Monsoon - India Through Music

Sometimes, you're lucky enough to meet people along the way that have epic plans, ideas, minds and imagination. These pioneers inspire and encourage us at times we need it to push further, think bigger and simply make us want to see what they see, hear and create. 

Dan Smith is one of those individuals and has returned me to India 18 months after I last explored the country by sending me his upcoming album Monsoon. A culmination of two months spent recording organic sounds throughout India and transforming it into an album that even BBC Introducing has featured. Starting from the continents most southerly state Kerala and then meandering up along the west coast until eventually reaching the northern capital Delhi. Along the way he recorded kids, buskers, camels, mantras, monks, people, holy men, bird song, temple bells and everything else in between to created each of these romantic pieces. 

Monsoon brings us 8 exerts of music created from sounds recorded in the corners of India, with Dan saying music is everywhere to those who listen (pretty deep stuff!) After listening to each piece though, I'm fairly convinced that Dan could even turn that the poor child who cries during takeoff on flights into a melody. 

For those of you who haven't explored India's vast soil yet, this album will inspire you to visit. Within two months, Dan explored and recorded (in order) Trivandrum, Varkala, Kumarakom, Kochi, Goa, Hampi, Mumbai, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Pushkar, Jaipur, Agra, Varanasi, Rishikesh and Delhi. When asked which place was his favourite, it seemed pretty hard to pin one down! From the living streets of Mumbai, to the peace in Varanasi I can agree each part of India has it's own special energy that you can't define or box into better than another. However, with a little force I managed to convince him to share his best part:

If I had to nail a favourite though I would say Varanasi although closely followed by Rishikesh... I was actually stranded there due to a mishap with the trains & even ended up with food poisoning after a wild samosa.. But I just loved the noise, the medieval streets & the pure chaos that came from there, it was hands down the most surreal city I have ever been to.
— Dan Smith - Sight

Next up Dan tells me is Patagonia, which I can imagine would  be just something else after this one! Unfortunately we're all going to have to wait a little while as he's not aiming to get out there for another year or so. To keep you going though, you can check out more than just the track embedded above here, and Dan has been awesome enough to send me some information about how each track has been inspired & created. Between listening to his work, and reading musings, you really can tell that India stole his heart.

To find out more, check out Dan's website which will hopefully be filling up with more inspired work!

Track 1 - Snoring Babas

This track I intended to be the appendix of the record. Giving a little insight, the track has recordings taken from railway workers working on tracks, and recordings I have taken from all the train stations which I had visited all across the country. Its title, Snoring Babas, stems from a recording I took whilst on a savagely long train from Varanasi to Rishikesh. As the sunset and the night grew longer the sounds of the railway and the rattling train became more pronounced. Then, more and more of the holy men starting getting on the train and filling the aisles and floors. Eventually the whole train was asleep - I woke the whole carriage had errupted in a chorus of snoring. For many who travel india the railway is the quintessential indian experience.


Track 2 - Bombay

The second track on the album is recorded from the sounds of the Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai's hand washing slum and largest factuality of it's kind in the world. It's put together with vocals chopped from the slums inhabitants, washing sounds, tables and the cities metros. 


Track 3  - Rallying

This is one of my favourites from the album. The track's a blend of street noises such as bicycles, bat screeches & religious sounds. The ticking was a sample taken from one of the wheel & stick games some of the gypsy kids played within the Thar desert. At 1.26 you hear one of the Varanasi horns, sounded every evening in worship of the River Ganga - literally sounding them for around two minutes or so whilst incense burns and singing begins. Then, in the second part of the track, you hear drums I've recorded from a street wedding procession in Kerala with main vocal is from a preacher I found singing at a religious rally in the park in Udaipur. I guess this track is really a homage to the role that religion plays through out the country. 


Track 4 - Liquid Streets

This one really focuses on the theme of water and how I experienced it in the country. Ranging from the effects of the monsoon, which would send people running for their homes and flooding the streets on a weekly basis to the peace of the meandering waters. The opening ambience is a recording of the monsoon in a very wet Kerala with large, thick droplets pounding against the urban rubble outside our hostel in Varkala. The track highlights liquid in both its micro & macro sense, the weather being its macro form, then shifting towards a micro focus as water droplets recorded from the washing up slum mix with the all too familiar kettle whistle heard from the brewing chai.

The piano piece behind the track has been processed through a recording of children playing by the river in Hampi, you can hear faint children enjoying the river in the frequencies of the piano mix within the recording. 


Track 5 - Blackout

This track is namely about the electricity in India - or the lack of it! This one I did mess about with the samples a bunch, with the majority of the sounds here having been recorded from electronic outputs found around India. There are a lot of blown out speakers used throughout Varanasi, the glitchy vocal sounds are from recordings in the city. I wanted the hits to sound like electrical surges, thunder claps and power lines going down through out the track. I wanted that chaotic, slightly out of control vibe you get from being in india. This contains my favourite sample on the album too. I recorded a camel! During a 3 day trek in the Thar desert, sleeping under the stars I got to spend plenty of time with the grumpy animals.


Track 6 - Arteries 

Probably the most experimental track in the LP, it's a blend of railway sound, gongs & engines. The name comes from the idea that the rails are the arteries of india - I wanted to try and see if I could make a track that sounded like India's blood flow. This one is a little odd, but just think of it as a soundscape!


Track 7 - Heartbeats

Opening with one of the massive religious parade songs found in Varanasi, then ending with the lumber jack whom cuts the wood for the cremations. It's fairly dark and ominous, but I think India also has this feeling, just as a tourist I always felt we were hidden from it.


Track 8 - Sugarcane

The final track on the album.. This has alot of the recordings of the kids I met in the desert, with prayer bells in Rajasthan clashing & beach swells. The sound of the hi hats is a recording of the bells attached to the sugar cane machines found through the continent. I wanted to give the track a nostalgic feeling of innocence, like that of childhood.