The sparkling idea and the intuition behind Nodding Terms (2018, col legno), the new release by crossover musician Ketan Bhatti, is that contemporary chamber music and groove club music can peacefully and harmoniously co-exist! In order to create a nest for these two meeting styles, Ketan invited the German-Icelandic Ensemble Adapter as well as his studio neighbors Paul Frick and Jan Brauer. The way in which they blurred the borders of new music and grooves is really amazing. While you’re invited to listen to the final result, check out this chat we had with Ketan just after listening to Nodding Terms.
Chain D.L.K.: Hi, Ketan! How are you?
Ketan Bhatti: I’m fine, thanks. I just recovered from an intense rehearsal phase for my release concert last week. It was really fun, but I had to shut down my mobile for the weekend to clear my head and have some family time with my two kids and wife.
Chain D.L.K.: Just out of curiosity…are you a descendant of that Bhatti clan belonging to the so-called Lunar dynasty?
Ketan Bhatti: Psst. That’s a secret! No, seriously: I have never heard of them. Would be funny, if I was.
Chain D.L.K.: You collaborate with your brother Vivan, don’t you? Can you tell us something about this family affair?
Ketan Bhatti: Yes, Vivan and me, we have played and worked together since childhood. He is 6 years older, so of course, everything he did, I wanted to do myself. So he would practice guitar, and I would play along on the drums.
First, we were playing in the same Hip-Hop and Reggae bands (he on guitar, me on drums), then we started producing and composing together in our cellar studio in Bielefeld, where we grew up.
Now we do almost everything as a team. We have our studio in Berlin, where I live. He’s got a little home studio in Bielefeld, and he comes to Berlin like once or twice a month.
Chain D.L.K.: Did you follow more or less the same path in music, or did you have different interests? Have you ever squabbled on personal musical tastes? 🙂
Ketan Bhatti: Vivan was into classical music at a very early age, while I hated it. 🙂 I was into improvising, and I almost stopped with music at the age of 7, because my piano teacher didn’t let me play a single note unless I could read it first. My mum searched then for a teacher who was more open to other concepts of teaching… That was a very important step, otherwise I might not be doing what I am doing today. I later also got into classical music while I was studying at University. Vivan studied classical guitar in Munich, while I studied jazz drums in Berlin at the UdK. Our common ground used to be Hip-Hop and Rock music. Then, Experimental music, Electronica, and Contemporary Classical music were added more and more. I think during the years we developed a common taste and interest in certain areas of music. It actually never happens that I dig something that he wouldn’t dig too, or at least get why I dig it.
We both are interested in music that is always on the edge of its genre. So we both like music that transforms into something else, something new.
Chain D.L.K.: You mainly composed scores, stage, and film music…how did you get closer to this branch of composition?
Ketan Bhatti: An old friend of Vivan’s, who happened to also study in Munich, parallel to Vivan, became a director and author in theater and film – Nuran David Calis is his name. We’ve worked with him since his first play in 2003 in every context of theatre and film. Since we were combining different genres, from Hip-Hop to Classical music, in his plays, we started to become these experts for combining so-called “Hochkultur” with “subcultur” (a typical German way of categorizing things…). That’s how the Urban Dance group “Flying Steps“ became aware of us and invited us to work with them on their project Flying Bach in 2010, which has now been on world tour for 8 years already. Since then, we’ve produced and composed the music for all their dance theatre productions. But I wouldn’t say that we do mainly stage music. It’s more like 50/50. 50% of our work is music for productions, where the music is supporting a story or any director’s idea (theatre, dance theatre), while 50% is music for ensemble or music theatre, where the music is in the center (concert music, music theatre). I like the mix.
Chain D.L.K.: Is there any soundtrack composer that you consider a wizard and a source of inspiration for your musical research?
Ketan Bhatti: Mmm, there are many composers who I admire for their approach to score music. The last score that blew my mind was the score to “Arrival“, composed by Johan Johansson, who passed away this year. The sounds he used were really amazing. He happened to work with the same engineer that we did on our last orchestra production, Francesco Donatello, who is a great producer and mixing engineer here in Berlin.
Chain D.L.K.: I’ve heard your recent output Nodding Terms…it’s really amazing! I particularly enjoyed its crossover style… How would you label it?
Ketan Bhatti: I don’t know. How would you label it? Before the release concert, we came up with the label “contemporary chamber music with rumble-beat“. Of course, the easiest way would be to say “Contemporary Chamber music with influences of avant-garde Hip-Hop and Electronic music”. But a lot of projects are labeled this way: “Hip-Hop meets classic”, “Classic meets Techno”, and so on… I always had the feeling I kept reading about projects that sounded the same as my music – following their text – but listening to it, it appeared to be always exactly the opposite – or at least a negative example of an attempt of this kind of crossover. For me, it’s really about “Nachahmung“ – mimesis between different ways of expression, different genres, and cultures. And Nachahmung always means more than imitation. It means transformation, metamorphosis, but working with your abilities. So if I imitate “something else”, and I’m really into it, I transform myself – and that’s crucial: not the “something else”, but something new! So Nachahmung always leads to innovation.
