Author: alasdair campbell

India Blog Day 10 & 11 – – Fort Kochi & the biggest trees in the world (not really).

Day 10 & 11 – Fort Kochi & the biggest trees in the world

So we arrive in Fort Kochi after a twelve hour train ride across south India. It is lovely arriving in Kerela for my second time as dawn breaks and especially this time with Nakul with us. Nakul is from a small town in Kerela and his broad smile beams as we stare out at the leafy landscape that appears as the glow of the sun begins. After confusion as we have disembarked about where the taxi I booked with the hotel is we just grab an Uber cab and a rickshaw to Hotel 18. The Hotel is smack bang in the middle of Fort Kochi. Rian and Mark comment about the beautiful trees outside the hotel. They are not the biggest trees in the world but are quite big. We have breakfast and head for bed.  That evening we meet Issac Alexander the owner of The Pepper House and Mark and Rian get to see the spaces for the first time. Pepper House is just as I imagined and an amazing place to have our last installation and performance. We have time in Kochi to relax a bit before Farah Mulla arrives from Mumbai and also the folk artists from Kerela join us and we plan the next version of The Algebra of Listening.


India Blog Day 8 & 9 – A day of rest and the Great Train Journey

Day 8 & 9 – A Day of Rest and the Great Train Journey

So Friday Rian and Mark go early to KM and pack up the speakers and take down everything ready for travelling the next day. I was supposed to join Sonya for lunch but she is woren out from Exchange so we plan to meet on Saturday. Friday turns into a bit of a day of nothing much which is a good thing as we are all a feeling a bit the same as Sonya. Indian TV has so many movie channels it is a great way to brainlessly relax. It is odd but Avatar seems to be shown at least once a day.

So Saturday arrives and I talk to the hotel to allow us to have a late check-out our train to Kerela leaves at 7.45pm from Chennai Central. They are very generous and let us all check out at 4,30pm which really helps proceedings. I meet Sonya and she takes me over to a lovely restaurant called the Bay Leaf in a different part of Chennai. Oddly it serves Bengali food as well as other things but Sonya loves Bengali fare and we get some delicious stuff. It is great to catch up with Sonya. She is a tower of strength in a very difficult world in Chennai.

We load the taxi will our accumulating baggage, now cables, 4-way adaptors and speakers. It is definitely getting very tour like, and head for the station. After a quick stop off to get some snacks we arrive at the buzzing Chennai Central and with little hesitation get some porters to help. This must be the first time I have ever used porters at a station but the station is so busy and our bags are so heavy it feels justified. Our train is in and we find our accommodation for the overnight journey. It is really comfortable and clean. The Trivadrum Mail Train is the same train I got last year when I was going from Kotyam to Trivandrum. Not much sleep is had but the journey passes smoothly and we arrive at Ernakulam North on time and bleary eyed.

India Blog Day 6 & 7 – The Performance, Chennai

Day 6 & 7 – The Performance, Chennai and a question or two.

After a day of changes, Anantha our mridanga player has had to drop out of the performance due to family illness but has a replacement player coming instead. Sonya is also coming along from Earthsync, the reason all this is happening in Chennai. She has just finished another successful Indie/Earth Exchange which I would have liked to have been at. After the rugs are placed carefully and the lights are dimmed the auditorium at KM looks really warm and comfortable and Mark’s installation, in the round this time, is perfect. As we arrive at KM of the evening of the performance we meet Akshay who will perform with us at the Chennai leg of The Algebra of Listening. As the audience begins to arrive and at first are unsure where to sit it doesn’t take long before a small crowd is gathered crossed-legged on the rugs. The installation is scattering sound around the space and sounding really nice. Adam opens proceedings with a short speech and then I thank everyone that is involved. We open the performance element with Akshay Anantapadmanabhan on mridanga delicately building notes and rhythm alongside the installation. He plays a really interesting set that shows understanding of what the work is about and for such little time to prepare it is amazing. Rian and Nakul ‘s Chennai set is really different from the Kolkata one but I think the difference of sound is more sympathetic to their work. There is more warmth to the sound due to the curtains and PA. Not that Kolkata was bad just sharper of sound due to the gallery marble. Rian rounds off the evening with an exciting and improvised DJ set which is manipulated from i-tunes. Not an easy task by any means. It is pleasing to see the students gather by Rian’s side to check-out what he is doing. There is a genuine interest from a lot of the students and it is good that we have emphasised the electronic aspects of the project for the students at KM.


