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The Wire, January 95. Bedouin Ascent: Digital connections

Spiralling inwards from the debate (about ‘New Complexity’) surrounding the place of the organism in this age of vapour, one possible future direction for electronic music involves a rapprochement between the linear motion of digital processing and the out-of-control 'rhythms of biology. On one level, this involves the development of a new electroacoustic 'biomusic', one which utilises the technologies of sampling and computer-generated noise in parallel with organic sound sources, rather than to excavate alien sound worlds of pure electricity from the guts of an Apple work station.

The music recorded by Kingsuk Biswas, a 26 year old Londoner of Bengali parentage better known as Bedouin Ascent, offers one example of how this approach might develop. The records he released in 1994 on the Rising High label - The "Pavilion Of The New Spirit" EP and the recent "Science, Art And Ritual" album - were dominated by dense layers of complex rhythmic patterns which integrated drum machines with live tabla playing, fusion piano reveries, and sounds suggestive of primitive reed and pipe instruments on the one hand, the howl of overloading circuitry on the other. However...

"For me, those kinds of distinctions have no meaning: male/female, natural/supernatural, organic/digital - these are completely arbitrary categories. All things are as they are, regardless of how you perceive them. The Western mind has a way of cutting up the world into whatever compartments it deems necessary in order to control it - and in the process it takes male away from female, the natural from the supernatural, draining the 'dynamic', or life energy, out of our existence. So I don't subscribe to this idea of roots music being more organic, more natural, than electronic music, and that nature is the province of rural areas. Most people experience the world by looking through glass, walking on pavements, stepping onto trains, I grew up in suburban London - I've always seen the beauty of urban environments as much as anything else."

Even so, the most compelling aspects of Biswas's music seem to grow out of the tensions that result from layering samples of ululating Eastern flutes over warping drum machines that sound as if they are overloading in their attempts to reproduce the data he has programmed into them. How does he approach the creative process?

"Without wanting to get too esoteric, it takes off from Jung's idea of play being an end in itself. To play is to build an area in which to pass your time pleasantly. I've been making music for ten years but its only in the last two years that I've thought of releasing it for other people to consume. Before that making music was just another part of my day-to-day procedure. I try to keep it as intuitive as possible, creating an atmosphere and environment where I can be creative rather than theoretical."

This leads to the problem of attempting to produce music true to the flashfire moment of creation on equipment that requires systematic and laborious programming. "I use an Apple Mac, so the only real instrument I've got is a mouse. It's not particularly sexy or musical. One problem is that working with complex circuitry involves the conscious side of the brain - the other side, the creative side, is in a different part and its supposedly impossible to occupy the two simultaneously. There are two possible solutions: manufacturers might start producing equipment that is more intuitive, or, more excitingly, the mind itself might bridge the gap. We may evolve to a state where neurons form new networks and the right and left sides of the brain will fuse. Why not? As cultures, societies and environments become more technological, we've stopped evolving physically - this could be the new frontline of evolution."

The music you can hear on a Bedouin Ascent record arrives as a consequence of years of listening without prejudice on Biswas's part - and the subsequent connections he made between the various musics he came into contact with. From an early age he was exposed to Indian classical music from where he would later move in the direction of other indigenous folk forms such as West African kora and percussion ensembles. In the late 70s he listened to David Rodigan's weekly reggae show on London's Capitol Radio. "He was in the studio, on the mix, dubbing it up wild style. This seemed very freaky and abstract at the time but it kind of formatted my mind as to how music should sound: minimalist, drums and bass, reverbs, freeform structures." From here he extrapolated outwards, uncovering connections between dub and the way the music of a group such as Joy Division foregrounded the drums and bass. He also heard Joy Division as a kind of "Industrial bebop" which took him to Miles Davis > Ornette Coleman > Pinskii Zoo > the electronic treatments and industrial debris that littered records by Einstuzende Neubauten, Throbbing Gristle and 23 Skidoo. In the 1980s, even for an open-minded listener, these were connections already obscured by the intransigent barriers of social and cultural imperatives. How were they transgressed?

"it has a lot to do with the fact that despite being Asian I've never moved in any one racial group. I developed in isolation. At school no one had even heard of the kind of music I was listening to- The racial thing was put on the back burner. It was more important for me to discover the roots of the music I was listening to than to evaluate my racial background. But being Asian means that I never subscribed to the white middle class values which define this culture. They were never made available to me; there was always an undercurrent of not being welcome. As a consequence my music has always had an element of subversion. The desire to disrupt is very strong."

New Complexities:
- Amber (Warp)
Autocreation - Mettle Onter-Modo)
Bedouin Ascent - Pavillion Of The New Spirit; Science, Art and Ritual (Rising High)
Black Dog - Spanners (Warp)
Jon Dalby - Skil N Frank EP (GPR)
Ecstasy Of Saint Theresa - AstralaVista EP (Free)
Global Cornmunication - 76:14, Maiden Voyage EP (Dedicated)
Anthony Manning - Islets In Pink Polypropylene (Irdial)
Mouse On Mars - Frosch EP; Vulvaland (Too Pure)
Mu-ziq - Tango N'Vectif; Bluff Limbo (Rephlex)
0 - Metri (Sahkb)
Oval - Systemisch Mille Plateaux)
Various Artists - Distant Music (Unitunes)
Various Artists - Experimenta (A 13)

bedouin ascent

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