In Conversation With: Pardafash On Synthfarm
22 February 2018
“I think this was [a] good trigger to jump back into music production,” said Sandhya Visvanathan. “It’s illuminating to see the processes behind music making. I think it’s about expanding your own idea of sound.music.”
The artist better known as Pardafash was talking about her experience at Synthfarm, a 3-day residency set amongst the lush greenery of rural West Bengal. The aim of the residency is to “demystify music production, sound synthesis and understanding [of] the studio.” A bi-annual meet-up, the residency focuses on chosen artists who want to engage in learning about emerging technology.
Sandhya’s adventure with Synthfarm started with an email from Consolidate founder Rahul Giri who releases music under the name _RHL. The Bangalore-based label, to which she belongs to, boasts some of the more forward-thinking artists in the country. Giri forwarded an email to all the Consolidate members from Synthfarm show runners Varun Desai and Samrat B (Audio Pervert) stating that that a couple of slots were open at the residency that allowed for funding but Pardafash didn’t pay any attention to it, at first. “I didn’t really think of applying because I had just quit my job and moved to Bangalore that very week,” she wrote to Wild City over email. “But then my friends [and fellow Consolidate members] Blindnight [Suren Makkar] and Aniruddh Menon bullied me into it – and I sort of gave in,” Sandhya explained.
RedBull India, who she received a grant from, paid for her tickets to Dattapukur as well as the workshop fee. Hashback Hashish and Dhanya Pilo, aka VJ Decoy, were the other two recipients. As events unfolded so quickly - “I got the grant and then headed that weekend immediately” - Sandhya had no time to absorb everything as it was happening. It was only closer to her arrival that what was occurring set in, “I was a little scared just before going because I realised that I actually knew zilch about synthesizers.”
At the 5th edition of Synthfarm, 20-odd musicians and synth-enthusiasts gathered. “Our days were occupied by a series of lectures and demonstrations showing the method behind the madness,” explained Sandhya. The residency started with the historical context of modular synths (referring to Moog and Bucchla), a lecture by Lionel, better known as Da Saz. Modular Analog, one of the first Indian modular synth companies, run by Dhvanit and Richard, showcased their designs simultaneously and as Sandhya puts it, “We were introduced to the art of making music through controlled voltage.”
Fascinated by everything going on around her, Sandhya mentioned that, “many of the artists at Synthfarm view the synth as if it’s a live creature. They use random generators to let the machine play by itself.” POL gave a short-and-sweet “demonstration of how he uses Ableton Live to achieve similar effects digitally.”Himanshu aka United Machines talked about his quest for the perfect music sequencer as part of his lightweight setup to aid him in trying to make every live performance unique. Samrat B (Audio Pervert) gave a lecture on the cognitive science of sound: “We looked at how our bodies physically and emotionally react to and perceive pieces of music. Our perceptions are shaped through what we’ve experienced through language and culture, our access to resources, and our own inherent biases. We discussed what someone called the ‘fascism of 4/4 in pop music’ in relation to Adorno’s idea of mass culture. We also extensively debated about how making electronic music is both an art and a science.”
All of this was a fascinating, new experience for the Bangalore-based artist; she was absorbed throughout the weekend.
One of the founders of Ninja Tune, Matt Black from Coldcut, spoke of his own personal history of physically making records, his practice of sampling and setting up an international label. “It was interesting to hear him talk about his absolute love for hip-hop, and be aware of his own place as an artist and influencer,” reflected Sandhya. “He talked about how warehouse parties in the UK started because many of the clubs were racist at the time, which meant that their friends who were people of colour as well consumers and promoters of music had to look for other avenues.”
One of the other main things she learnt is that “the source of the sound is an oscillator. The different soundwaves produced are then generally sculpted through filters, amplifiers, envelope generators etc. Each module is connected through candy-coloured patch cables to achieve different effects in the synth architecture. To me it seemed like this way of making music is an example of art reflecting nature and the vast probabilities that exist. We’re using machines to reach something organic. It’s a very pleasurable contrast.”
Outside of the day-time activities, each night consisted of playful, intimate jam sessions where all the artists got together and partied. Bringing out their individual gear, instruments and modules, “it was quite a melange of sound. Everyone had so much stuff. I was the only vocalist there so it was interesting to sing and use my vocal processor over all the analogue synths. One of the nights, Ashokda the caretaker, who is also a Baul singer, performed with his friends and local musicians. Varun [Desai] jammed with them with an instrument he had made himself that used electrical signals to hit little hammers on bells.”
On the last day, Varun Desai did a workshop on how to make a DIY synth. “This was the first time I used a soldering iron ever. Five synths were born that night - all by first-time builders,” Sandhya explained. All the "baby-synths" were designed by Animal Facotry and "Varun was like the synth-obstetrician who patiently made sure that each ‘babysynth' gave its first (very unmusical) cry to indicate that all was well and live and working. We then jammed with all 5 lined up together - it sounded like a swarm of angry bees.”
With anything, there’s room for improvement in Synthfarm, Sandhya found. “It would be interesting to see visual artists work in tandem with the spectrum of sound that was produced in the workshop. I would also love to see some women faculty talking about analogue synths as well as female participants.”
Words: Dhruva Balram
Image credit (all): Sandhya Viswanathan (Pardafash)