Next day I prepare some notes to deliver a talk to the students prior to the Q & A with Mark, Rian and myself lead by Nakul. Nakul is a bit apprehensive about doing the Q & A at KM but is persuaded by Mark and Adam that it is a good thing. There is a good turn-out for this but strangely inevitably the Counterflows film doesn’t work and there are technical difficulties showing You-tube clips of Counterflows artists.  But I manage to sputter out some areas I hope of interests to the students about the world according to Counterflows and others in the alternative music scene across the planet. The Q &A is well chaired by Nakul with some interesting questions. After about an hour and breaking the formal chairs in a row in front of people groups of students gather around Mark and Rian with questions and ideas. I nip out to talk with Sonya and Adam about future plans and stuff.

Chennai concludes very satisfactorily. A lovely thing that happened was that followers of Mark Fell’s music came along to the performance after seeing it on Mark’s website. They are working in Chennai and were amazed that Mark was there. It sure is a small world. A lovely comment came from one of the KM staff who thought that they should install a sound work like Mark’s permanently in a space at KM for people to sit in to gather their thoughts etc. A good idea I think.

India Blog Day 4 & 5 – Uncle and Deepak and off to Chennai

Day 4 & 5 – Uncle and Deepak and off to Chennai

The first performance of The Algebra of Listening was a success and such a relief that everyone pulled it off. When starting projects like this there are so many unknown factors but at Harrington Art Centre on Ho Chi Mhin road in Kolkata it all started to make sense. After getting over the the centre at 11am on Sunday the 2nd and switching on the installation just sitting in Mark’s beautiful thing was such a treat. Varun arrive ready to take us on adventure but first we had to go and buy luggage to transport the recently acquired s and perfectly formed speakers that are the travelling installation. We Uber-off to an area that Varun wanted take where book stall after book stall line the streets. Unfortunately it is Sunday and most are closed. So with suitcase in hand we finally pack up the gear and our Kolkata leg is over but not before the gang led by Varun take a trip to the Ganges. I stay behind to catch up with things. Pratik Rian’s friend who has joined us for the Kolkata performance and who came all the way from Hong Kong to do this kindly invites us over to his Uncles house where he is staying for dinner. And what a colourful affair the whole thing is. Such generosity is a bit overwhelming. We then head for the roof of the amazing complex that Uncle owns (in one of the rooms there is actually a wedding going on with thumping beats and lights a plenty. Whisky and brandy down the hatch and then back to get packed up ready for Chennai.

The miracle is we get to Chennai with all bags intact. The combined luggage weight is 99.37 kg which is just under the 110 kg I purchased. What a relief. Or no, just good planning. Ha! Safely in Chennai we head straight for KM College to dump stuff and go round to the Radha Regent Hotel which thankfully is just around the corner. Part 2 starts tomorrow.  Back at KM we set up the speakers get a plan together for how to perform in a very different space from the marble clad Harrington Arts Centre. The guys at KM are on hand to do the wiring and we find out that we need more cables. Of to the electricians for 4-ways and extra-long kettle cables. I’m finding out more and more about the difficulties of touring installation pieces as we go. Performance day looms.

India Blog 2017 Day 2 & 3 – The Algebra of Listening Kicks off.

Day 2 & 3 – The Algebra of Listening kicks off

Nakul kindly sets off very early to meet Rian and Mark at the airport. Meanwhile back at speaker central Varun and I finally by early evening after a day of meeting the wonderful Kolkata based artists, Ghatam player Somnath Roy and noise guerrillas Jessop & Co., then the British Council at their offices around the corner from the Venue, we tracked down the 8 Yamaha we need for the project. Once back at the Red Arrow Residency we all decided to stay in and order food. It is all coming together thanks to Varun’s wonderful tenacity.

