A L G R O M E R K H A N
performing artist on sitar & surbahar
composer - author - visual artist
WEBSITE under CONSTRUCTION
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I am the silence that is incomprehensible and the idea whose remembrance is frequent.
I am the voice whose sound is manifold
and the word whose appearance is multiple.
I am the utterance of my name.
(from an ancient script, 2nd century AD)
by Al Gromer Khan ©
When I first became aware of the happiness that occurs when listening to music, my search started. Blindly at first, consciously and more systematically later, yet always looking for the trance-state. It has taken me thirty or more years to get behind it, this hermetic trance music. Through this process I found what was known in India for many thousand years: the Bhava state – and that God is a woman. And that She has been around since time immemorial, and that signifiers of Her magnificence can be found in music.
The Paisley figure is shaped like a womb, and like a tear. Vilayat Khan showed me the power of the feminine aspect in music, and how it can take you inward, to secret places. His melodic and refined sitar alaapas were shaped like a tear. And how could it be otherwise: after a few minutes of him having started his music, tears would to come to my eyes. The pattern is a textile design that originates in Kashmir, India. Well, it didn´t really originate there – actually it´s from Persia and was called Boteh, for the Mughals were ardent worshippers of Persian culture. It was them that brought it to India.
Even though I have practiced Indian music for decades now, my interest in Indian culture is not of the general type. There are many aspects of Indian culture that are irrelevant to me. Like I said, it was Vilayat Khan who touched the nerve – an acupuncture spot as it were, when I was twenty. He reared within me the idea that one should create something of beauty in whatever situation one finds oneself in. I found this to be of significance. Whichever situation Vilayat found himself in during his improvisations, he would find an aspect of heart-aching beauty there – The Venus Principle.
Why is Paisley Music ambient music, a hermetic trance music? As teenagers we wanted to save the world. We wore Paisley shirts and scarves. And we soon found that for changing the world you´ve got to start at home. Design your astrological Fourth House, your habitat congenial to your ideals; society may follow. (You can change circumstances if you want to, start a revolution if you´re so inclined – and if you don´t mind if things turn into their opposites, or that they are ten times worse afterwards.) And even though Ute and myself consider ourselves to be of a future tribe, we connect with hippie period and certain other Paisley periods of the past – a specific type of nostalgia. For instance, when bankers and lawyers still wore silk Paisley bow ties and still did their job well, provided a service and got paid for it.
In fashion, Paisley kept coming and going since the 19th century when Queen Victoria, a fairly simple woman, thought how brilliant it would be to call herself Empress of India. A sense of nostalgia is there in Paisley music; it recalls times when things were slow and refinement and complexity made themselves apparent if you´d contemplated it for a time. For example, it has taken more than forty years to get my sitar to actually talking to me – and now She is talking, in a clear but subtle voice. And the voice is that of a woman or a young girl. It kind of changes, but it is always female.
At this time of change, of transition, from the age of devotion to that of emancipation and rebellion, and systems instead of belief systems, most phenomena in society and art have become male dominated, with all types of competitive self-assertion in the outer world. Go and get it! You can do it! Realize your goals! Coaching, marketing. This is when religion, yet again, has turned into its opposite. Today´s masculine manifestations correspond with the Age of Aquarius: male or/and androgynous and rebellious, in contrast to the Age of Pisces, the one we have left behind. The basic motivation of the latter was devotion: a filigree postcard, a sentimental projection of The Divine. And that, too, is Her will. (By the way, and let it be known, that I am a passionate advocate for equal pay and opportunity for women.) But emancipation too, can quickly turn bad if taken too far.
Even yoga and Buddhism, originally disciplines of keeping still and shutting up, have now become means of self-assertion and jumping about: We got to go forward! (No you don´t). Yes we can! (No you can´t). Even “feminism” has turned out to be a masculine and over-achieving extroverted pursuit, albeit with a female mask. Women aspired freedom, fought and bashed men for that freedom … and became masculine. And those who want to see society divided for their own purposes, looked on in secret satisfaction when families were destroyed. Now men AND women are now paying taxes, instead of only the men.
