Amazing Environmental Audio from Maha Kumbh Mela

I’ve been back from India just over a year now, back living in the US and in that time its been a real struggle, both on a personal level and financially.
Looking back on that time, a half-year spent in India, thinking about it and thinking about how much I miss it, and yearn for the Utopian chaos to run through my veins once more.
I have edited my photography over and over trying to extract the essence of the experience. However the personal journey that India was to me, has obscured my objectivity, something that only time can distill.
I have started once again on the editing process, going back over the audio recordings I made, and in doing so, had an epiphany about the work. I realize that I have no choice but to go back to India, and capture more audio, this time with an expanded kit. And to dedicate much more time and effort into making quality environmental recordings.
Audio recordings offer a taste of reality that video and photography simply cannot touch. Where video has to be constructed to make a compelling presentation, and photography provides specificity, and depth, that depth is within just that contextual intimacy.
Audio offers a living reality of time based exploration. Audio treats the consciousness to a wide layered mental vision, one that the mind is intrinsically connected to, there is no learning to listen, whereas there is learning to read photographs.

This Location Sound during the Anup Jalota concert at Pilot Baba’s Ashram camp 2013 Maha Kumbh Mela, Sangam Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh India. I had decided to walk around the sector 9 area where the ashram was located, about 7 miles from the actual main bathing area.
You can hear all of the local sounds, and the far distant sounds of the millions (130,000,000 to be more accurate) of pilgrims who existed at the ‘city’. Headphones highly recommended. Sit back and enjoy the Mela as I did for thirteen minutes.

2013.05.30 BOMBAY

Bombay, not Mumbai. I prefer it, and the Bombers themselves call it Bombay anyway.

Its as hot as Goa was, but the humidity levels are off the charts. What I thought was humid in Goa was just for starters. Here its totally and completely insane. It takes 20 minutes to sweat out a liter of water. I go nowhere without a 2L bottle of Bisleri. Bisleri is the nice brand of water in India. Its an Indian company started by a French couple who came here some time ago and scoffed at the lack of good clean drinking water in bottles. Since then of course, there are others. Bailey, which is harder to find, but equally as good and the same price. 1L bottles are about 15 rupees, 2L bottles are 25 rupees, depending of course if you ask the price, because most street vendors will try and hoodwink you and make you pay more even thought he price is moderately unclearly marked on the bottles themselves. The Batch Number, date and Price “(inclusive of all taxes)”. But I still like to ask because I like to see the honesty levels of the vendors. Most outside of Goa and so far Bombay, are not honest and some, even when you show them the price will argue the price with you. Old school values; haggle. Theres no haggling in America. We are soft now, lazy, the price is the price. I still like to ask for a deal when I have to go to the Apple store just to fuck with the doe-eyed whizz-kid clerks. Who cares if Steve Jobs had $750,000,000,000 in the bank before he stepped out, he shouldn’t have had that much money anyway, he should have by virtue of the fact that he travelled India himself, known that that money would have been better off in the hands of those who know what to do with it to make their days a little brighter. Like those tribal families out there on the street in front of the hostel Im currently in. They are rolling with the rats, and their children are playing cricket and badminton amongst the traffic “OUT”! I saw that, that was out! Ballard market, haha what a fucking Joke, ‘fixed prices’ total and complete bullshit.
Oh look at that Im sweating as I’m shitting here in relative comfort of porcelain three floors above you, and the little brown children with blue string around their waists are dropping their payloads into cracks in the pavement. Their shit is cleaner then yours though -and you fucking better believe it.

 

Small Room

I remembered there was a small guesthouse on the corner of the Chaudi-Arpora road, a place called Gods Grace. It exists on a blind elbow smothered in undergrowth at which there is a low concrete single track railway bridge, trains pass by at 60 minute intervals at night and 30 minute intervals during the day, an even split of passenger and transport trains, mostly ore and trucks in which the drivers sit in their cabs baking in the heat and smoking cigarettes with their feet out of the windows.

I am in Chapora, which is the most southern ‘county’ of Goa before Karnataka state. This road cambers gently and is well cared for with good reflective paint on the edge, at night there is zero illumination, which, if you happen you stray, you’ll end up in mangrove swamps on both sides. It ends at a dimly lit avenue going right into the Talpona River, at which there is a bus stop eluding to a once existing bridge which is now no longer there. For the unwitting, one could accidentally end up in that river with zealous use of the accelerator.

