic electronic stabs mirroring acoustic Indian instrumentation; and 'Dance Music III' is loopy, almost psychedelic, minimal pulsemusik, like Raymond Scott assembling a 7am Berghain floor-melter for Sähkö.
The only surviving artist featured on the compilation, Jinraj Joshipura, was a 19-year-old architecture student when he arrived at the NID. His two contributions are dramatic and urgent: 'Space Liner 2001' peers into an alien future, but also sounds marked by conflict, countering unstable synth warbles with explosions and controlled chaos, while its second segment sounds completely weightless, like a lifeless space suit floating in the frozen cosmos. Poet and musician Atul Desai used the technology to express what sounds to our contemporary ears like Aaron Dilloway's CDR-pilled Midwestern grot on 'Compositions', piping acoustic and electronic rhythmic patterns thru grotesque reverb and overdriven amps, before skewering tape-mangled traditional sounds on 'Recordings for Osaka Expo 70'.
I.S. Mathur is responsible for a large chunk of the sounds on "The NID Tapes", and on 'Once I Played a Tanpura' turns the familiar string instrument into a heavily distorted guitar, foreshadowing Sunn O)))'s doomed drones before dissolving the wails into acidic rasps. 'Soundtrack of Shadow Play' might be even more crushing, assumedly accompanying ancient shadow puppetry with screwed tabla womps and tanpura hums that ping-pong thru the stereo field next to Popul Vuh-esque Moog meditations.
It's all a total mindmelt, music that tells a vivid story of India during a time of great creative freedom and optimism. There's really so much to ponder it's hard to absorb it all at once - if you've ever wanted to dig deeper into the more expressive, more eccentric side of early experimental music, the kind of paradigm-challenging material you'd expect to hear from Keith Fullerton Whitman's iconic Creel Pone imprint or the darkest depths of the Sub Rosa catalog, ‘The NID Tapes’ is gonna have you frothing at the mouth. What a find.