Her supreme illusion – from Lalita to Nabokov´s Lolita, on to the ancient wise witch with her toothless laugher. Consider this: you can achieve only that which you can imagine, and that which you can imagine will most certainly be Her Divine Will … and Her Divine Illusion. So much for freedom and free will.
In my work I succumb to the Feminine Principle almost completely by letting Her make all decisions. That means a minimum of structure, as not to hinder Her influence. An emotive approach instead of a rational plan. Technically speaking I follow the overtones from layers of sound, and let them – plus certain Deja-vus and subtle reminiscences from bygone lifetimes – decide upon all the rest, such as structure and harmony. And by tracing these overtones, certain things become manifest. Things I could never have thought of, or achieved, by willpower. No way. She puts an extra beat in, or an extra note, one that disturbs the pre-conceived idea of structured harmonic development, rhythm or rhyme, even a mistake may add to the magic; so I keep it, and often enough it turns out to be exactly the spice that was needed in the dish. After all, this is art, and perfection is Her monopoly.
She loves rhythms based on three or six beat cycles, but She is only truly happy when She is united with Her lover who loves rhythms of four and eight beats. The Two become One, four beats get layered with three and the dance becomes blissful and African. And have you noticed how most African music subtly intertwines three and four beats? It makes the rhythm hover and float, charging itself energetically, instead of wearing one down.
Anyone who ventures out, going after a set goal, it is Her who decides the outcome. And only those can worship Her whom She allows to worship Her. And there is only one sin that She doesn´t forgive: trying to rival with Her. And there is nothing worse than Her wrath, once unleashed.
Sometimes I return to melodic places from the past, places where the heart once opened, and then new yogurt is made from leftovers. No matter, I never wanted – or could – control the muse, never actually “made” music, I always found music, never wanted to “study” music at university. It seemed sinful to raise Her veil.
Certain tape worm compositions like “After The Crash”, “The Paisley Handicap”, or “The Ahir Ornaments” came to me about a quarter century ago. I still haven´t the faintest where they came from. I simply took what She had kept available for me. This always turned out better than anything I could dream up or construct. Thus you simply set the stage, you merely try to empty the room, polish the floor, create a minimum of interior design, for Her to find accommodation, bowing to Her wishes, singing paeans to Her praise, one could make manifest Her deceptively and iridescently changing ways.
And now the darkness makes light precious – and often enough down rather than up can be most fulfilling! And keeping a secret. Worshipping the void, not that which surrounds it. From “Cunt” all life comes, and all life returns to it. It stems from Kunda – Kundalini –
the Serpent Power. Cunti, the Oriental Great Goddess. She suggests. She hides and seduces. She hints. But She remains forever behind the veil. Ah, but Mr Testosterone will always end up trying to dominate, worship the flesh, that which surrounds it, instead of The Hole, that is his folly. Her Homeric and toothless laughter resounds in churches and mosques.
The Great Principle means that Her Emptiness is held high esteem. Her Silence. And today I am writing about void, not the flesh! This is about the tea, not the cup. And even though the cup and the tea cohabit the closest proximity, the cup cannot know the tea. Haven´t we seen enough flesh, enough beautiful cups? Unless these hold the life-giving content, how can the soul survive? Haven´t we seen enough perfection and virtuosity, enough artists crafting ornaments, enough technocrats attempting to challenge Her? Ah, but once they stop serving a higher purpose, all is lost.
With the emphasis on melody, and trying to bring refinement to that melody – as Vilayat Khan did – I purposely operate at the cutting edge of ambient and song. Melodic fragments are meant to raise a certain amount of youthful excitement. But my work is about an ambience, a resting space, before and after melody. It is a good thing that by the means of electronic devices one can now mould and shape “dirty” sound samples in order to create a specific set of overtones into which to set Paisley-shaped sitar phrases.
Even though I have studied and practiced Indian classical music for five decades now, given concerts of classical music, deep down it was always aimed at a way out of the hermetic universe of Indian classical music. How to lead Indian classical music into an abstraction, into a universal field? I always wanted a subtle contemporary style, away from the “tour de force” display (as Stephen Hill once called it) of the Indian circus act of virtuosity that much sitar music has become today. (“He is the best sitar player now; he can play this Jhalla three times faster and most perfect!”)
