Melody Maker, 1996
by Simon Reynolds
Melody Maker, 1996
by Simon Reynolds
Listen to Bedouin Ascent's recent LP "Music For Particles", and you quickly realise that, for its 27 year old creator Kingsuk Biswas, percussion is the thing. The Bedouin sound --a shimmying mist of drum machine polyrhythms and synth tics, interwoven with ribbons of ultra-minimal melody--is steeped in the influence of African and North Indian Classical music (the latter thanks to Bis' Bengali background).
"Western music emphasises harmony and melody over rhythmic complexity," Bis explains. "The most empty music, I thought, was the most melodious music, and it's easy to indulge in that with an electronic keyboard. But with West African percussion ensembles, melody is the product of 40 drummers jamming together; the
boundary between melody, rhythm and harmony is blurred. That discovery was the holy grail for me!," he gushes, adding that he aims to achieve the same effect with drum machines and computers. "As for Indian classical ragas, that music contains some of the funkiest rhythms on the planet!".
Dub is another crucial influence; as a ten year old he'd listen, amazed, to Dave Rodigan's late '70s show on Capital. "It was mad, mental music, beats stopping and weird noises, lots of toasting." Later, after a spell as a punk-rocker, he got into the Adrian Sherwood/On U skool of dub-terrorism and early '80s avant-funk (A Certain Ratio, 23 Skidoo). Then came electro and street soul.
Being Asian, Bis says, gives him the "privilege" of being marginal. "It's made me more objective, cos I'm less involved. I can look at the cultural institutions that surround me and just laugh at them. Because of this, my music background is very broad, I'm willing to penetrate anything I encounter and find
something positive in it."
After a period of guitar-noise experimentation, Bis got into electronic music circa 1988's acieeed explosion. "At the time, I was listening to minimalist composers like Steve Reich, and it was thrilling to see music based on the same ideas become mainstream. To go to a club and hear things that were far out was really exciting. That hasn't really changed--the barriers between avant-garde
and populist music are still totally irrelevant". Enthused by the idea of 'aciiied as avant-gardism for the masses', and inspired by performance art, Bis actually busked his early electronic experiments: "I'd take my drum machine out into shopping centres in the middle of Cardiff, and people would gawp!".
"Music For Particles" stems from these early days. (As with most art-tekno boffins, Bis has a huge backlog of material; hence the timelag). "Particles" chimes in with the lofty titles of his earlier releases--1994's "Science, Art and Ritual", EP's like "Pavilions of the New Spirit" and "Further Self-Evident Truths"--in that it's informed by Bis' interest in the 'new mysticism in science'. This is the convergence of the latest theories in physics (quantum
mechanics, chaos theory) with the ancient mystical intuitions of the East (Zen, Tao, etc). Bis is not eager to spell out any of this stuff, though.
"I've never been a preacher, I'm very much an amoralist and a spiritual anarchist. But there's stuff in the music for those open to it. And if not, fine! We don't all have to be mystics and eso-terrorists!".
Bedouin Ascent's rhythm-as-melody aesthetic has much in common with jungle,which Bis loves ("I can't wait for the weekends, it's pirates all the way"). Thankfully, he's savvy enough to be wary of 'intelligent jungle', preferring instead "jungle that isn't trying to sound like jazz, but is being itself."
Sensible chap, but after all, this is the bloke who uttered the pearl-of-wisdom: "'intelligent techno' was the most unmusical phenonemon ever".
"Intelligence, as far as I'm concerned, is not a musical virtue. A lot of the stuff put out as intelligent techno was beautiful, but calling it 'intelligent' misses the point: it was about human enquiry and the abstract, and those are to do with intuition, not intellect. Primitive impulses. Just the
fact that there are thousands of people in their bedrooms each making thousands of hours of this music--for no money whatsoever, believe me!--indicates there's a compulsion to do it. Intelligence is just one facet of music. Personally, I like to leave things as open as possible, 'cos it's in possibility that exists