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Susmit Sen: From the Ruins

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AAJ: Do you use standard tuning for your guitar or is there some other tuning that you use most?



SS: I tune my guitar in an orthodox way, a whole note lower. So EADGBE become DGCFAD. This happened because I lost two of my early guitars as they got warped due to the extreme conditions of Delhi. This in turn might have added to the sound of my playing. It is also easier on the fingers.



AAJ: Tell us something about the scales that you use, songs where particular scales are used. How do you really approach creating a melody?



SS: As my major influence has been Indian classical, my earliest compositions used the same scale throughout the song. As a result my initial songs sound similar to some ragas of Indian classical. Such as the song "Melancholic Ecstasy from Desert Rain, where I use a flattened seventh and has similarities to the raga "Bhageshwari and "From the Ruins, also from Desert Rain, where a flattened second and sixth in a major scale is used, similar to raga "Bhairon.



Over the years I have started jumping into completely different scales for my solos than the rest of the compositions. Such as the song "Nam Myo Ho, from Jhini, which starts with a simple major scale and changes to a scale, which has flattened second, no fourth and a flattened fifth, giving the composition a sudden melancholic twist which I thought was apt to express the feeling of the song.



Then came compositions where the piece itself changed into different scales and rhythm patterns. Like the song "Kya Maloom from Kandisa (Times Music, 1999), which changes from simple major scales and a 7/7 rhythm to 4/4 and a scale similar to the raga "Todi.



Then there are songs where the scale changes a number of times along with the root note as well, without sounding harsh like on "Kaun, from Kandisa, and "Bharm Bhapke, from Black Friday (Times Music, 2004).



AAJ: That sounds fascinating. Tell us about any new techniques you plan to use in your future writing.



SS: I don't like to call them techniques, just ways to approach a song. Right now I am working on a song that will probably use all twelve notes in an octave.

AAJ: Do you feel pressure to meet the expectations of your audiences with every new release and how do you come up with something that doesn't sound the same as before?



SS: Keeping up to the expectations of our audience does not come into play, as we do not keep the market in mind when we compose. Also we've found that if all of us like the composition then the audience likes it as well. When there are four highly critical band members working together then quality control happens automatically.

AAJ: Where do your song ideas come from?

SS: With four band members having vast amount of personal experiences and influences, it is practically impossible to pinpoint where the ideas for the songs come from. A whole lot of ideas get shot down even if one member of the band does not agree for whatever reasons.



AAJ: Let's talk about the recording process. Do you record with mics only, or you use a pickup sometimes?



SS: For our first albums I used toy pickups not even worth mentioning. As a matter of fact, on Desert Rain there is a constant slight buzz that can be heard on the guitar. Later I started using piezo pick-ups.

The Yamaha AG stomp is now giving me a nice tone in studio and the live shows but unfortunately I got this after our last album.



AAJ: What's your solo repertoire?



SS: Apart from the first few compositions, which became part of the Indian Ocean repertoire in the very beginning, some of my solo projects were recorded for commercial projects. I do have material for more than an album already composed and I am looking forward to producing it.

AAJ: Which artists inspired you the most—what are the specific influences in your playing style?

SS: My main influence has been Indian classical music and I have had the pleasure of listing to some of the greatest musicians like Bhimsen Joshi, Pt Ravi Shankar and Ali Akhbar Khan Sahib, to name a few, and folk music from all over the world. Jazz like Woody Shaw, Return to Forever and Shakti.

AAJ: What are your plans for your next album?



SS: After Black Friday we are hooking up with some more producers to produce feature film music. Composing new tunes and songs is still on and we should hopefully have our next album ready by the end of the year.

AAJ: Looking back, how have things changed for the group over the years?

SS: I think the band has matured immensely over the years, in terms of skill, expression and exploiting the best form of each individual. What I regret is that due to popular demands in live shows we have practically stopped playing a lot of the softer and sensitive pieces in our repertoire. The tendency to always have a large sound is another downside.


Selected Discography

Indian Ocean, Black Friday (Times Music, 2004)
Indian Ocean, Jhini (Kosmic Music, 2003)
Indian Ocean, Kandisa (Times Music, 2000)
Indian Ocean, Desert Rain (Kosmic Music, 1997)
Indian Ocean, Indian Ocean (HMV, 1993)

Sen uses a Martin dreadnought guitar bought in 1985, a Taylor cutaway, bought about four years ago, a Gibson Epiphone semi-acoustic, and recently a Yamaha Silent Guitar, which has a frame but no body.

For processing he uses a Yamaha AG Stomp, which is specially designed for an acoustic guitar. The amp is a Howatt Stranger from Calcutta. He enjoys playing through amps like Fender Twin Reverbs, but his favorite is a Trace Elliot Trace Acoustic, meant specifically for the acoustic guitar.

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