Writer, composer and renowned yoga exponent from Baku, Nandan Gautam grew up in Bangalore, India. A graduate in liberal arts from McDaniel College, Maryland, USA, he then worked for a few years on the USA Today newspaper. Back in India, he devoted twenty years of his life to the study of yoga and meditation under the spiritual master Bharat Thakur.
Transversal and capable of grasping the deepest essence of being, in developing his creative acts Nandan is perfectly at ease remaining in delicate suspension on a swinging but never unstable balance that is pulsating, immersive and transcendental.
Sophisticated, reflective and at the same time extroverted, Nandan’s latest musical work, “The Divine Flaw”, is way more than a mere stylistic exercise of assembling assonances and dissonances. Composed of 11 meditative tracks, the entire album is the reflection of the binomial between the depth and the boundless greatness of human introspection.
Through long guitar solos, piano and ethereal vocalizations, in “The Divine Flaw” Gautam weaves metaphysical plots, that, net-like, capture us and make us sink into immersive sound scenarios, and then turn into flying carpets that take us in flight through boundless galaxies. Over 1 hour of listening, through which we are led to uncontaminated spaces, dark realms, and the myriad of folds that are hidden within that vast universe inherent within each of us.
To better understand the essence of this creation, we reached Gautam for a short interview. Read on to know more.
Q: “The Divine Flaw” is your second album linked to a metaphysical novel. How did this concept come about and how are album and novel connected to each other?
A: They say that a story takes its shape and form not only from the content but from the language in which it is communicated. For example, the same exact sentence in Spanish and English will communicate a slightly different meaning to the listener. So when we talk about two entirely different kinds of languages – one in which the symbols (words) point to another reality, and one in which the musical notes point to an emotional state or a state of mind, we get two completely different reactions. You could say that the novel is the sequence of events that took place, either in reality or in my imagination. It tells you what happened, like a film or a documentary. And the music represents the emotional, spiritual and at a deeper level, the vibrational states of the characters. Sadness is a specific emotion linked to a specific frequency. Happiness and joy is yet another frequency. And then there are all the ones in between and some even beyond these emotions! I wanted to bring it all together by telling the listener what happens to the soul, not just the body or the mind…
Q: What are the inspirations and aspirations behind “The Divine Flaw”?
A: The two words ‘Divine’ and ‘Flaw’ are sort of paradoxical. Because divinity implies perfection. And flaw implies imperfection. But is there a place where these two opposites can meet? Are these imperfections part of a grander state of perfection. Can chaos and order exist simultaneously and even feed off each other? Can one be madly jealous and also be truly in love with someone? Or is that impossible? This is the greater theme that runs across not only the album but also the novel.
Q: In “The Divine Flaw” there are many guest artists. Can you tell us about them, who they are and how it was working with them?
A: It was nothing but a privilege to work with these master musicians and composers who literally changed the face of modern music. It makes me believe in miracles… and its very very humbling. Rainer Brüninghaus was part of the group Colours formed by bassist Eberhard Weber, who was probably one of two bassists who changed the way we think about the bass back in the 70’s. (The other being Jaco Pastorius obviously). Rainer’s piano playing combines elements of classical music and jazz that I believe only two pianists truly ever achieved (The other being Lyle Mays who passed away just a few days ago). These two don’t get nearly the amount of attention they deserve because you can’t put them in a box easily. Tom Schuman is co-leader of the best selling jazz fusion group Spyro Gyra, which I think is single handedly responsible for combining jazz and pop music back in the 70’s and 80’s – they sold over 10 million copies without using any vocals! Tom is a genius at melody, improvisation and composition. Antonio Sanchez is probably one of the best drummers in the world right now. He won a Grammy award for Birdman where the entire soundtrack is composed and performed by him. He also plays drums with Pat Metheny a jazz guitarist who is a modern day Mozart of composition and improvisation. Chad Wackerman is a rare breed of drummers who sounds like a rock drummer but plays like a jazz drummer. He has played with giants like Frank Zappa and Allan Holdsworth who influenced a generation of guitarists. Working with them was incredible and it showed me exactly why they are who they are. The understand the language of music so intimately, so well that it was almost effortless for their genius to naturally take form, no matter what kind of music you present to them. They were all incredibly generous with their time and their desire to give their best to a small project like mine. Additionally several of my friends who are incredible players like Tony Das, Ilia Maisuradze, Amit Heri, Ananth Menon and Sabit Memmedov added so much to the music with their solos and their sonic textures. They trusted a non-musician like me to do something good. I owe them a lot.
Q: Creating music is a rather complex and sophisticated creative process. How do you manage to create your music, despite having no knowledge of music theory?
A: In my case it arose out of necessity – I simply wasn’t able to become a musician. I lacked the basic skills and I hated practicing. Even now my left and right hand cannot work together easily. As a teenager I was extremely impatient and the moment I realized I could not be a musician I simply quit (after several attempts!). But because that energy was inside me I listened to music like a mad man. I would spend 6-8 hours a day, 365 days a year, listening to Pat Metheny, Steely Dan, Allan Holdworth, John Abercrombie, Oregon, Sting, XTC, Joni Mitchell, A.R. Rahman, Shankar Ehsaan Loy – everything ranging from rock to jazz to pop. Then one day three years ago, I opened up Garage Band and said to myself ‘I’m going to make music and I will find a way to do it.’ I started looking at chords as colors and melodies as lines over those colors. I was forced to bypass the entire system. It’s as if you gave a caveman in the pre-historical times a keyboard, a microphone and a laptop. What would he do and how would he approach it. He would have to find his own music theory!
Yes, music is a complex and sophisticated process, but I believe there are many ways to approach it. In India (where I’m from) classical music is passed on orally and barely anything is written down. The emphasis is on improvisation and composition is merely a tool. There is no harmony, no chords. But the rhythms are incredibly complex. In western music the foundation is essentially harmony – which is the result of two or more different notes played at the same time. But at the end of the day I am just a listener, listening to myself as I play around with different sounds, waiting for some magic to happen. And when it does, I hit the record button and that’s it. I have that one idea to build upon. And it shows me the way forward. Everything else finds its place in and around it – the drums, the textures, the solos and the voices… it’s nothing short of magic when I finally hear my own creation. I can’t quite believe it. Many years ago I happened to meet the legendary Pandit Ravi Shankar (I was teaching his wife yoga at the time). He asked me to play a few notes on the guitar, and for some reason I picked it up and feebly tried to play what little I knew. It was the worst day of my life because we all knew that it was utter rubbish. Still he put his hand on my head and said with a kind smile ‘God bless you my son.’ It was a shattering experience. That’s the day I vowed never to attempt to play an instrument again. But somehow the universe showed me a way 10-15 years later. Music is a divine force. One has to be silent, meditative and receptive… And the blessings of a master can create miracles I believe… That’s possibly the more likely scenario!