I always wanted to tell a story on that instrument, wanted to tell *my* story, not that of an Indian master musician from the 19th century. Mine was a story of church bells in the distance, about honest upright folk tunes that contain the secret formula, the subtle refinement. I wanted to tell about telegraph wires singing in deep winter. In this respect Paisley music became a type of distilled world music, one where tonal spectral colours linger in corners of rooms. But let there be no mistake: this is contemplative music, music for going in, and not outward entertainment. Entertainment is for the young, sound is for the mature soul.
As for “Music for Meditation”, I never meant that listeners should meditate while listening. Meditation is exercise, practice, work, not leisure. And Yoga is yoke, and until you bear the yoke for a time, only then you may, perhaps, enjoy the union. And music is music is music, and music with a feminine motivation at the core seduces and lures one in to a place of euphoria. If it doesn´t, well, then you´ll just have to come back another time, or perhaps it may not be for you. The Soul isn´t dead, it just ran and hid from the noise, the cold and technical world – imagined and ruled by all the eight to twelve-year old boys that are now closing in on us.
The task was to preserve remnants from the age of devotion. No, not to keep them in a museum, but to make them available for those who are born with a notch up in terms of sensitivity, to provide solace for them. I always wanted to design rooms, the inside, not grand buildings. Spaces you could enter, to feel calm and reflect in – and from there go inward.
SINGING BACK TO ZIRYAB
I recently read up on Ziryab again. He was called “Ziryab” which means blackbird. A musician, fashion designer, hair stylist, and general creative taste maker. And all that in the 9th century AD. Apparently the King of Baghdad caught him in an amorous embrace with the Queen when he – the king – returned home unexpectedly because he´d forgotten something.
Ziryab, black slave and gifted lute picker, did a runner. First to Syria, through the desert on to North Africa, and, finally, to the Court of Cordoba in Andalusia. Which is where he created a totally new style, a subtle style: he shaved his beard off, grew his hair long and anointed his armpits with myrrh. People in Cordoba first ridiculed – and then copied him.
Through Ziryab I realised that I too had been looking for a new style, oh decades ago, one that took place when you manage to slow down the thinking frequency, going from the inner heart to a universal one. The challenge lay in how to slow down one´s thinking frequency to gain access; and hoping for the best in terms of career. The Indian Ziryab and magic lute picker, Vilayat Khan, showed the way to a tiny but immeasurably precious thing. You see, the mind wants many things, the heart only one thing – union. (Don´t accept substitutes.) Find a slow, a sensual, a female beat. Drums in slow processions, the vilambita laya of Indian dhrupad music, a moon rhythm, something intimate – the antidote to the harsh and relentless techno beat. In order to establish an inner realm, one that was more convincing than any raison d´être that one could think of, so that one may see things in a new light or discover new and original points of view.
Ziryab´s instrument, the Arabic lute, the Oud, was now played with a quill instead of the plain old wooden pick – his invention. And Vilayat Khan made his sitar sing. Such innovations made for me the translation on to a more refined space easier.
Ziryab did another naughty thing: he taught the female slaves of the Cordoba royal court music and song, and allowed them to open their own dancing schools, hair salons, and beauty parlours. Music thus brought about emancipation – and letting something slow and sensual happen, making something of beauty out of any given situation. AGK
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Review : AL GROMER KHAN/Singing Back to Ziryab: In the 9th century, a black slave got caught diddling the king’s wife when the king came home unexpectedly. Thinking ahead about the crime of non-aversion, he beat it on the lam and wound up doing more for women’s liberation than all the bra burners could. He also became the anti-techno proving that music other than Barry White was the way to a woman’s heart. Low and slow, kind of like all those Motown bass lines. Khan expands the concept here but keeps true to the original vision. Putting his own touches to what might be mistaken for a minimalist record, it might not be your groove, but it really is the groove. A real mind and heart expanding session. (Rasa 844628)
Volume 45/Number 164 April 13, 2021 MIDWEST RECORD 830 W. Route 22 #144 Lake Zurich, IL., 60047 CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher Copyright 2021 Midwest Record
Once Again The Night ... provided us with the access to the heart.