So the day of the performance arrives. Over at The Harrington Arts Centre things start to arrive, plinths from Varun’s mother’s gallery, PA, the sacred speakers and all sundry cables and plugs. At 12 noon we start to assemble and realise we need more stuff as is always the case. Varun and Mark head off to get supplies. Back at Harrington Rian leads Nakul and I in installation lessons. Getting the power sorted is a curious thing. Somnath arrives and we discuss the importance and relevance of the vocabulary of traditional music to contemporary practice. And then a little tardy arrive the Jessop lads. But all is good as we are just ready for soundchecks when they arrive. Amazingly it all came together perfectly, Varun arriving dressed nattily and with wine and cheese. I decide it really is time to don the linen suit so nip back to the residency. The British Council team arrive and it is lovely to get their support, the director in Kolkata is a lovely man beaming with enthusiasm. The opening begins with the director welcoming everyone and passing over to me. I just can’t help myself get a bit emotional even when I tried hard not to be. It has been such a long time and finely we are here. Mark’s installation is very beautiful in the space so all is well in the Harrington. Somnath Roy performs with the installation. A wonderful set. Rian and Nakul huddle around their chosen tools of expression and perform riveting set of magic and lastly Jessop & Co warp the airwaves with grunged up distortion and street noise their set conclude part one of The Algebra of Listening. The evening ends with two eccentric taxi rides and some amazing food care of 6 Ballygunge Place, beautiful Bengali food.

India Blog 2017 Day 1

Just to re-cap and why I’m back in India?
This will be my third trip to India in as many years and this trip will see the fruition of three years of the development of ideas and creative head scratching between a brilliant team of artists headed up as artistic curator by electronic music pioneer Mark Fell working with Rian Treanor and young Indian composer Nakul Krishnamurthy.

The project began its life after a trip to India in 2015 when I was lucky enough to be chosen to be a part of a British Council scoping trip with a number of arts workers from Scotland to travel around three cities in India to meet people engaged in the Indian arts worlds. Of course prior to this at the Edinburgh festival while attending Creative Scotland and British Council’s initiative at Edinburgh Festival that allows delegates from all across the world to get the chance to meet colleagues from Scotland called Momentum, I had met the one and only Sonya Mazumdar. Sonya runs a fantastic organisation in Chennai called Earthsync. Sonya and I hit off straight away possibly because of her organisations beautiful film and project called Layla which is a project projecting a positive vision of the richness of the communities stretching around the Indian Ocean who were affected traumatically by the Tsunami that devastated the region in December 2004… but also because she is wonderful. As anyone that knows me will know one of the many reasons for me setting up Counterflows was to examine the idea of tradition in the context of the experimental contemporary music world. What does it mean to be performing traditional music in the 21st century and why do that? How does tradition inform experimentation in the arts and son on … Sonya and I hit it off and the result being I went to Chennai and met Sonya in her home turf and what I encountered there was the rich classical tradition of South India, Carnatic Music. Inspired by the wonderful violin playing of Nandini Muthuswamy I got thinking and after an amazing premier of the project at Counterflows 2017 here I find myself back in India. There are a whole load of characters that brought this story to here, at the starting point of stage 3, not least Varun Dsesai of Littlei – Kolkata, Adam Greig of KM Conservatory – Chennai and Issac Alexander of Pepper House who have shown complete trust and support in what we are doing and of course the intrepid artists who are building the project and the artists we are about to encounter across three cities of India.

Day 1 – Oh Kolkata on the speaker trail.

I first encountered the Bengali tradition of Baul in Kerela through Hanna Tuulikki who was exhibiting at the Kochi Biennale in 2016. Hanna had been working with Baul singer Pavarthy Baul and we got the chance to hear her in Kerela. My next way in and in preparation for coming to Bengal and Kolkata was listening to the wonderful voice of Farida Paveer who latest Lp Chant sde Lalon Shah keeps spinning around in my head. So I touch down in Kolkata and after a painless and dazed wander through Kolkata airport and after exchanging money at exorbitant rates grab a taxi into the heart of Kolkata. The Red Arrow Residency is not so easy to find. Almost hidden up a back lane of A.J.C Bose Road it is a extremely pleasant and welcome surprise. After quick shower and an emptying of clutter from my head and bag I meet up with Varun Desai. Hair longer that the last we met and tied back elegantly as it should be, Varun immediately whisks me of in to the DIY hi-fi market streets of old Kolkata. Rows and rows of electrical and mechanical things. An Electronic Wonderland. Of course we are here for a reason. We have to find speakers for the installation. After, how can I say this, an unfortunate lack of customer care between Air France’s partner Flybe Mark and Rian can’t bring their 8 Myer speakers across to India. This is not as easy as it sounds as monitor speakers are not hired out in Kolkata and just aren’t as common. Lots of foraging and chatting to sales people to no avail. Next we trundle along to the venue. The Harrington Arts Centre is delightfully located on Ho Chi Minh Sarani, hinting at Kolkata’s still radical politics and past. It is an old marble clad gallery space with an amazing old stair well in its entrance. Perfect for the project. After a quick Dosa (oh, the Dosa) lunch Varun takes me to Littlei HQ where there is a dub workshop taking place. Which after talking to the guys has transmogrified into some other production workshop the way things do.

