Review: 'With & Without' By Ose
17 September 2019
“But to anyone who seeks it with sincere desire and true need, it reveals itself by its sudden sparkle, like that of dewdrops.” - René Daumal
Dropping seemingly random, profound quotes at the beginning of an article or review has often been likened to self-destruction. However, this particular sentence may be worthy of an exception – it is, after all, used here essentially as a very brief and latent review of Ose's latest album 'With & Without', released via her own experiential sound imprint and curatorial project, Ghunghru.
To listen to 'With & Without', first you need to forget everything else. Consider it meditation, or a sonic immersion. Unlike the swinging rhythms and resonant verses of most music output, Ose's sound won't instantly imprint itself in your mind. It must be handled with deliberation, with intent and understanding, and with a certain sense of abandon; it will come to you in its own time, at its own pace, like a cat. To bloom and to pervade your senses, it must first be allowed space, to stretch and to spread, to trickle into corners and abysses. It will reveal itself to you, gradually and steadily... wondrously, “by its sudden sparkle, like that of dewdrops”. Serendipitously, “Ose” means dewdrops in Hindi.
Don't look for the music. Don't look at it directly. Close your eyes, and open your mind. Again, let it trickle in, into your faintest memories. Don't focus too much on it, but pay attention – you're looking into somebody else's consciousness, for your own pleasure; they're vulnerable, coalescing different worlds into each other in a way that might not have been done before, and asking you to be vulnerable in turn. As the artist already told you, “this [album] is a strange twisted 21st century interpretation of an ancient artistic practice [Hindustani classical ragas] personally rejuvenated under the influence of many musical movements that are thriving worldwide that didn't necessarily originate in India”. By trying to channel her roots in Hindustani classical, with a contemporary outtake, Ose is hoping to give the ragas “a new home, a new skin, a new soul”, with the sole purpose of making the art-form more accessible, and helping others understand and appreciate it. It's a noble quest: a modular synthesiser-driven, contemporary reinterpretation of ragas, an exhilarating exploration of the coming together of two discrete, far-removed worlds, a Bildungsroman of sorts for the artist, a condensation – and it needs your undivided attention.
San Francisco-based Arushi Jain aka Ose (also known as Modular Princess) has spent most of her life, starting at the age of 11, training in Hindustani classical music. At this point, it may be fair to say that the ancient, codified artistic tradition is second nature to her, and its intricacies as familiar to her as the plains of her own mind. A year ago, however, she stumbled upon the world of modular synthesis, and was mesmerised by the futuristic, experimental possibilities of the technology. The duality of her own cultural identification – as an Indian born, America based artist – and of her disparate worlds of expression find a new home on 'With & Without', drawing listeners into a sonic melting pot both incredibly familiar, yet alienating; it all depends on how you look at it.
Raag Bhairav, for the uninitiated, is a raga that is traditionally performed in the morning and as an opening piece. Which is why 'I Feel Incomplete Without Sound', inspired by the same raga, is the album opener and an initiation into the world of Ose. Between the shimmering beeps and twitches of the modular synthesiser, underlining the golden-tinged voice of Ose and the sparkling ambience, is an ominous, thunderous vibration that brims beneath the surface. It's the sound of the world waking up and coming to life. The sun is rising, it's golden light trickling its way to the planet. Nature is coming to life, the insects are buzzing, and the plants are heavy with dewdrops, ose. Ose, in her own words, sings of the insecurity she experiences before she starts writing music and also of her realisation of the depth of what it means to create sonic art. 'I Feel Incomplete Without Sound', then, perhaps is less about the world coming to life, as it is about ose coming into her own, treading the water as she descends upon the world. While somebody's personal reckoning might be alienating, ose invites the listeners to be an intrinsic part of it, to engage in muted, pensive silence, and to observe. The whole track is vulnerable, it's honest, it's oddly familiar and immersive, without being lacklustre. As we said before, approach it like meditation – something to lose, and find, yourself to.
Meditation is essentially all about finding inner peace and silence amidst the chaos of the world. Which begs the question – without chaos, would there be silence? And can there be silence in chaos? Keep the thought in mind. The ambient backdrop of the opening track dissolves into the rhythmic soundscape on the telling 'Drown Out The Noise With Your Silence', which builds gradually, evolving with layer upon layer of bass and light percussion with a steady rhythm. Washed across the board is Ose's voice, used as a synth and a drone. You may mistakenly perceive it as the ambient, steady backdrop to the escalating percussion, but on the contrary it is the protagonist of this story, a surreal, ethereal entity struggling to be heard over the din of noise. Its sole purpose is to drown out the noise, to dissolve the cacophony and chaos of human existence with the intoxicating nature of silence, of introspection and thought. It's a battle of the inner mind and conscience, with the outside world; between humans and their surroundings; a fight that continues to escalate until it abruptly ends, creating a reprieve that hurls you into a surreal meditative trance.
'Drown Out The Noise With Your Silence' was written in Raag Bheempalasi, which is typically associated with a hot Indian afternoon. The succeeding track, 'Just Like A Dragonfly', (written in Raag Aasavari) takes the listeners, in Jain's words, “from the heat of the previous song to the lushness and exuberance of a monsoon morning, where dainty dragonflies dance in an enchanted, lotus-studded garden viewed through a foggy window pane”. Driven by notes of wonder and awe, the track oscillates between minimalism and maximalism, channeling feelings of ecstasy and exuberance incited by a “crazed obsession and attraction to excess”. But nestled in the undertones, you may find a dizzying sense of detachment that induces a feeling almost like you're observing your insanity as a disaffected or even bewitched outsider, or sitting still and watching things go by rapidly (like the beating wings of a dragonfly); like you're attempting to earth your uneasiness, or slow down time. Ose achieved this effect partially by processing disharmonious voices through the granular synthesis of a Morphagene, leading us into the album's most charming track, 'Is It Love?'
You might have noticed by now – Ose has a knack for naming her tracks,managing to encompass in just a few words the very essence of each track. 'Is It Love?' is no exception, and it carries with it the same naïve, hopeful, starry-eyed wonder and hesitant joy one experiences when they may be about to fall in, or have just fallen in, love. While 'Drown Out The Noise With Your Silence' was the most poignant and impactful track on the LP, this one is its most enchanting. It's a cosmic fairy tale spun on a modular synthesiser, set inside an aural landscape with a twinkling, starry drone ambience. Ose again uses her voice as an instrument of abstraction, guiding the listener through a cinematic, buoyant free-fall through her universe, joyously back to Earth. Written in the celebratory Raag Bihag, which is usually played in the second quarter of the night, it is a fitting close to the album, and leaves the listeners in a pleasant, heady space – like one would feel after a relaxing, invigorating dose of meditation.
Words: Satvika Kundu
Thumbnail: Artwork By Aishwarya Vardhana