Name: Debashis Sinha
Occupation: Drummer, producer, sound artist
Current Release: The White Dog on Establishment Records
Recommendations: 2 books: “The Open Work” by Umberto Eco – a beautiful meditation on what art can be; and “Silence”, collected works by John Cage, which also reveals a wealth of possibilities of what composition and sound can be.
I suspect many of your readers might know these works, so ultimately I would say: the 2 pieces of art that inspires a story in you. Find them, and love them, and keep them in your life.
Website / Contact: If you enjoyed this interview with Debashis Sinha, visit his website for further information and current news.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started playing the drums when I was 6, thanks to seeing someone explaining a drum kit on a local kids show when I was 5 (my mom, quick thinker that she is, said I had to wait until I was 6 in the hopes that I would forget. No such luck). I had a few years of lessons with some very bitter drumming teachers and quit going to lessons, but kept playing the drums.
Early on I got my hands on a 4 track cassette recorder, which opened up a huge new world to me – multitracking, doing things “wrong”, sound experiments, all the things a young person might explore with a machine like that. I was entranced and realized I could make my own pieces, by myself. For some reason this was important to me. Another important thing: I was able to actually hear my ideas out loud.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I think without copying, or giving myself the permission to copy, I would not have stayed curious enough to continue. I learned a lot of drumming technique from listening to records, particularly the music coming out of the 2-Tone scene in England, but also The Police and the American hardcore scene.
Through a very undisciplined process of mix and match I started to piece together a technique and voice that was my own. Coupling that with the technology I had at my disposal, and a rich and varied creative music and art scene in my hometown at the time, I was able to continue growing and exploring.
One must remember too that much of the Indian performing arts is transmitted with an explicit expectation of emulation/copying. It's a process that has kept the arts alive for 1000's of years in many cultures. I say “copy” and “emulate” but the process is more complex than that. There is of course an imperative for senior artists to innovate and create new works in the canon. So copying for me was a somewhat more powerful process in my mind – it was always a gateway to finding my own path.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I think that because of my process – looking for things that interested me and mashing them together – my challenges were more about actualizing coherent ideas rather than technique. I remember the most satisfying works in my young days as ones that were unlike anything I had heard before, something that I thought was mine, and that made an idea I had real, or audible. I think in most ways that continues now. I might have more tools and knowledge at my fingertips, but for me it is always first about the idea, and the elegant and distilled expression of it.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
I think probably the studios and gear I've used over the years mirror what many people went through at the times – 4 track tape recorders, 8 track digital, ADATs, hard drive recording, DAWs, etc. As new gear came out, and computing power and software became easier to work with, I upgraded to see what these tools held for me. Now, I have a reasonably powerful computer and a few different DAWs, with an acceptable collection of microphones. My most important piece of gear is my mind – I want to keep it curious and nimble and full of ideas. I take care of my gear, but I also take care of my mind, trying to expose it to new ideas and new inspirations, be they painters, reading, films, video art, nature, or what have you.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Well. That's quite a question! Machines clearly excel at 1's and 0's – placing abstract ideas in a row that has a start and an end (of course, this is changing). The mind doesn't work in that way at all, and that is the ground on which true ideas are born. The trick I guess, is getting those 2 worlds to communicate. For me, technology is a tool to make my ideas audible for others. Whatever it might take for that to happen, I will use.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
It varies. I sometimes make use of algorithmic tools, but not often. More often will I edit or grab sounds I've made and place them in environments that warp or alter these sounds or their playback and see what that does. Often they create a spark for something new, or reveal a path I can follow. More often – for a play, for example – I have an idea of the sound I want to make, and then try and make it. Usually, I don't quite succeed exactly, and that is welcome! I really like it when I discover something by accident. It's not always useful, but I would say more often than not it sparks a new idea. I will say though that it is important to me to keep a hand in, to keep my intent alive in anything I produce.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Talking about ideas is by far the most important in that list for me. As a solo artist I don't often share my creative process (of course I have in the past, and often) so the biggest influence on the compositional and sound design paths I take has been conversations – conversations with my director or other designers on a play, or notes I receive from friends on a track I'm trying to finish. I seem to have surrounded myself with people that speak in terms of story, and it's usually the story (overt or hidden) that drives the development of my compositions.