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Take Five With...

Take Five With Gokul Salvadi

By Published: January 23, 2013
Meet Gokul Salvadi:

Gokul Salvadi, from India, is a composer, singer and multi-instrumentalist, but the one he plays professionally is his larynx. He started as a Carnatic Vocalist (Traditional South Indian Classical Music) and later, as a composer, he developed his passion for exploring the wondrous world of music.

"Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent" (Victor Hugo). Music is universal and there is no territory in the world of music. Salvadi creates something which would have a sense of his overall musical style. He loves working with people who work and play with sound. The future of the world is hatched in the laboratory. From Isaac Newton to Albert Einstein, from Antonio Russolo to John Cage, innovation has been an eternal spirit for us. Salvadi loves exploring the world of music and is curious to see where it leads him in the future. Whenever asked what his genre is, he prefers to call it "Avant-garde Carnatic."

Salvadi hears people in India already saying "Carnatic and Jazz are two Oceans," and adapting the melodic and rhythmic nuances of Carnatic with an influence of jazz would be a great musical experience. He relates that Carnatic and jazz are two distinct genres, from east and west of the world, which share some of the finest, common ingredients, like intricate rhythm and melodic improvisation. Jazz is the best of western genre of music, with which Salvadi feels a musical connectivity with the veins of Carnatic.



Teachers and/or influences?

My teacher, Lakshmi Narasimhan, has been a constant source of inspiration. Every rendition, every session of practice and theory has given me great insights into the nuance of Carnatic music.

When it comes to performing with Carnatic musicians, the list is long and I have influences too abstract to name names.

When it comes to producing records, the prime influencer is south Indian film composer Ilayaraja.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

My first training in Carnatic music started with violin. I was taught violin by a guest of my neighbor, who was on a short term stay at Palani, my native town. I was fourteen. My mom said "You always wanted to learn violin. Now you have a chance to ask somebody to teach you. But I am not sure how long she will be here." A violin has always been a dream since my school days and I just rushed to the neighbor's house, found the guest and said "I want to learn violin!" She said "Come in the evening." I learned the basics of Carnatic on violin for six months. One day she said "You are good. You play well. Keep practicing. I will get you an Italian violin when you grow. We are moving to our place, but don't worry I will be back."

After few months I was told she had her own job in a nearby city and she was just on a vacation. I didn't know that what could be a vacation for a period of six months. I had a violin, my lessons, but not my Guru. I used to spend time with my violin recalling how she taught me to hold the chin, the bow..nostalgic. I call her 'maami' (Madam); I didn't even know her name. Later I came to know that she was a violinist with the lineage of Mysore Chowdiah, a veteran Carnatic violinist.

Your sound and approach to music:

Carnatic music is primarily a music by theory rather than be a music by performance. The evolution of a Carnatic musician could be broken down into two clear phases. The first one is, the learning phase, where a student is taught by a Guru. Though there are some common practices, with conventional systems in place, teaching Carnatic is all about teaching a student how to listen. It works the way Zen works. The teacher adapts his or her own techniques to make the student aware of the different colors of various scales, and make the student capable of identifying different colors, moods, flavors of different combinations—and to realize how musical notes creates different musical moods.

This is the reason why a traditional Carnatic training always place with vocal first. If a student intends to learn an instrument, he or she should go through vocal training before the instrument is presented by the teacher. Quality standards on vocal rendition could be different for a vocal student and for an instrumental student, but it doesn't work any other way.

Unlike Western classical music, Carnatic doesn't support a polyphony or harmony. What it deals is all melody. Being a melody only genre is due to the tradition of placing vocal rendition as the primary learning part. And, interestingly, Carnatic provides ways to express rhythm with syllables. If a percussionist wants to demonstrate an improvisation, it should be rendered vocally. In essence, a Carnatic vocal artist has the exposure and practice to render all melody and rhythm vocally. This helped me to come out with recording, scoring my vocal rendition of melody and rhythm before I took my scores to the studio. I can record a melody with a handheld device when the idea sparks out, or I can write it on paper while shopping.

This creates the basis of my compositions. All the studio stuff comes at later stage. I used to derive a scale or Raga that I found fit for a particular composition. This was the prime job. Then I would continue to record improvisations on paper or with a voice recorder—sometimes just in my memory. These melodic and rhythmic structures are the building blocks of constructing my songs.

Then the phase of scoring puts things in shape.

Your teaching approach:

I would fist evaluate what is music for a student, in her or his own perception. Then I would attempt to penetrate his/her own idea of music through discussion.

When it comes to practice, I adapt specific techniques in demonstrations, drills to address the students' specific requirements to help them move towards perfect listening, and then to the perfect rendition of basic musical notes. This is very simple when said; in practice, I keep this as an ideal target and push the students towards the goal till I feel that it was OK, on a case-by -case basis.

Favorite venue:

My first vocal concert was in a hill temple of my town. The occasion was a festival. When I got to the stage, I felt dizzy when I saw the crowd. This first concert was filled with anxiety on one hand and the sense of self-accomplishment on the other. This was my most memorable concert.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

Most of orthodox Carnatic musicians are far away from present technology and they believe the spirit of Carnatic may not stay in shape when a composition is technically treated. The Bollywood music, the mainstream media music of India, is getting more and more influence from the popular music of western countries—and from technology, libraries and samples that almost make much of Bollywood sound like a western, American genre mixed with a shallow Indian spirit.

In my work, I attempt to get a balance between technology and the soul of Carnatic music. I believe, one should not discount technology as a whole, but should not produce songs that are of simply of good sonic quality but with no Indian content.

Did you know...

I am a generalist. I have a passion, an interest in learning, experimenting with ideas from completely random sources. I also breed neon tetras.

I have played the roles of entrepreneur, software engineer, a creative, teacher, stock broker and market analyst, but music has always been the only thing with which I have been constantly involved and emotionally connected throughout my life.

Photo Credit

Courtesy of Gokul Salvadi
Gokul Salvadi
Gokul Salvadi

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