Charanjit Singh - Synthesizing: Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat

  • Share
  • Behold, my children, the legend of acid house: Imagine in your mind Chicago 1987, where a small group of club kids, led by Nathan "DJ Pierre" Jones, give Ron Hardy a record to play at the Music Box. Labelled "Acid Tracks" by Phuture, its uncompromising sound quickly clears the dance floor, but Hardy hammers the tune again and again, until the masses are converted and a new genre is born. You've heard this story a thousand times. And everything in it is true. Except, it seems, maybe the part about it being the birth of acid. Synthesizing: Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat challenges us to rewind acid's origin story to India 1982, and to move from a sweaty Chicago nightclub to the home studio of a veteran Bollywood musician. In the '60s and '70s Charanjit Singh did time on the Bollywood soundtrack scene, and earned extra cash with his own orchestra playing popular favorites at weddings. In 1982, armed with a now-iconic trio of Roland gear, the Jupiter 8, TB-303 and TR-808, Singh set out to update the entrancing drone and whirling scales of classical Indian music. It's enough of a mind-fuck that rumors circulated on the web claiming the record was a prank spawned by Richard D. James. A prank it's not. After nearly three decades of near-complete obscurity, the record resurfaced when Bombay Connection label impresario Edo Bouman snapped it up while travelling in India. He had his mind split open when, back at his hotel, he heard the psychedelic mind-meld of East and West on his portable record player. Intrigued, Bouman tracked Singh down: "He was most friendly and surprised I knew the album. I remember asking him how he got to this acid-like sound, but he didn't quite get my point. He didn't realise how stunningly modern it was." Singh's sound didn't appear wholly out of thin air. As music critic Geeta Dayal points out, both the 303 and the 808 had been issued right around the time, and the rhythms of '70s disco had in 1982 only just reached Indian ears. Needless to say, though, the word "disco" in the title is a complete misnomer—there simply wasn't a genre called techno or house that could be invoked. What stands out most on Ten Ragas is Singh's comparatively original use of the TB-303. Even though it was designed to fill in for a bass guitar, the 303 was notoriously awkward when it came to reproducing conventional basslines—the box was much better suited to produce the otherworldly squelches of DJ Pierre. Singh, however, found a different way to employ the machine. Dayal notes that the TB-303's "glissando" function, the ability to slide from one note to another, makes it perfectly suited for the sort of raga melodies that run slippery up and down the scale. Married to rugged 808s and Terry Riley-style undulating keyboard solos, The result is a haunting, exotic prefiguration of acid's steely futurism, a bit like Kraftwerk live at the Taj Mahal, somehow summoned from the past but envisioning the future at the same time.
  • Tracklist
      01. Raga Bhairav 02. Raga Lalit 03. Raga Bhupali 04. Raga Megh Malhar 05. Raga Yaman 06. Raga Kalavati 07. Raga Madhuvanti 08. Raga Tod 09. Raga Malkauns 10. Raga Bairagi