Nakul arrives in Kolkata and we meet and embrace. Nakul has been pivotal in the development of the project. When we met last year in Chennai he had just graduated from KM Conservatory and was starting a journey exploring electronic music practice and the world of sound art. He is now hopefully going to travel to the UK to study for his masters combining fine art and sound/music. Mark has been a mentor for him across the project and he has developed a musical partnership with Rian that is extremely exciting but importantly he has also given us so much insight into the music of south India and more. After food at the crazy Barbecue Nation which turns out to be a lot better than it sounds and after a beer at one of the oldest cinemas in Kolkata where Varun is hosting a club night at The Vaults it’s time to sleep.

The Counterflows Carnatic Music Project Chennai, India 2016 – DAY ONE

Day 1. Back in the clutch of South Indian heat and the sound of honking traffic


So here I am back in Chennai. Last November as part of a British Council delegation I tasted a glimpse of the wonders of South Indian and of course at Counterflows 2016 we brought to Glasgow the amazing Carnatic music ensemble led by the incomparable Dr L. Muthuswamy. And now I’m back in Chennai, this time to develop a project with the amazing Mark Fell and his equally brilliant son Rian Treanor. We’re going to be exploring the intricate and ancient sound world of South India’s classical culture of carnatic music. Looking at the systems and processes that form the basis of this unique form. We are not out to learn to how play Carnatic music of course. That would be a ridiculous conceit. It would take 30 years to touch base with such an intricate sound world. No, we are here to talk, to open a dialogue between different approaches and maybe cultures, to work together and to maybe create something new. We’ll be recording stuff and sketching out ideas as we absorb the atmosphere and listen.

So day 1 started well. We touched down in Chennai at around 6am and due to the diligence of the EarthSync’s team everything runs smoothly. From actually being able to withdraw some rupees (more on this later), to being collected by the hotel driver to take us to down town Chennai and then being able to get to our rooms. Mark is suffering from a bad bout of flu and in recovery but great that he made the flight. Rest!

After my usual determination to get out and soak in the city, the sun and thick balmy air gets too much and I head back to the hotel. That evening we meet the most incredible gentleman. Sastry Karra is a modest but visionary man. He helped or maybe indeed did set up Earthsync supporting Sonya and her team in many sorts of ways. The evening’s shared talk of ideas about culture to the origin of carnatic music is inspiring and once the production team join us for dinner we even get to talk about speakers and the DX7. It all bodes well…

Day 8 & 9 – India Blog

A visit to Guru Muthuswamy and more

img_0308The last two days have been so hectic and filled with unexpected things that it has taken me time to get around to the blog. Firstly Thursday was almost a right off as the rains began to pour and we had to cancel a trip to Kalakshetra which it turned out we couldn’t have done any as they only except visitors at 8.45am in the morning. It wasn’t clear this was the case anywhere but with heavens opening up and the streets flooded the afternoon was a wash-out. Back to Wednesday, so we made our way over to the wonderful singer, teacher, guru Smt Subbulakshmi Muthuswamy’s house to witness a Carnatic singing class. Subbu as I have come to call her which is properly not very polite was the singer who sang at Counterflows. Once we find the apartment and climb the stairs we are greeted with open arms by a radiant guru Muthuswamy. It is so amazing to be invited into her house and to witness such an intimate occasion. After tea and biscuits the class begins. The two students are not the least put off by us and the singing begins. Mark asks if it is ok to record and they are so cordial it is delightful. There is a gentleness and real beauty watching guru and student work together through the ragas. At one point the Sri Lankan student is asked to improvise by guru. It is totally amazing and such a privilege to bear witness to. Ramkumar the mrindangam player who performed in Galsgow also, joins us to extend our knowledge of the tala (rhythm).