On Nodding Terms, I tried to evoke this mimetic process between these two genres – Contemporary Chamber music and Electronica or “urban music”.
Chain D.L.K.: Why did you title it Nodding Terms?
Ketan Bhatti: Well, I liked the picture of the expression “to be on nodding terms with someone”. And that you have the nod on this. Nodding is something that almost doesn’t exist in Contemporary Classical music in Europe. So I wanted a music that you can somehow nod to – but not totally. The rhythm is always a little weird. Sometimes the rhythm is what is not played… I’m very influenced by Jay Dilla and his way of unquantized programming. He is just the greatest. Everything is always a little too late, or too early, but since it’s all loop music, these irregularities become their own feeling.
Then, I liked the picture of two genres (Contemporary Classical music and Experimental urban club music) that only are “on nodding terms“ with each other…
Chain D.L.K.: Have you ever been on nodding terms with someone of the ensemble? Any word about Adapter?
Ketan Bhatti: Yeah, we have been nodding a lot! I’ve worked with Adapter since 2011. We met when the harp player Gunnhildur Einarsdottir, the percussion player Matthias Engler and myself played in the Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble. We had a great time there.
I have composed several pieces for Adapter. Most of the tracks on Nodding Terms are composed for them. They are one of the few ensembles out there that are really into new music and that do play pieces by living composers. They experiment a lot also in the area of music theater and how music is presented in concerts. My first piece for them was a crossover between a scientistic lecture and a concert, involving scientists. So they are very open. And that’s rare. I’m glad they are working with me. But I give them a hard time. Playing these kinds of rhythms is really heavy. And since it’s never only just 4/4 meter music, it needs a lot of rehearsing to master this 7/16 -, 25/16 – grooves and play them tight. They do it great!
Chain D.L.K.: Is there a more or less hidden plot behind Nodding Terms?
Ketan Bhatti: That’s yours to find out 😉
Chain D.L.K.: Does improvisation play a role in Nodding Terms or not?
Ketan Bhatti: Oh yes, it does. First of all: I come from improvising. And I develop ideas while improvising. Although most of the tracks are written very precisely, there are moments where I didn’t write down what to play, but gave them instructions of how to play. In the live concert, we integrate a lot of improvisation into the set.
Chain D.L.K.: How did you brief before performing each track?
Ketan Bhatti: Well, since I come from the producing side, I had midi tracks that were pretty much giving a clear idea of what the track is about. Everything else we talked about, and in the studio we tried a different interpretation of certain textures for some pieces.
Chain D.L.K.: Nodding Terms as a Concert/Club Night in 3 acts…how did they relate to each other?
Ketan Bhatti: Paul Frick invited Milian Vogel (one of the BCL players on Nodding Terms), Matthias Engler and me for a Live Jam Session two years ago. We didn’t talk about what to play and how. It ended as one of the greatest improv session I ever played. Paul was using just his synth – Juno 106 and the Roland Sh101, Milian was using his effects on his BCL (Loopstation, Pitchshifter etc.). Matthias came with a lot of sound toys – and even a banjo! I just used my drum set. We decided that this should be part of our live set.
Paul Frick has an album coming out soon too. All three acts have in common the attempt to widen the range of experimental, but yet accessible music, with the same aesthetic background of avant-garde music – electronic and acoustic. So it fits very well. But it also puts the focus on different areas. Nodding Terms is more on the complex avant-garde side, the improv act more on the improvisation, and Paul’s part is more on the club music approach.
Chain D.L.K.: Have you started performing on live stage? Any amazing feedback?
Ketan Bhatti: We just had our release concert. It was amazing. It was the first time that I was on stage and felt like: this is exactly what I want to do. This is my music without any compromises. The audience was a wide range, from a classical music audience to people who are more into Hip-Hop and Club music. They all seemed to like it.
Chain D.L.K.: Any other work in progress?
Ketan Bhatti: Uff. It’s a busy time right now. I have my Trickster Orchestra, which combines instruments from all over the world to make an intercultural avant-garde music, with which we will do a big project in September in Berlin and Istanbul. Vivan and I are writing an orchestra piece for a project with the Flying Steps for 2019, and we are doing a film score as we speak. Also, we are writing an Opera for Staatstheater Hannover for 2019; then there will be also a Portrait Concert of me hosted by the Van Magazin on 29.9.2018 in Berlin. So it doesn’t get boring too soon. 🙂
visit Ketan Bhatti on the web at: www.bhatti-music.de