Pandit Pran Nath – The Raga Cycle, Palace Theatre, Paris 1972 Vol. 2. (2017)
Note: This is a slightly altered and expanded version of text, originally published by SoundOhm
During the 1960’s, there was an awaking of consciousness in the American avant-garde. A young group of composers – later known collectively as the Minimalists, began to seek a new, elemental relationship with sound and its organized structures. Looking beyond their own culture and those musical traditions bound to Europe, vanquishing the temptations of elitism, they create a new counter-cultural music – a democratic form which dismissed the constraints of linear time perceptions of progress, drawing inspiration from diverse sonic traditions from across the globe. While some like Steve Reich found their focus resting on African music, many, notably Terry Riley, La Monte Young, and Henry Flynt, were drawn toward India’s ancient Classical traditions – led by their teacher teacher Pandit Pran Nath, the focus of the release before us, a stunning double LP entitled The Raga Cycle, Palace Theatre, Paris 1972 Vol. 2.
Born in 1918, Pran Nath entered the world of Indian Classical music during a complex time. While these traditions date back thousands of years – among the oldest continuous musics on the planet, by the early 20th century they had begun to fall out of favor, with audiences shifting their attentions to the West. Nath belonged to the generation which changed the tide, with contemporaries like Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan using radio and recordings to vastly expand this music’s popularity, both within India and without. Unfortunately, the vocalist found himself far less lucky than most, remaining largely unrecognized in his own country for the entirety of his life. Beginning his studies at the age of 13, he belonged to the Kirana Ghana – a widely popular form which focused on the intonation of notes, but Nath’s austere singing style was poorly received in the climate in which he emerged, forcing him to earn his living as a teacher – largely at the University of Delhi, but also as a visiting professor of music at Mills College in the San Francisco Bay Area, a then hotbed of the American avant-garde.
In 1970, at the encouragement of La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, Nath moved to NY, setting up the Kirana Center for Indian Classical Music, and taking on an entire generation of seminal composers as his students – Young, Zazeela, Terry Riley, Henry Flynt, Rhys Chatham, Don Cherry, Simone Forti, Jon Gibson, Jon Hassell, Charlemagne Palestine, Yoshi Wada, and countless others, changing the face of American music in his wake. His presence is a lingering force behind the revolutionary music which blossomed into Minimalism, giving it rigorous focus and constraint.
During 1972, Nath traveled to Paris to execute a raga cycle at the Palace Theater over three consecutive days, performing each raga at its prescribed time of day. The first document of these concerts, encountering Nath backed his then-pupils La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela, and Terry Riley, was issued by SRI Moonshine (run collaboratively by the poet Michael McClure and Terry Riley ) back in 2007 to showering praise. After a decade long wait, the second installment has finally appeared, featuring recording of Raagini Bheempalasi and Raag Puriya Dhanaashree, performed on the afternoon of May 27, 1972. Across its two LPs, The Raga Cycle, Palace Theatre, Paris 1972 Vol. 2, presents Nath at his absolute best – an immersion into a remarkable sea of tone, offering crucial insight into why so many seminal figures of the avant-garde were drawn into his fold, as well as many of the musical elements which underscore those respective composers’ subsequent works. The two ragas – both rarely performed, are executed with a stunning power and the slow unhurried pace, creativity, and command of musical language, for which Nath was famed.
Stunningly beautiful on every count, these recording emerge with towering historical importance – not only a window into the root of so much of the American Avant-garde and Minimalism, but also into rarely heard aspects of the ancient traditions of Indian Classical music. Particularly given how few recordings of Nath have been released, it’s as essential as they come. Unfortunately, at present moment, SRI Moonshine hasn’t released any samples, but SoundOhm has some on their site. Pick it up from them, or a record store near you.