But again it had that special resonance for me because of what it represented and also because of that level of familiarity that I already had with it from having been around it — more in a kind of state of distraction as a kid, "Oh, there's that sound again."
So it was really when I was an adult and thinking about who I was as an artist that I started seeking it out a bit more. I wanted to face it squarely and try to come to terms with it, not even to master it, but to just cultivate a relationship with it. In particular I was interested in the rhythmic aspect of Carnatic music, South Indian classical music. So I have spent a lot of time looking at that. I was always dazzled by what the percussionists would do in that music. Basically they're improvising the whole time, but there's so much order and structure that they're creating, and also they create these structures that have their own gravity that would be disorienting if you didn't understand them. They would sometimes cut across the underlying structure of the song in a really interesting way. I was interested in pursuing that and learning more about it, because it was mysterious, and it created an experience of mystery for the listener that I was interested in.
AT THE FIRST INDIAN-MUSIC CONCERT I ATTENDED, I NOTICED HOW PEOPLE RESPONDED PHYSICALLY TO THE MUSIC — SPECIFICALLY WITH A PARTICULAR HAND GESTURE THEY MADE IN RESPONSE TO A GIVEN NUMBER OF BEATS. THEY KNEW THE FORMS, AND RESPONDED JUST AS AN AMERICAN AUDIENCE MIGHT RESPOND TO A BLUES PROGRESSION OR TO THE RESOLUTIONS IN ANOTHER FAMILIAR SET OF CHORD CHANGES. SO THAT'S THE KIND OF THING YOU WERE INVESTIGATING? Yeah, that kind of thing, and how far I could go with it. That's been an influence on my music since the beginning, really since the beginning of anything that I ever recorded. My first album in '95, every piece on there has some connection to that, but it's often not in a way that's obvious, and that was sort of by design too.
Partly because I lived in California in the 90s, I was going to school out there. All these fusion experiments happened there, and I just found that I didn't relate to any of it, and I didn't want ever to conjure up any of that in my own work because it was a whole other story that I wasn't trying to tell. I wasn't trying to mystify the place of my parents' birth, the place where my cousins live. There's nothing mysterious about it, it's a place where people live and do what they do to get through the daily grind and try to express themselves and have some fun and make art. It's a place just like any other place. It has this incredible heritage, but it's also just a place. I don't want to say there's nothing mysterious about it, because there's plenty that's mysterious about it — but it's no more mysterious than any other place. So I didn't want it to become this exotic realm. And particularly the way it would manifest in my music, it couldn't ever be self-exoticizing. I didn't want that ever to come up as a possibility.
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