This feature originally appeared in Songlines #104 (November/December 2014) p25. Download a pdf here.
The British Asian producer and composer talks to Alexandra Petropoulos about writing music to celebrate creation
Walking a path forged by artists of the Asian Underground, producer and composer Shammi Pithia blurs the line between East and West. Using sweeping soundscapes and his bansuri (bamboo flute), Pithia creates sophisticated and thoughtful electronic music, pregnant with influences from India to Islington.
“I feel comfortable writing music,” Pithia admits, thanks to an early introduction to producing back in secondary school. “The teachers used to open up the music room for me, and we had a Macintosh running Logic 3.7. So I used to sit there most evenings after school just recreating Bollywood songs. When I went to college I developed that and people started telling me, ‘actually that’s pretty good.’”
This was the start of his fascination with creating music, eventually leading to a masters degree that examined musical emotion in classical Indian music. “I was really interested in how music is emotive and how we react to it.” This offered him a better glimpse at the differences between Western and Eastern music. “Western music is a lot more technical, psychological and neurological. In the East the music is far more focused on philosophy and spirituality.” He goes on to explain: “‘Aesthetic’ in the Western world is more about the beauty of that piece and what it represents. In the East the aesthetic-ness of something is how it’s related to the soul and deeper parts of life. So, if something is aesthetically pleasing, it means that it’s beyond your ego and human emotion, that you’re experiencing that at a spiritual level.”
His latest album, Cosmic, embraces this Eastern philosophy in an attempt to celebrate life and creation. “For the last four years I’ve been obsessed with physics, especially quantum theory. And when I learned about how much of life is based on probability rather than actuality, it broadened my mind more than anything else. If the universe is infinite, then everything has to happen eventually – no matter how unrealistic. That really helped kick-start Cosmic.”
It’s an ambitious project and the title is also an acronym representing yet another side to the work: Creation of Something Meaningful Inside Chaos. “Creation is quite synonymous with either religion or the Big Bang, depending on how people look at things. So, it’s just a point where things began, and it doesn’t really matter where it’s based, it just happened. And from there energy created all matter, and all matter went on to create everything else, including us… I don’t believe any of us truly create music, we kind of organise sound into music. Because everything is already present, you can only transfer energy from one state to another. You can’t really create it or destroy it. I capture what I can and organise it in a certain way, creating order out of disorder.” In other words, creating something meaningful inside chaos.
Cosmic does well to accomplish what Pithia set out to do: “to make something appreciating the complete genius and magic design of everything.”