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Synaesthetic Santoor


Last night I went to hear Kaviraj Singh play santoor with his brother, Upneet on tabla. It was so wonderful. I’ve never been a big fan of the santoor. Somehow the cross between the plinky-plonky hammered strings and the sometime delicacy of Hindustani music didn’t excite me so much. But this was incredibly beautiful. The faster sections, known as jhalla – sounded like standing under a shower of diamonds – precision cut, refracting light in all directions.

Whenever I attend a concert, I am amazed at how different the experience of listening to music live is to listening to a CD. In my car, I hear the music plain – it may be moving and interesting but there’s a missing layer. In the concert hall, the music rises and shimmers – images and impressions fill the air like mirages. It’s the closest thing I’ve experienced to synaesthesia – the condition of the brain that causes colours or other sensations to be triggered by certain sounds. My friend studying bansuri flute in India has synaesthesia, and it’s particularly fascinating for someone studying raga-based music. She can easily identify a raga, as each effortlessly appears as a specific colour in her mind when she hears it. She described how the colour of a word manifests as a mix of the colours of its individual syllables. Usually I keep a book handy to record the images that arise. Last night while Kaviraj played Raag Gorakh Kalyan – a poem appeared.

Dancing grass shudders wildly with every gust;
and starlings swoop across the sky.
Trees laugh, shaking their arms.
A smile spreads across the earth,
all spinning and alive.
Flowers must burst
at the sound of this music.
Spring weaves a lattice –
ribbons of light,
yellow, white and gold,
and a stretch of blue
that never ends.

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Filed under Art, Music and Dance, Inspiration!