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Program 703: Drones with Benefits

KALW Broadcast Date: July 3, 2022 | Host: Mark Abramson

Tonight’s program is called “Drones With Benefits,” music based around drones, enhanced with musical elements that give the listener more of a narrative to hold onto. There are tons of great examples of this approach, anything from LaMonte Young to the Velvet Underground. Tonight, we’ll focus on Indian classical singer and teacher, Pandit Pran Nath, and two of his American students – Jon Hassell and Terry Riley. Pandit Pran Nath was born in Lahore in 1918, to a wealthy Hindu family, and ran away from home at age thirteen to live in the house of a singer named Abdul Wahid Khan, first as a servant, then as a student. In the 1940s he moved to a cave-temple of Shiva near the city of Dehradun, India, where he lived as an ascetic for five years, spending much of his time singing a single note accompanied by the sound of the stream that rushed past his hermit’s cell. He moved to New Delhi to teach during the 1950s and 60s, but was unhappy with university work and turned off by the musical trends taking shape at the time. He ended up acquiring Western devotees in the 1960s, and moved to New York to take advantage of his associations there.

Tonight we’ll hear a 45-minute solo performance by Terry Riley of his work for electric organ and reel-to-reel tape delay, “Persian Surgery Dervishes.” This was recorded in Los Angeles on April 18, 1971. Then we’ll listen to a live performance by Pandit Pran Nath of a traditional raga called “Malkauns.” It’s a long work, over 40 minutes, recorded in 1971 in San Francisco. Accompanying him are Terry Riley on tabla, and Ann Riley and Simone Forti on tamburas, providing the drone. Finally, we’ll hear the title track of the first solo album by Jon Hassell, “Vernal Equinox.” This dates from 1976, before his 1980 collaboration with Brian Eno which brought him to most people’s attention.

Here’s the link to an article about Pandit Pran Nath that I refer to during the program: https://archive.bidoun.org/magazine/20-bazaar/lord-of-the-drone-pandit-pran-nath-and-the-american-underground-by-alexander-keefe/

Program Audio

30-Second Spot

Track Info & Links

Titles: Persian Surgery Dervishes (1971)
Composer: Terry Riley
Performer: Terry Riley – electric organ, reel-to-reel tape delay
Recording Title: Persian Surgery Dervishes (1972)
Record Label: Shandar
Catalog Number: 83 501


Title: Raga Malkauns
Composer: Traditional
Performers: Pandit Pran Nath, voice; Terry Riley, tabla; Ann Riley, tambura; Simone Forti, tambura
Recording Title: Midnight, Raga Malkauns (2003)
Record Label: Just Dreams
Catalog Number: JD 003


Titles: Vernal Equinox
Composer: Jon Hassell
Performers: Nana Vasconcelos, congas; David Rosenboom, tabla and dhumbek; Jon Hassell, trumpet; Drone on Serge Synthesizer and Motorola Scalatron
Recording Title: Vernal Equinox (1978)
Record Label: Lovely Music
Catalog Number: LML 1021

Raven Chacon
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