I seem to have inadvertently made an album. The process started, innocently
enough, when in the summer of 1999 Steve Coe (my long-standing
co-writer, producer and cohort) suggested I do a couple of experimental
EPs with him in his Ganges Orchestra guise on the Indipop label to help
me break out of the voice and drone 'mode' I had been in throughout the
Nineties. The Ganges Orchestra is a concept basically a different
box of ideas in which we file anything that doesn't fit in with the main
structure of what we are writing at the time or anything too wacky to
put on an 'Oh-so-serious' Sheila Chandra album. Indipop's ethic has always
been more maverick and less glossy than mine and periodically we do musically
mad things together because if you only ever do the things that 'make
sense' you might as well tell your imagination to pack up and go home.
For me, the structure that is set up initially makes a lot of difference.
If you tell me Ive only got 5 notes to play with to make a melody,
you get a very different result than if you tell me I've got all 12 semitones
to play with. When Steve and I collaborate as Sheila Chandra and the Ganges
Orchestra, we set up a different game. Its as different as going
from playing poker to playing patience.
The EEPs, as they came to be known, eventually evolved over a period
of a year and a half into this album. The emerging theme of the recordings,
if they have one, is the space we inhabit between being vibration sensitive
and word sensitive.It's an ongoing dilemma for Steve, who both over-uses
and distrusts words. So much of my work as a solo artist has been about
finding ways to express emotion beyond words and making sure that my music
always contains enough on the visceral level to stand up to the scrutiny
required beyond that sense of 'worthiness' which the 'world music' genre
has so often attracted.
'Mien (demeanor, countenance) is about the mistrust and misuse of words.
The spoken section is part of a speech I gave in 1991 in high-flown Khazak
to about 10,000 people in an Olympic Stadium just outside Alma Ata (about
50 miles from the Chinese border). I was there as part of a music festival
to celebrate the local language and culture and to push back the tide
of 'Russification' which had taken hold.
As the festival was being broadcast live right across the USSR, I wanted
to show my support, not just by being there, but also by speaking to the
Khazaks directly in their own language. When I addressed them, a roar
of incredulity went up from the crowd. At the end of each sentence 10,000
people went bananas cheering, whistling, waving and on their feet.
When you feel, as great orators must, that your words have such great
power, the sensation is so dizzying that it becomes hard to remember that
one is just stating an opinion.
The nature of speech became so apparent to me, the way contest gets
diminished and the spin gets enlarged. The manner in which