Lesson over we head for the Carnatic music bookshop around the corner. Offered a lift on a scooter I can’t refuse. The shop is brilliant and Mark and Rian buy the most amazing set of academic books on Carnatic theory. This has the makings of a really important project. That evening we meet Nandini, Guru Muthuswamy’s other violin playing daughter (Lalitha, who is in Germany’s sister) for dinner. It is so great to see Nandini again. Nandini is actually the one who started all this off.

img_0334Thursday morning and afternoon as I have said were a wash out. Rain stopped play. In the evening we headed over to The Youth Hostel which is a serious Carnatic music venue not far from Kalakshetra for the evening concerts. Luckily for us we arrive a bit early and the opening concert is running late. Luckily as what we get to hear is another revelation. Carnatic music as played by the Thirumeignanam Brothers on the extraordinary sounding pipes the Nadaswaram also accompanied by the also wonderful sounding Thavil drums. These drums sounded almost industrial with their sharpness and almost bitter sound. This was a revelatory performance. After came the star performer singer Sri. Abhishek Raghuram. A young super star Carnatic singer. Oddly we all agreed apart from our Keralan mentor Nakul that we found his performance too theatrical and flowery. But what the heck, it was another lovely evening of music. Then of for food where Dosa is king.


Day 4 & 5 – India Blog

There is too much to fit all what happened at Sonya’s 2-day festival into this blog so I’ll just try and sum up some of the things that were going on. Firstly it is amazing what Sonya and her team are doing here in Chennai.

Day 3 India – What really is a temple?

So here it is, with Mark still a bit under the weather Rian and I decide to go off to the temple at Mylapore. An amazing thing of beauty and at last we get out into what maybe could be called real Chennai. We take an auto-rickshaw thing, possibly called a Tuc Tuc… but who knows… So what happens next is important. We are tourists. Always we think we are never tourists. WE are interested in culture not that vulgar thing that those flipping people get up to. No, we are tourists and of course we get touted for business. Aggressive like the voice of change that shouldn’t happen. So next we wander around the streets of Mylapore. And then indulge again in the wonderful chain so called of food. The tank, the tank… so here it is for me, Ramanujan’s place of worship and what are the things to do but misplace my hope and fall deeply into your arms.


This day gets better and better. How does one get anywhere? Simple, you try harder and hope that something happens. We eventually get a taxi. Quite rubbish how but. So I take Rian and Mark to a local temple to listen and see. It is the most brilliant and moving experience. I have mixed feelings about love, devotion, religion and a mesmerising nonsense that stretches off into the mystic but still here we are in a temple in Chennai and it makes sense. People are so beautiful they help and welcome and don’t judge. Priests, children and all just welcome us into their world. I am humbled and inspired. There is a thing that I’ll never know. But hopefully I’ll be able always to wonder.

Day 2: Jasmin in the back Streets

Morning swim on the roof of the hotel which is quite amazing with giant pied wagtails chirping their noisy song along-side the pool. The crows that sit on the pool-side chairs are a bit more sinister with beaks like machetes.

Mark Ernestus’ Ndagga Rhythm Force


Mark Ernestus’ Ndagga Rhythm Force is a collaboration between a group of Senegalese musicians and Berlin dub-techno legend Mark Ernestus (Basic Channel / Rhythm & Sound), birthed from a series of sizzling sessions in the city of Dakar. Despite the musical, geographical, political and social divisions that exist between them, they make a strikingly autonomous sound; fusing elements of Senegalese Mbalax percussion, Jamaican dub and Berlin minimalism to shake out grooves that are truly out of this world.

In a live setting the group feature singer/MC Mbene Diatta Seck, talking drum master Modou Mbaye, dancer Fatou Wore Mboupsabar, drummer Bada Seck and guitar player Assane “Ndoye” Cisse, as well some young hotshots from the Dakar scene. We’re so delighted to welcome this group to the UK for the first time as part of Counterflows.

