Aniruddha Dutta, "Modal Modulation Through Graha Bhedam: Notes On Attempted Musical Translation"

Apr 7, 2023

01:30 PM - 02:20 PM

Voxman Music Building, 2

93 East Burlington Street, Iowa City, IA 52240

Save to My Events

Recent years have seen an increasing interest in modes and modulation across modes among western classical, jazz, and film music practitioners. In parallel, there are increased experiments in modulation across ragas (roughly, melodic modes) in South Asian, especially South Indian, classical music—a practice known as graha bhedam in South India and murchhana in the north. However, there does not seem to be much dialogue across these practices yet—at least, not as much as there could be. While the contemporary western interest in modal modulation might be seen as an inheritor to 20th century approaches that sought alternatives beyond both common practice conventions and (post)modernist orthodoxies, the exploration of graha bhedam in South Asia is suggestive of a breakdown of earlier rigidities around the concept of raga resulting from the reification of "national" tradition and culture in colonial British India. In that context, this presentation will not really attempt a detailed ethnomusicological analysis of these diverse developments, but rather, broach an attempted dialogue across these tendencies toward the aim of facilitating an epistemically equitable translation across musical traditions that is hopefully also useful from a practitioner’s perspective. Too often, eastern musics have been regarded as exotic spiritual or mystical resources or even as dead, fossilized traditions (Boulez 1984; Born and Hesmondhalgh 2000). Through an account of my own journey with graha bhedam, I tentatively propose that engaging with graha bhedam could not only provide resources for expanding the possibilities of modal modulation but also make for a translational process that takes the conceptual resources of South Asian music seriously and helps to deconstructively transform both western and South Asian musical concepts into new musical possibilities, rather than externally ‘fusing’ supposedly predefined, clearly bounded traditions. 

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa–sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires a reasonable accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact in advance at