Ragas Live Festival 2016 @ Pioneer Works

Ragas Live Festival 2016 @ Pioneer Works

Words by Diana McClure / Photographs by Anders Jones

Whether you are a devoted student of Ragas Indian Classical Music, an avid listener or you have simply heard it streaming out of yoga studio sound systems, the Ragas Live Festival, now in its fifth year, is an awesome joy to behold.

Mesmerizing in its annual 24-hour continuous labyrinth of aural pleasure, this year’s program broke new ground; its presentation live and in person at Pioneer Works in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

Epic in its scope, the festival has streamed live in-studio performances by connoisseurs of Indian Classical Music for 24 hours straight, once per year, on New York’s WKCR 89.9 since its inception in 2012.

Created by musician, producer and radio host David Ellenbogen with Brooklyn Raga Massive, HarmoNYom, Chhandayan and several other community partners this year’s festival, supported by the Rubin Museum, featured 24 sets of music and over 70 musicians performing live in Pioneer Works’ cavernous main gallery.

Ragas Live’s international following could tune in, per usual, in real time via partner media outlets Clocktower Radio, NYC Radio Live Podcast and Radio Al Farouk 89.0 Timbuktu.

According to festival materials, “The beauty of Indian Classical Music and the Raga system around which it developed is that it is closely tied to the rhythms of nature.”

Ragas can be understood as musical modes or essences that are associated with the mood of a specific time of day or season. Each raga is meant to be played at a particular time in order to color the mind and feelings with its fullest essence.

Arriving at 3:30am and blending into melodic cyclical rhythms over the next several hours, I was graced by the Sohini Paraj (pre-dawn), Bhatiyar Lalit (dawn) and Bhairav Ramakali Jogia (early morning) hours of music from the Raga Samaya System.





Words by Diana McClure / Photographs by Anders Jones

Shimmering soundscapes, otherworldly earth tones and interactive instrumentation embrace visitors to the Museum of Art and Design’s exhibition, Atmosphere for Enjoyment: Harry Bertoia’s Environment for Sound.

Words on the granite headstone that mark Bertoia’s grave (1915-1978) poetically summarize the artist, designer and sculptor’s creative gift, “He heard the voice of the wind. Bringing sound from form to life.”

A pioneer in the field of sound art, Bertoia’s seminal work Sonambient was a collection of ninety-one sounding sculptures installed in Bertoia’s stone barn in Pennsylvania.  Refined over two decades, the artworks explored the intersection of sound and sculpture and were built from groupings of metal rods designed to create an array of radiant tones, harmonics, and vibrations when held or strummed. 

The particular musicality of Bertoia’s sounding sculptures lent itself to deep listening, explorations of the healing potential of tonality, and a strong resonance with nature and the cosmos.  Bertoia occasionally held listening sessions in his barn for groups of no more that twelve. The barn also functioned as a recording studio for his experiments in sound, which culminated in the production of eleven LPs on the Sonambient label.

The LPs were recently re-released along with previously unheard material on John Brien’s Important Records’ label.  A re-mix of the music by Brien, Sonambient Museum Mix, 2016, is part of a continuous algorithm four channel sound installation at the exhibition. 

For audiophiles interested in optimal sound staging, the installation room features speakers in all four corners of the space.  The speakers, housed in wood diamond cut cabinets, are a nice compliment to the legendary mid-century Bertoia Diamond Chair seating available for visitors. The chairs were designed by Bertoia in 1952 for Knoll, and allowed him to generate enough income through royalties to fully engage his art practice.

Other than listening, the opportunity exists to play sounding sculptures and experience a brief sensation of what it might have been like to attend one of Bertoia’s barn sessions.  An interactive installation created by Bertoia’s son, Val Bertoia, showcases approximately ten of his elegantly minimalist metal creations.

Museum guests are encouraged to hold the long slender rods, gently push them together, and then release them into a sustained swaying rhythm that resembles a field of wildflowers in the breeze or flowing sea grass.  Other instruments include Bertoia’s famous Gongs, and a low-lying sculpture meant to be strummed with one finger.

The musical experience at Atmosphere for Enjoyment is complimented by gorgeous monotype prints, most on rice paper, in earth tones including maize, forest green, red earth and black. The delicate and precise drawings articulate what fundamental tones disseminating as vibrations might look like.  Design notes, as well as a survey of Bertoia’s lesser known work as a jewelry designer are also on view, offering a truly sublime feast of the senses for all who choose to look, touch and listen.

(original blog post)