Radio India: The Eternal Dream Of Sound
ne of the side benefits to visiting my favorite Indian restaurants is the amazing music played there. The owner/operators always have a mix tape of Indian music on the stereo, and it ranges from ignorable to truly mind bogglingly wonderful. One visit I was treated not only to the original version of the song that underpins Truth Hurts’ “Addictive”, but also an Indian pop song that had nicked the backing track to Europe’s immortal “The Final Countdown”.
But, and here’s where this becomes relevant to a discussion of Sublime Frequencies’ Radio India: The Eternal Dream Of Sound, what I most enjoy about that experience is that it recontextualizes the music. For me, and for an increasing number of people, the music of other countries is no longer something strange or exotic, it’s what the guy down the street listens to.
Now, this can only be good in my opinion, but it does place projects like this one on unsteady ground. I’m already familiar with the cliché of how Indian music is “supposed” to sound, which of course is how it often does sound. I’m even, it’s fair to say, interested in getting to know some more of it. But a “radio collage” like this one won’t serve my purposes; instead, it only frustrates.
Everything here is stripped of context, especially if you are sadly monolingual as I am. Occasionally a good song is lingered over but mostly things flow past in a rush, onwards to the next song, ad, DJ announcement or burst of static. It’s kind of interesting hearing these radio recordings in their original fidelity, pops and dropouts preserved, but what I love about the Indian music I’ve heard is mostly the bright, shiny side of them. I’d be interested in finding out about what names to look for, or in hearing some bombastic choruses; instead I get chopped-up bits.
So, okay, maybe I’m not approaching Radio India on its own merits. But I can’t conceive of a time, no matter how familiar or unfamiliar with Indian music I am or become, that I would be interested in hearing two hours of its radio pureed into a slippery blur, drones and ragas flying past as quickly as aching duets and the omnipresent sitar. At first the sheer whirl of ideas was thrilling, but after a few tracks, I began feeling ashamed of my attention span. The widely varying quality of what’s present doesn’t help. It’s admirable that so many types of sound are represented here, but that means that most listeners will find the contents hit and miss.
Given the richness and breadth of Indian music, and how little of it has been exposed to the mainstream of North America, I was really looking forward to sinking my metaphorical teeth into Radio India. But in some ways this really is an “eternal dream of sound”; as in dreams, things you’d like to reach elude your grasp, dissolving like mist. It may make you more interested in checking out Indian music, as it does me, but the experience is likely to remain frustrating.
Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2004-09-21