There is a distinct Hitchcockian feel to Gods Grace. It is nestled in amongst a cup of foliage the building itself a pale blue and white stark building with little or no style in of itself a concrete courtyard slopes steeply down to the bend in the road, its dry and dusty despite being in a mangrove swamp. On the back side there is a cliff and on the other side it trails off back into the mangroves.
The electro diesel locomotives, you can hear from 20 km out, it huffs, snarls, creaks and pants its way along the track in sonically crystal clear southern sky. Punching the heavy humid air with clean crisp riots of horn, against a pitch black indigo night the air heavy like premium felt. The shape of sound as its shot directly forward from the front of the hulking Cyclops steel behemoth a single eye pitched in golden warning, lights up my room as it winds it way along a shallow trajectory to the straight path of the bridge and into the cushioning undergrowth, the rip-roaring earthquake grows louder and louder heavier and heavier like a concussion, a deep low hum oscillates two per second embellished with silver brightness of bogies on track the train says this’n’that and this’n’that…this’n’that and this’n’that. Pockets of clarity open as the undergrowth subsides shifting and baffling metallic industrial with heavy chugs in a low rumble. Then suddenly the world is ripped and a the fabric of existence is torn open and with a burst of trapped air everything is consumed in a massive all encompassing sound that covers you like paint and takes precedence over everything else, no birds sing no voices heard only complex rhythm and malevolent mechanics in time, space and relativity, screaming forward fulfilling its existence. And with a fold of the envelope, the sound is all at once gone back to idyllic sweetness of quiet nature in a remote spot of land on the coast of the Arabian sea.

FROM PUSHKAR TO BHOPAL

The heat becomes you. Heat dictates everything. Your life revolves around it. In extreme temperatures, anything above 38c, the body reacts differently, even for those who are used to heat. It takes over your actions, what you do, how you do it, when you do things where you do things, what you eat, what you drink, and how much of both. Heat mandates that you segregate everything and do those tasks in small amounts. Currently its averaging between 38c and 44c surprisingly enough I have been fine in the extremes. I have to wear socks in my shoes because my shoes become too hot for my skin, and in places where you are not allowed to wear shoes it is essential that you have socks on because the temperature of the ground is enough to dry spit in 20 seconds. It will make an ice cold 1L bottle of water hot –30c– in 20 minutes. Inside a car that is reduced to about 10 minutes. Its easy to print figures and say oh look its 44c outside, but its a different thing entirely to know how those figures actually behave in terms of what those figures mean

 

The decision to leave Pushkar was made for me by the enticing idea of working again on a project Im not allowed to discuss. Needless to say its a sensitive topic in India and lives are at stake, as well as our own freedom if it were discovered what we were trying to achieve in terms of truth telling through documentary.

This is probably the biggest current affair topic Ive worked on in the last decade, and it feels good to be back in the loop -hows that for ego?

 

Pushkar was ultimately a fulcrum point for me in terms of learning how to deal with a few things by my self. I spent 11 days there two of them were completely buried in unemployment bullshit from the US, Im still fighting that decision now after a year because it wont leave me alone. Im so over it that Im over being over it. Do much so that when it came to paying the bill in the SunSet hotel I thought Id only been there five days instead of seven.
I also went through a period of self reflection and spent a few days meditating on matters. Something brought me clarity. After that I started meeting interesting people. There is nothing like silence for three days to really make you think. My sweet friend Isil from Istanbul who I met in Varanasi went on a retreat for that very same purpose but did it for ten days, and what she said she got from it was life changing. Im changing my opinions on meditation. Meditation is different from alone time. Alone time to me is something that I have to have, its time to do my shit anything I want for a period of time every day. I need it or I go nutso, but i know that a small doses are better then big doses, makes you appreciate that time more.

Pushkar was also a challenge for me in that I had to stand up for the things I believe in and accept that those beliefs clashed with the beliefs of others, and with that discourse has to be opened to find common ground. I spent a day with a fantastically independent free thinking woman named Daisy who rambled with me for many hours on many topics and in that period opened my eyes to things I hadn’t even begun to think about. Her ideas rattled me and made me think hard about derivatives of those sentiments.

Pushkar is tiny, and you could see everything in a day and a half, but its so relaxing that I had to stay, sit and soak in the heat the light and the silence of the mid afternoon sun. I never did trek up any of those hills like I wanted to, but Im not really that bothered. The place gave me something else instead and I’m more then happy with that.

