mema verma

Giovanni Lami is one half of the duo Lemures (with Enrico Coniglio) and a member of AIPS (L’Archivio Italiano Paesaggi Sonori, or Archive of Italian Soundscapes). He describes himself as a field recordist and musician, and also spent several years working as a photographer. His latest solo work [mema verma] is the conclusion of an investigation into the shruti box, a bellows-powered instrument most commonly used for producing the drones in Indian classical music. Curiously, the shruti box developed in India as a modification of imported Western harmoniums, as Indian musicians appropriated and adapted newly available technologies to suit the needs of their own traditional music. In Lami’s work the instrument is performed in numerous ways, deviating to a greater or lesser extent from the standard technique; once again the instrument is adapted and modified according to specific local requirements.

The release opens with quiet breathy sounds, like wind in the trees or a broom on concrete, punctuated by wooden knocking — quite far away from traditional shruti drones. There are tonal elements present, but they expand rather than determine the harmonic structure. Over the course of three pieces, the music progresses towards a more recognisable Indian-style drone, circling it in an ever-decreasing spiral, yet a stereotypically unadorned eternal chord is never reached. Instead, the sound is blown in the direction of a distinctly Western form of emotive expression, with shifting layers of under- and over-tones undulating beneath the surface: in short, towards the genre of ambient drone. The hue of the work also shifts, from colourlessly transparent to moderately dark.

If I had heard the final track of [mema verma] on its own, I would have thought it well-made but offering little to set it apart from the rest of the dark ambient drone milieu. It is the movement across the three tracks from the specific to the diffuse, from the extensive to the expressive, that makes this release special and constitutes Lami’s unique contribution to the study of the shruti box. The packaging by Dead Meat subtly blends references to Hindi script, Italian Renaissance anatomical and zoological drawings, and science fiction diagrammatics, reflecting the way the music transforms local and global influences into something distinct and particular.

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