Name: Ranjana Ghatak
Nationality: British, Indian
Occupation: Singer / Composer
Current Release: The Butterfly Effect on Revolver
Recommendations: Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty Aye Na Baalam taken from the album Raga Bihag, Pahadi & Bhairvi, Vol. 1 by Navras Records. It’s a short thumri - which is a short vocal semi classical piece. The song was brought to fame by an incredible musician of India called Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. It’s sweet, moving and has so much dynamism in the way Ajoyji’s voice moves.
Maestro Ali Akbar Khan and Ustad Zakir Hussain - Raga Durgeshwari / Evening Ragas (Live in San Francisco, 1979) on AMMP Records. I wasn't familiar with this Raga till hearing this recording recently. It's incredibly sweet and these two legends bring so much fire and mastery to this live concert.
Website/Contact: You can find all you need to know about Ranjana's music at her website http://www.ranjanaghatak.co.uk/
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started writing music as a teenager whilst studying music at school. Training in North Indian classical singing from the age of 4 and I also went to stage school every week. I always had a draw to singing and my passion for Indian classical music was awoken when I heard Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty perform live in London. The sweetness of his tone and vocal mastery blew my mind. That experience opened up my ears to listening to as much of the music as possible and taking up my study further. I was then super fortunate to start learning with him years later.
Growing up I also listened to a lot of Western Classical music, and then like most teenagers I listened to pop, went through a phase and still love 90’s RnB, soul and I also listened to a lot of indie bands like Pearl Jam. It’s hard to say what specifically drew me, I think the journey that sound/music can take you on. I find it fascinating how it can take you to a memory/emotion/feeling in such a short period of time and its ability to take you out of the logical mind and into the heart/another world with such ease.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I started to connect and discover my own voice over the last few years. This came about through performing and then in turn collaborating with other musicians of the same and different styles. Indian classical music is all about creating on the spot within the framework of a melodic structure. In order to get to the point of creation, a lot of time has to be spent in the study and emulation of it. I continue to transition between learning and my own creations as I am still a student of this music.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
The confidence to create and come up with ideas was something I initially struggled with which has luckily changed over time. I’ve learnt to trust the ideas that come up and I get a sense quite quickly of what will work and which ideas to let go of. In terms of production - learning the technology to create and write music. Being involved with it on a regular basis makes a huge difference. I have had compositional work over the years, and recently it has been more performance and teaching based so staying up to date can be a challenge.
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 have had a simple home studio over the years as most of my work was as a performer prior to writing. With the pandemic I have been predominantly teaching and doing some lives on social media so my condenser mic, laptop, audio interface and phone have been essential.
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?
I have used technology to compose and create music for others, to record my own vocals for projects and to record ideas for my album. Music software/tools can provide ideas and expansion in the music making process, but only a human being can be feeling, discerning, instinctive and generate spontaneous creation.
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?
Practicing and creating music with my harmonium and Tanpura (stringed drone instrument) are what I’m currently engaging with for my music making. Listening to recordings as part of my study is essential, and simple tools help in my process. When writing I often get melodic ideas while I sleep so I wake up and record them in my phone as a voice note. Then I transfer that to software or often I play with it while practicing.
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?
Collaborations have happened in a short period of time, and some over a longer time period. My preferred method of collaboration is in person through jamming and talking about ideas - though for not too long! I have found time in the rehearsal room and also having social time on a music making day really helps. Even going for a tea or having a meal together really opens up the communication and flow
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I don’t have a totally fixed schedule as sometimes I teach in the morning and sometimes in the day and evening. I currently have more of a routine as the classes are on a weekly basis so I know what my week will generally look like. I wake up and start practicing, either I get a tea first or after. I spend time singing the lower octave and start warming up my voice. I have breakfast mid-morning and then check my emails/social media and spend some time on that. I then practice in one or two more slots in the day. I enjoy food so that is currently a feature in my day when we’ve been in lockdown! I also go for a walk most days. Music is at the center of everything so I find it difficult to separate it from anything.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
With the album that I’ve just released I went through a process of trying out ideas with Liran Donin (my producer). We had performed before, so I knew that I liked the sound of the voice and bass together. I tend to trust the ideas that come to me without too much logic. I researched writers and poets that I was drawn to and spent time exploring their work. Then some of the song ideas came while sleeping and for some they came in writing sessions with Liran. He would create a loop, or some sounds and I would spend time improvising and trying out ideas. I also had particular themes I wanted to write about so the Hidden Tombs song came about in the studio and then I spent some time on the lyrics myself. Once we had started working with Jack Ross (guitarist) the song started to really open up.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
For me being as open and empty as possible really helps. I find social media and my phone a distraction. Having time with something that is grounding is super supportive, so going for a walk, practicing anything that helps you get into a clear and present state really helps.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
I find both really important. When I wrote with Liran we tried out the songs in gigs and got a real sense of what worked and what didn’t. We couldn’t and didn’t do that with every song but having time in the live experience definitely informs the writing experience. Improvisation is so important in bringing shape to a composition. The two are deeply connected.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
If I am writing a piece using software/technology, then exploring different sounds is an essential part of exploration and the creation of the piece. Usually having something in mind before I start. I once wrote a piece for a dance ensemble, in that piece the timbre of the conchshell that we used at the beginning of the piece was crucial in setting the tone of the whole piece. With sounds - whether through working with a loop/sound toys/sample they can certainly inform the shape of the composition.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
Music making and listening can be a whole-body experience and uses all five senses and a sixth sense. I’m still understanding how they all work. My most inspiring hearing experiences have been when live or recorded music has had a direct impact on my felt sense which feels like a heart opening.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Art is so healing and also such a teacher. I’m still and will always be a student of music so I approach it from a learning perspective. It continues to teach me. I approach it from a place of being open to receiving and giving what ideas and sounds I’m currently working on. I find it to be very unifying and so I think the role of music and art is particularly important in the world we are currently in.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
I do not have a sense of what it could be beyond its current form, but I do hope that we all get to experience the power of live music in the not too distant feature. One good thing the pandemic has done is that people possibly have more space/time to listen to undiscovered music and I hope that it has also reminded us all how much we need the live experience.