Release sheet text
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Silence in a BLUE ROOM
SILENCE IN A BLUE ROOM
In the early eighties of the 20th century, plodding in the semi-darkness of one´s early years, I thought it would be worthwhile to give solace to music consumers. I had just spent a small inheritance on a European tour of a dandyish Indian music master, gone through a strenuous Gandhaband ceremony with another, an even more atavistic and deceptive one, joined an illustrious gharana of string players, a German journalist named Gunter Fronemann wanted an interview. Naively I told him I didn´t want to cater to the expectations of audiences but relieve them of stress, and take away the irksome frequency of thinking that lingers like a sub-threshold itch. And that I wanted to make silence audible and to create a sort of sonic vacuum cleaner, made to absorb excess acoustic waste and trivia. Except I didn´t know how.
In India, Africa, Arabia and China, the subtle mysteriously ambiguous Urdu lyric or sonorous Tao poetry beckoned. The ancient cultures of the earth forever honoured the poetic aspect in music, always allowed sound magically penetrate into the deepest layers of our consciousness and cause wonderful things. So I needed to look there. And again and again to Vilayat Khan´s magic hand.
After decades of regular practice something begins to happen to you every time you pick up your instrument. It may not be much but it is mine. Solely steered from inside, triggered by Vilayat, long gone now: a certain slowing down of the thinking frequency, a tiny space within – so sweet and precious, so overwhelming, yet so private and vulnerable – a tiny giggle bubbling up in the inner heart, better than anything I have known, save the love for my wife. Better than most things that external temptation has to offer. Soon it became apparent that, even though it stemmed from India, this thing was beyond todays Indian culture. Speaking of Indian culture, even in the early years there was a certain undercurrent sentiment: perhaps Indian classical music needs a way of deconstruction, not fusion, not world music – haven´t we had enough of those futile attempts? Vilayat Khans meend work can draw you inside, make you grateful just to be alive. Whoever regards sound as art never loses sight of the specific feeling of happiness, one that is brought about by a certain balance, a dynamic change between loud and quiet, tender and hard, sensitive and persistent. And there, of course, is that little bit of incomprehensible poetic mystery that we will never explore, let alone manipulate.
SILENCE IN A BLUE ROOM is meant to return to the original idea of ambient in that it ought to leave room for the listener´s own interior, their own space, and not interfere with it. The sitar phrases always make me humble, in that I haven´t a clue how I did it and where it came from. But it is still mine. Funny how something you attempted thirty, forty years ago suddenly finds itself in your hand. Just a phrase.
It may not be much but it is mine – that occasional inner silence, the tendril, the blue note. It is so unspectacular that it is easily overlooked. But that´s okay, it keeps away the riff raff. That is why I never wanted to promote my work via marketing and manipulation. I thought let´s just put it out there and see if the music will find its way. An experiment for sure. But if the effect of this melodic tendril on me was so overwhelming that there was bound to be people out there who felt the same. The results were interesting. I was lucky, the music did find its way, did its work – and I can pay my bills. What could be better?
AGK © December 2019
After bestselling Sky Worship
In High Places
AL GROMER KHAN/In High Places: Inspired by Beatles singing get back to where you once belonged, Khan takes his musical trip back to jump, back to his roots when the cosmos existed only in his head. Expanding from that inner space, this is no mere hippy dippy noodling. This is some finely wrought sounds and soundscapes that guide you down the inner path to a place where consciousness exists in its own time zone. Beyond new age, beyond ambient, this is from whence it all comes from. Well done. (Rasa)
http://midwestrecord.com/MWR1525.html Chris Spector Midwest Record 830 W. IL. Route 22 #144 Lake Zurich, IL., 60047
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Nine new tracks from Al Gromer Khan
IN HIGH PLACES
Presumably, that is what the Beatles meant, all those years ago, when they were singing, Get back to where you once belong. It was never a song about immigrants, it was about one´s individual inner evolution, one´s inner search, one´s own thing. Got to get back there, man.
