About this work:
I wonder why I never thought of it before! About a month or so ago, it occurred to me that there are parallels between two great artistic forms originating from India: ragas and chess. Now calling chess an art form will arouse some differing views. Some consider it a sublime warfare game of unmatched sophistication and complexity. Others view it as a science. I believe it is a combination of all three elements. With that out of the way, I will now get into this pertinent intermingling of conceptions. Both ragas and chess are supreme manifestations of the Indian mind. They both posses the magical qualities of infinite variation and super-human complexity/divine simplicity at once. Once each form is mastered, the unique personality of the practitioner is revealed. Raga/melody/female and Tala/rhythm/male are the two main aspects of ragas. In chess, the white pieces correspond to raga, and the black pieces, tala, or vice-versa. The various openings of chess recall the wealth of different ragas and talas, with various variations of specific openings relating to additional varieties of ragas and talas. In the twentieth century, the Russians became the most advanced chess players. This was possible not only because they poured huge amounts of capital and education into developing a national pastime, but because India's invention transcends superficial boundaries of ethnicity and birth place. It touches upon universal principles. (A modern day fairy tale occurred when, like David toppling Goliath, a young American from Brooklyn, lacking the advantages of the Russian educational system, came along and wiped out the entire regiment of Russian and European grand masters. That was Bobby Fisher, of course.) The raga form has the same potential to become a universal musical form. That is why it is possible for a non-Indian to find a new path within this resplendent musical form, with the only limitation being one’s self.
When I set out to compose a new composition, there were several ragas I was attracted to, including Bihag, Charukeshi and Kaunsi Kanada. However, my entire being yearned for the soothing simplicity and balance of Bhoop (rhymes with "hoop"), which is more often called Bhupali. (The title piece from my Indian Jasmine CD from 1997, is an earlier version of this raga.) Also, I wanted to balance my previous rendering of Jaunpuri for clarinet and pipa, with a vastly different rasa featuring the same instruments. Alain Danielou’s words on the expression of Bhoop are both poetic and apt: "The raga of cosmic movement; harmony, contentment, in the dusky oppressive night, the joy of saintly detachment."
The miracle of Bhoop is that after I had spent an enormous amount of time and energy composing and programming the hour-long composition, I felt like doing a new version, and could see myself going through this process over and over again, the reason being that I am a different person everyday, with different thoughts and sensations, which may be filtered through the raga, like the ancient soma through a sieve
A woodsy sweetness informs the clarinet which opens the alap, beginning with two sustained soundings of Sa. The companion pipa presents a child-like transparency. Both voices enter into the two tanpura patterns which create the gentle, soothing rasa of Bhoop, like an endless flow of freshly melted snow.
When the alap was finished, I decided to incorporate a charming lahra melody I heard on a recording by Ustad Alla Rakha into the second half of my composition. This melody appears three times.I would also like to take this opportunity to dedicate Bhoop to Alla Rakha. His tabla playing is a miracle of invention, spontaneity, fluidity, clarity of articulation, and improvisational complexity, all powered by an overwhelming abundance of prana. I remain in a constant state of awe whenever I hear this god-like artist.
Tabla, dhol and dholak enter softly at 30:15, with a gradual increase in intensity. Here the melismas of melody and rhythm recall the kaleidoscopic middle game of chess. This experience is intensified when the tempo is doubled at 45:15. When all is finished, the tanpuras resonate on, with the promise of future meetings.
- Michael Robinson, November 1999, Beverly Hills
© 1999 by Michael Robinson All rights reserved
Year composed: 1999
Ensemble type: Electronic Instruments and Sound Sources:Live Electronic Sound Sources
Instrumentation: ,1 Computer/Laptop soloist(s), ,1 Sampler (Keyboard/Other) soloist(s)
Instrumentation notes: A computer and sound module are programmed to perform the fully notated composition in real time. Bhoop is voiced with samples of the following acoustical timbres using Indian tunings: clarinet, pipa, tabla, dholak, dhol and two tanpuras.