Interview: Debashis Sinha


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Debashis Sinha

  • artist biography
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    Interview: 10 questions

    1. When did you start making music, what is/was your motivation to do it?

    I have always been involved in music, starting to play the drums at the age of 6. My mother, who trained under Uday Shankar, often would direct small dance dramas based on Hindu mythology with the children from the south Asian community in my hometown. She later started a professional company in which I was involved. We used to put on shows using a wide variety of artists from many traditions and disciplines. This was in the early 80’s, a long time before such things became more mainstream. I was always interested in recording and working with sound, with tape recorders, and 4 tracks and various other mechanisms.

    Music for me is a very immediate way of exploring the ramifications of my experiences, as well as presenting them to others. I think that I have been able to confront aspects of my own personality that I would not have been able to otherwise. It is deeply tied up with my spiritual world, indeed, IS my spiritual world, and a conduit for me to become mindful and aware.

    2. Tell me something about your living environment and the musical education.

    As I said, I grew up on stage in amateur and later professional performance settings. I was very interested in the 2 Tone and Mod scenes of the late 70’s/early 80’s, but growing up in a small prairie city (Winnipeg) it was difficult to find out about this music. My father and mother were always great lovers of music, and listening and spending time in music was encouraged, although never considered a “profession”, despite my mother’s involvement with the arts. I never trained in a school, beyond junior high band, and my first real training started after playing professionally for many years, taking kanjira lessons with the great south Indian drumming master Trichy Sankaran here in Toronto.

    3. Is making music your profession? What is the context in which you practice music nowadays?

    I am lucky enough to be able to earn my living as a musician in Toronto. I am very involved with the world music community in Canada, founding or being part of a number of groups that have some following. Performance on stage makes up a large part of my career, but of course there are other aspects of music that also keep me busy—composing, recording, etc, as well as sound and new media work.

    4. How do you compose or create music or sound? Have you certain principles, use certain styles etc?

    The principle concept that guides me is something that I term “post traditionality”. It will likely be a contentious term for many, and it is designed to be so. There are a great many musicians who are deeply trained in various musical traditions who are endeavouring to remain true to their traditions yet also not see it as an end in itself. These musicians in the past usually fell into the jazz or new music genres, but this community is more and more including those people who have devoted their lives to musical traditions of other countries. They are trying to see where the intersection of western art music and their own traditions might be, and what might be created from it. For me, this intersection is located in the concepts of improvisation, technology and identity, and my audio work revolves around these themes. It is also a reflection of my own experience growing up as a south Asian in Canada in the later part of the 20th century, where I was not integrated with my south Asian community and heritage to the same degree as young people might be today, at least in Canada. Much of my sound work is reflective of the Canadian condition, I think. My partner is German, and I am continually amazed how different the Canadian world and development of immigration and multi culturalism is from the European model. I am no sociologist, so I can’t really comment on why that is, but I am sure our relative youth as a nation has a lot to do with it. We simply don’t have the same relationship to western history….

    5. Tell me something about the instruments, technical equipment or tools you use?

    I rely heavily on percussion as sound tools as well as percussion as itself, that is, as the instruments they are and the traditions they represent. I should mention here that I have studied the percussion of the Middle East extensively, as well as techniques and instruments from West Asia, and South India. I also use phonographic sound recorded on my own travels, in India and Egypt as well as elsewhere.

    Usually I work within Digital Performer, a multi track recording DAW. I rely on time stretching a pitch shifting a fair bit, as well as editing of course. The Cycling ’74 plugins are invaluable, and I have been using other open source software as well, particularly Plogue Bidule as a live performance tool (well, that’s shareware, I guess).

    6. What are the chances of New Media for the music production in general and you personally?

    If I understand the question correctly, I would say that new media could be a really amazing way to showcase musical statements. For myself, after making 3 CDs and being involved in countless others, I have realized that the musical statements I wish to make are better disseminated through these channels rather than on CD. Hearing music in a new media or gallery context invites a level of awareness and engagement from the listener that is rarely produced through CDs.

    7. How about producing and financing your musical productions?

    Here in Canada we have a public funding system for the arts that works relatively well, and I have received funding from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, the Toronto Arts Council, and the Chalmers Foundation for the study of traditional percussion instruments, for recording, for composing, and through my other ensembles for touring as well.

    8. Do you work individually as a musician/soundartist or in a group or collaborative? If you have experience in both, what is the difference, what do you prefer?

    My pure musical work is always in ensemble, either collective or as a side musician. My audio work is always individual. I like different things about all of these contexts, and I like to have to be able to function in all of them. If I was only a solo artist, I am not sure if I would be as fulfilled creatively, at least at this point in my life.

    9. Is there any group, composer, style or movement which has a lasting influence on making music?

    If you are asking about making my own music, there are too many influences to list! Thanks to the internet I am constantly discovering new artists who blow me away. Some of the more recent discoveries are Nobukazu Takemura and Steve Roden. There is also Le Quan Ninh, Thomas Lehn, Queen Mab, of course the minimalists (as a drummer of course I am interested in them!) and the New York scene around the time of Cage. As well as all those other post traditionalists! Oh, and (good) hip hop…..

    10. What are your future plans or dreams as a soundartist or musician?

    Well, as I said, I am still involved in music performance, so those issues still are very close to me—technical skill, creativity, musicality are all ideas I want to keep working with. As a solo artist I am looking at 2 different ideas: becoming more skilled as an improviser in a live setting, and also to explore the new media/gallery setting more for my audio and nascent video work. I believe that all of the above cross pollinate each other, they influence each other in a very complex web.

  • Can works of yours experienced online besides on SoundLAB? Where? List some links & resources
  • http://www.posttraditional.ca
    http://www.cbc.ca/outfront/listen/2006/06-05-24.html
    http:://www.debsinha.com

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