They´re never a geographic, a physical, location, high places, but Inner states. Just es space music was never about science fiction, but about opening inner spaces via sound, via music. Outside phenomena are an illusion, it is said. Our brothers and sisters from academia will argue: Why, we can measure stuff, and calculate it, do something about it, and use it for purposes, how can it be unreal? True, but it will change: once, and by the most devious of manipulations, you have created the most ideal society, a new generation will come, and they will ruthlessly discard, or perhaps ignore, your thing. That´s when one withdraws, one goes back where one belongs. High places are accompanied by a mood, the mood is one of gratitude, and yes, devotion. The mood, to me, isn´t very much different from falling in love. D´you remember it? That beautiful girl, that sweet boy you fell for then, but who, after time, may not have proved worthy, as it turned out later. But the feeling, the feeling was real.
Sounds give me highs. My instrument sings to me, and for me. There is always that magic moment when it starts doing that, the subtle nuance within the tendril, within the paisley pattern of sound. That thing you can´t fake or manipulate. It works of its own accord, so to speak. And it does not compromise. Split second adjustments don´t make it. To become aware of the stale aftertaste when you´ve accepted things on face value which started to sound wrong, somewhere along the way: That´s your test.
When I compose tracks, I use leftovers from high places I´ve been, where one has found solace and (dare I utter the word?) access to the heart. And then I begin with an idea, a concept. But I will immediately discard it, when that magic moment occurs. And then The Sound wants something from me. Not just anything, but something specific – something special. If that magic moment doesn´t occur, then I won´t use the track. Vilayat Khan the great soul of music, in the 20th century, who´s magic hands made me humble and grateful in an instant. I worshipped those hands for decades. He presented it to me: the Venus Principle: to make something of beauty in any given circumstance, to cook something tasty even from the most unlikely ingredients.
Find on Spotify the music of AGK
AL GROMER KHAN
Paisley Music Ambience
DURGA AVENUE the AGK Autumn-Winter 2018-2019 Ambient Collection
DURGA AVENUE – RELEASE SHEET (from a longer text on Paisley music)
Even though Ute and myself consider ourselves of a future tribe, we connect with certain Paisley periods of the past. A specific nostalgia. In fashion Paisley kept coming and going since the 19th century when Queen Victoria, a fairly simple woman, thought how brilliant it would be to call herself Empress of India. Yes, a sense of nostalgia is always there in my music; it recalls times when things were slow, and refinement and complexity made itself apparent if you´d contemplated it for a time. For example, it has taken more than forty years for my sitar to actually start talking to me.
And now she is talking, in a clear but subtle voice. And the voice is that of a woman or a young girl. It sort of changes, but it is always female. At this time of change, from the age of devotion to that of emancipation, most phenomena in society and art have become male dominated, with all types of self-assertion in the outer world. In my art I succumb to the feminine principle almost totally. That means – as in the Blues – a minimum of structure, as not to hinder Her influence. It also points towards an emotive approach, rather than a rational plan. Technically speaking I follow the overtones from layers of sound and let them – plus certain deja-vus and subtle reminiscences – decide upon all the rest, like structure and harmony. And by tracing overtones, certain things become manifest. Things one could never have thought of or achieved with willpower. No way. Sometimes She puts an extra beat in, or an extra note, one that disturbs the pre-conceived idea of structured harmony or rhythm. A mistake, but I like to keep it; after all, this is art, and only She can own the natural monopoly for perfection. She loves rhythms based on three or six beat cycles, but she is only truly happy when she is united with Her lover who loves rhythms of four and eight beat cycles . The Two become One. The is dance joyous. And have you noticed how most African music is based on a beat that intertwines three and four beats? It makes the rhythm hover and float, charging itself energetically, instead of wearing you down like testosterone-prone military marching music or techno.
Sometimes I return to melodic places of the past, places where the heart first opened, and then I make new yogurt from leftovers. No matter, I never wanted – or could – control the muse. I never actually “made” music – always found music. AGK ©
review by Sergey Lenkov amazon.co.uk
review by RJ Lannan al_gromer_khan_sky_worship.pdf