 

It was surprizingly easy to get a ticket out in the end. I had been trying to get a ticket for a few days and I kept going to these rat-hole travel “agents” that tell you that they cant get you anything for whatever reason. Finally I went to the highstreet guy and he instantly got me an express train directly from Ajmere to Bhopal, 5pm departure 6am arrival. Bingo. I got on the train, bedded in, played videogames for a few minutes fell asleep and woke up in Bhopal. How perfect is that?

 

Arriving back in Bhopal again, was a little strange but it gave me confidence, because the city the first time was a bit intimidating for me arriving in India, and this time around it was familiar and the people here are definitely more relaxed, have a great sense of humour and dont try and rip the tourists off because nobody comes to bhopal for tourism, so Im Mr Exotic Noveltypants again. Its dominated by Indian Muslims, and after being in Hindu dominated places for two months, I can honestly say that Islamics are definitely more grounded and have less conflict within the religion then Hindu seems to. Also the food is better.

 

ME MATE STeve said i would just for the crack.

an indian menue in restaraunts are notorious for the most imagintive phonetic spelling of english words. Ive seen Shup on the menu, and when I asked the witer, he said ‘Soup” through a bushy mustache and mouth full of mangled red teeth, and with an indian broken english. Magic.
The best one Ive never sen was told to me by a neighbour in pushkar, guy names Lance who was a 63yo guy who looked 52, his buddy steve and their wives. they were totally great, I loved the reconnect to old times through these guys.
Lance told me that in one restairant he was here the spelling for ice Cream was all perfect except the last one which was two seperate words “Black Krunt”.

I think that takes the cherry.

Observations from Varanasi pt.1

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Cows and Sponges

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Bathing in sacred Ganga.

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Varanasi is as much about the rooftops as the Tola’s (streets).

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As children we learn to share..

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Monkey King on the rooftops Varanasi (at night, during a black-out).

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A Sadhu came and joined us on he Ghats for a smoke of Chilum. Chilum has made me sick in the three times Ive tried it. I hate the taste and the effects are crap.

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Lava.

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A Swede and a Norwegian two very nice travellers I met on my first week in Varanasi, took a bathe in the Ganga, not me however. I just take the pictures.

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First light on the Ghats.

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Theres a street photography gem around every nook here..

 

Thoughts In Place 201307-14

And now its time to go. After 24 nights in Varanasi I am leaving tomorrow to go to a city named Jaipur, a place I have no idea about. I dont know whats there or anything about it. All I know is that Im going to pick up a ticket at 2pm for a train that leaves at 6.15 tomorrow either from here in Varanasi or from another station called Mughalsarai which is 17km from here and an additional 500rupee taxi ride. Preferably I get the train from Varanasi because its a slightly higher class carriage 2ACs which means Class 2 Air Conditioning Sleeper, which equates to double layer bunks. If I get the other train its a 3ACs which means its 500rupees less and there are triple layer bunks or not very comfortable and more people to potentially steal you shit. I know that 2AC has food onboard and its less likely that the train will have as much human traffic on the ‘relatively’ short trip Im taking. The ride will be approximately 17 hours heading West, most of it at night and so I can in theory lay back and struggle with a book.
The concept was that I leave here to go to ultimately Pushkar which is a beside Ajmer a small city. Pushkar is very attractive, built on a sacred Hindu lake with lots of hills surrounding it, and it’ll be like a tiny Varanasi with ghat’s encompassing the lake edge. My plan was to be there for about four days and then move on up north past Delhi and into the foothills of the Himalaya to a place called Rishikesh which is the spiritual home of Yoga, but Im not a Yogi so Id be going there for a few days and then on to Dharmsala where Dalai Lama lives, and again not to visit him but to just experience the place. Typically its cold, but its mid spring here and everything is getting hotter. India gets hot in the summer then then breaks into Monsoon . Hot means 40c. Delhi get to be 50c in the summer before Monsoon.
originally the plan was to go to Udaipur a gorgeous city In Rajasthan, which is supposedly one of the most attractive states in northern India, its 5 seconds of fame was that James Bond Octopussy was partially filmed there. Its also famous for many lakes and temples built on islands in the middle of the lakes.
However.. Im not going to Udaipur because I couldn’t get a ticket there. So instead I go 2/3 the distance and get off at Jaipur and have to find another way to get to Ajmer and then on to Pushkar. But theres one caveat now, and that is I am being asked to go to Delhi to record sound for some project my colleague has up his sleeve and to be honest I don’t really want to go to Delhi unless I have to be there, because its massive and congested and polluted. However there are opportunities and I get to meet a world famous Seattleite Tabla player and sound recordist. And Ill at least have someone there to hold my hand a bit. I just suspect that its going to a very expensive endeavor to be there.