Takahiro Kawaguchi & Utah Kawasaki

‘Amorphous Spores’ is the name of the Takahiro Kawaguchi & Utah Kawasaki’s debut release together (out on Erstwhile Records), and it serves as a near perfect description for their music. Made by bonding Kawaguchi’s air horns and home-made appliances with Kawasaki’s electronic devices, the two are able to blend familiar ingredients but make them grow into something strikingly strange, dramatic and often beautiful.

Kawaguchi and Kawasaki are both very active in Japan’s underground music scenes, and represent something of an exciting new wave of adventurous emerging musicians and improvisers. We can’t wait to see what they have in store for their debut European performance together at Counterflows.


YEAH YOU make improvised pop music everywhere and anywhere. Filling up hours of dead time spent on motorways, drive-by stations and kicking around the house, they bring to life a colourful and totally weird aural world, making spontaneous jams using broken keyboards, drum machines and processed vocals.

Born out of the north of England’s vibrant DIY scene, the father/daughter duo of Mylk Jaxn and Elvin Brandi are not so much deconstructing the world of pop and improvisation – they’re completely turning it on it’s head.

Yeah You – Catagorically Impressive from WILD POP on Vimeo.

Yeah You

Àine O’Dwyer: Pipe Organ


Counterflows presents Irish composer/performer/musician Áine O’Dwyer in a live improvisatory performance for pipe organ at the Glasgow University Chapel. As a young teenager, O’Dwyer was schooled in a Catholic convent, where she requested her music teacher Sr. Cecilia to teach her to play the pipe organ. As it turned out, she was refused. Though a disappointment at the time, years later the experience inspired her to freely explore the parameters of the instrument.

Primarily a harpist, In 2011 O’Dwyer was given access to the pipe organ in St Mark’s Church, Islington, for several months while the cleaners were at work— a rare opportunity to grapple with the “king of instruments” and apply her sense of melodic, structured improvisation to a new context. The result was her much celebrated release, “Music For Church Cleaners vol. I and II”, a series of solo improvisations that qualify simultaneously as a live recording, site-specific performance art with a Cagean mindset, and field recording.

Music For Church Cleaners Volumes I & II is a great addition to the canon of experimental and improvised music, with a lightness of touch and depth of feeling that’s uncommon in many of records of its ilk. Listening to it is like meditation. You can lose yourself for a while, and, when it’s finished, everyday life seems just that bit more bearable.” – Louder Than War

EVOL (DJ set)


Since the late nineties, Roc Jiménez de Cisneros and Steven Sharp – EVOL – have been producing what they call “computer music for hooligans”, inspired by geometry, metaphysics, noise, cosmology and rave culture. A vortex of generative basslines, air horns and fuzzy arpeggios, their music displays a radical and playful approach to algorithmic composition, with works available on Entr’acte, Mego, Presto!?, Diskono, Scarcelight, and their very own ALKU.

For this Counterflows Late Night Party, we have invited them to DJ all night long. They’ve promised to spin some old acid, weird techno and some of the music that has inspired their own productions. Don’t be hanging around in the corner stroking your chin.

Fish Police

The Fish Police – a South London-based band on the cutting edge of the learning disability music scene – create their own unique blend of electronic left-field pop taking the audience on a journey through their own world, evoking everything from MF Doom to Kraftwerk. Made up of Dean Rodney (singer, rapper, songwriter), Matthew Howe (guitar) and Charles Stuart (keys, co-songwriter, background vocals) they mix their love of computer games, cartoons, fast food and Japanese culture to create sounds that set them apart on the UK urban music scene. Come dip your toes in the Fish Water!


Yong Yong

Originally key figures in Lisbon’s buzzing underground scene, Yong Yong relocated to Glasgow just over a year ago to re-assess their sound. Conjuring up everything from low-bitrate Badalamenti-esque vignette, industrial R&B clank, midnight jazz motifs and slopped and screwed synth wooze, their blunted, often disorientating approach to song-craft is still able to pack a punch, and is not shy of exploring more emotive passages. For this year of Counterflows they will be presenting an all new installation piece. More details soon…