Name: Riatsu / Shadaab Kadri
Current release: Listen to and buy Riatsu's soundtrack to "The Flame", a short story by Nikhil Raj, on bandcamp.
Shenzhou by Biosphere
Remembranza by Murcof
(Life changing albums that have been part of my musical journey from the beginning)
If this Riatsu interview piqued your interest, visit his official website for more information about his music or to request soundtracks for your own work.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started my journey as that guy who always accompanied a couple of bands for their performances, helping them out in any way I could. Picking up gear, helping with stage setup, etc. My early influences were these musicians whom I looked up to.
I was at Musician’s Institute in California for a few months back in 2010 and we had this scoring for film and television class that helped peak my interest in MIDI. Somehow, my love for ambient music and the knowledge of MIDI came together and I started creating ambient music.
Artists like BIOSPHERE and MURCOF were and still remain some of my biggest influences. Ambient, atmospheric sounds have this power of visualization that attracted me a lot. It made me think and introspect, reminisce and this is probably my favourite part of that genre.
For most artists, originality is 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?
I was deeply influenced by music that my musician friends were listening to when I was younger. I am very grateful for this stage because it exposed me to a lot of brilliant music. But this stage also meant that I would act stubborn and often be dismissive about other genres. In this particular phase, all I heard was heavy metal or ambient music - two completely opposite spectrums. I was slowly learning how to express myself.
My job at a live performance venue changed everything. We had live music 6 days a week! This opened my eyes to different genres and I started appreciating them a lot more. I think this exposure helped develop me into an artist. This also changed how I would express myself through my music.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
They both have a very strong bond. I am happy and content when I create. When I don’t, I feel a little lost. I find it difficult to express myself vocally, it’s better in writing but it’s the best through my music. My lack of expressiveness has often created issues in my personal life but through my music I feel like I can connect with people at a much deeper level. When I stop creating, I almost feel like I have lost this connection and it’s sacred to me and it’s necessary.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
The fear of judgement often played the biggest factor. I was too afraid of what others would say. I felt like people wouldn’t understand the music I created. This paralysed me for many years as a result of which I had ready tracks rotting in my computer folder.
Over the years I have learnt to overcome this feeling but I haven’t managed to get rid of it completely. As you grow older, you also start getting comfortable with who you are and this has definitely improved this situation a lot.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
For me there was always a budget constraint that I had to consider before diving deeper into any hardware or software. I have an incredibly supportive sister who helped me a lot. But I didn’t want to take advantage of that.
My first setup was a borrowed M-Audio sound card and an Oxygen 25-key keyboard. I used ‘Reason’ and then slowly moved to some other vst synths.
Later on, I was really interested in hardware sequencers and synthesizers but I couldn’t afford most of the things I wanted. This introduced me to Native Instruments Maschine which is an extremely cost effective yet versatile music production tool. I bought a couple of synths after that but I still use Maschine as my primary tool to create music. Having a portable setup like this also helps when you are travelling for gigs, especially in India.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Before creating ambient music, I was a guitar player and that was my primary instrument of creation. When I realized that I could create complete soundscapes through MIDI and I didn’t need to rely on the guitar, it blew my mind. At that moment I was like “Why didn’t I know about this earlier?”
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?
I am really fortunate that collaborations have played the most important role in my musical journey so far. I believe that if you collaborate with the right people, then you create magic together. It's a surreal feeling to connect with another human being at a musical level, share beautiful memories on stage and during the recording process.
When I released my debut EP ‘Reminiscence’, I collaborated with a bunch of super talented young artists who created artworks for each of the songs as well as the cover art. For my debut album, I collaborated with a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, Neil Gomes.
I had the opportunity to collaborate with the legendary trumpeter Erik Truffaz, whom I toured with in India and which completely changed the way I approach music creation. This was the highlight of my career so far. I had 2 days with him before embarking on the tour and it was a very challenging yet gratifying experience.
I also collaborated with trumpeter extraordinaire Joshua Trinidad from Colorado on our EP ‘Lithium’. One of the nicest human beings! We connected almost instantly and never even had a back and forth of changes because we loved each other’s work so much.
Jamming live is one of the best ways to create music together however I prefer being a little prepared and coming up with things at home before meeting the musicians. This is what I did with Neil Gomes on our album. With Joshua, we collaborated during the pandemic so everything was virtual. It's great that I have experienced collaboration in different ways.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. 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?
Apart from being a musician, I am also a runner and a digital marketing manager (ambient music doesn’t pay the bills in India). My morning starts fairly early. I wake up between 5-530am. I go out for my run which lasts anywhere between 1 or 2 hours. I come back and have breakfast and start working around 10am. I don’t force myself to create music everyday. It’s more organic and I take it as it comes. It’s a process that comes from within.
The discipline that I have had with my running routine is something that has rubbed off in all other aspects of my life. I feel like I can tackle tricky situations better than before, I am mentally stronger and much more positive than I was before I started running.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
The tour with Erik Truffaz in December 2017 is by far the best thing that happened to me in my musical career. We toured 6 cities and these 6 shows changed the way I approached my music writing. It’s hard to describe but it’s something special to be around a legend, a musician of his calibre.
I was a fairly unknown music producer at that time and it was really nerve wrecking for me to be the main producer and also find a couple of other musicians that would accompany us.
I had two days to prepare the set with him and the first day was terrible. I was extremely nervous and didn’t know what I was doing at one point. The self doubt demon hit me hard at this point. Erik calmed me down and took it step by step. In hindsight, this was one of the most gratifying experiences of my life.
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?
It’s a phase that gets triggered for me when I am either reading or watching something. I am constantly consuming content and I get these sudden urges to create something of my own. I’ve never been able to lock on one particular thing that triggers this state-of-mind. I don’t try to force it, I let it flow. Like water!
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Music is a very powerful tool. It has the ability to invoke emotions from within and I feel like that in itself is its greatest strength. I have always looked at it as a healer. Songs that make you cry are a great way of letting those pent up emotions out which help in the long run.
Music can play a great supporting role in the grieving process.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I feel like it's something that is very difficult to control and will always be part of the system. There will always be someone trying to pretend like someone else, even in life. Not everyone can see through this but you can’t fool everyone.
In the end, the goal should be to honestly represent the artform that you believe in. I want to look at myself in the mirror and know that I am being myself and doing things that I believe in.
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?
It’s all connected. They remind us of places, people, memories. They help us visualize. I find it fascinating that a smell that you can’t describe, can remind you of a person and almost immediately make you visualize a place where the both of you shared a moment. It’s incredibly fascinating!
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?
My purpose or goal as an artist has kept evolving/changing as time has passed. On my debut EP I tried to incorporate speeches that had an impact in my life and I created background scores for them. I felt like others would resonate with them as well.
At the moment I feel, I want my music to be a tool that helps the listener visualize. I want it to act as a safe space that the listener can go to or just help them stop and think. I want my music to be a soundtrack for your visual imagination. For now this is what I feel.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Life and death are unpredictable and music can express them better than any other form because of its ability to be similarly unpredictable and beautiful in its own way.