This has been a test, for me to learn the definitive answer about decision making. The last three years have been a steady challenge of overcoming my fear about trusting yourself and trusting that I have the capability to make a decision knowing that its the right one. I haven’t been very good at it all my life, and I definitely have not been good about it here in Varanasi. I was sick for a period and then sick again, and they were my excuses for not getting out sooner, but now after being here for so long, Im actually glad I stayed because I got to see Varanasi as the Maha Kumbh Mela after-party city, and then the tourists left and it got quiet for a moment and then Shivaratri happened which brought in devout Indian pilgrims from the south by the train and truckload, party like only Indians can and then get right back on their transports for the 49 hour train ride south to the hellishly hot temperatures. And then Varanasi becomes quiet again and the long term tourists peek out from the doors of their guesthouses and a few familiar faces reappear. Its great to experience a city so surreal and unbelievable for an extended period because you get to build up relationships with locals and ultimately get a much better feel for how the place works. No doubt about it when I leave it will seem like a truly surreal experience having existed there within those ancient caverns and deep rich spiritual traditions.

Leaving a place in India requires forethought and planning, because nothing happens when you want it to. Five minutes is not five minutes, its Indian five minutes. This is how India works. If you want to go somewhere then you have to think ahead and book now, because you wont get a ticket (even if you pay ever increasing bribe prices), so thinking ahead is quite the psychological quagmire. I have to figure out where Im going, and its never that easy, because you have to think about the place, and then the next place after that and the place after that, so that you can leave go there and then move on and then on and use the momentum to keep you motivated alert and inspired. Otherwise you get stuck in a place and its hard to move on because its cheap, comfortable and easy. Traveling is hard, its hard on the body and on the mind. An Oasis in travel is a base or a stop. Varanasi just has possibly the worst case scenario for access in and out of the city as Indian cities go. Its ancient and designed for human access only, despite the livestock which meander through the Tola’s and the fat Indian ladies that squabble and gossip and stop every three seconds to argue a price on a bag or a design on a Saree, and then usually not buy anything at all, did I mention the millions of stray dogs, the cow shit, dog shit, man shit and rivulets piss, at least the Red Faced monkeys are smart enough to stay on the rooftops. And then theres the shrines everywhere, every corner ledge, doorway and stair harbors a shrine to any number of gods, Varanasi is the Hindu city and its the fulcrum for an incredible amount of worship activity. Personal space is diminished by about 90% for the most part.

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Thats haircut number five now, for me, in India. I can count them because they are all unforgettable experiences. You get a haircut and then you get a shave and then you get a face massage and then you get a head massage and then you get a spinal adjustment and then you get arm alignment and muscle relaxing hand massages. These barbers work very hard, and spend time with you, they know your body and your head and how they relate. They take care of you sometimes you get a mid break chai. And then he meditates on your head and you can fucking feel energy between you and him. Electrical harmonic energy on some very distinct level.

Like a tailor he wields a scissors with accuracy and precision, imagining my hair was a piece of finely woven linen and his scissors a piece of cheese chalk gliding and stroking like Morse code on my head. The sound of scissors (not shears) these are well polished and honed pig iron twisted to form the blades of a sheers the blades never snag or rip, they are razor sharp and the boy fidgets with his scissor hand to keep the momentum going. Fast like a motor the hand shimmers over the grey and clips the cuts like a line of formation, and the forest falls away.

Then theres the shave, the shave is in three parts; the application of the foam. Some places make it from a shaving soap bar, some places use it in a tube. Either way its brushed up into a lather and slapped like whitewash over your face, the brush glides and glitches as it mops your face like pouring melted ice cream on your skin and then its done. You have a moment while the barber opens his blade box pulls out a brand new razor peels the individual white paper envelope from the flat and pierced piece of metal and drops it in to his blade vice and drops the cinching lever down on it. He pushes your head back into the head rest you forgot was there and stretches your skin with the side of his thumb and runs a fine edge over your face you can hear the crackle of roots as they snap with the blade. The picture he paints with his razor brush is one of experience and knowing how hair grows and the best way to make it disappear. Drawing short sweeps away from your ears, down along your jawline and up from your neck to your chin, he completes the edge with a bevel run along the ridge of your jawline to your chin and back toe our other ear. From the edge of your lips to the center, lifting your nose to get the Maharaja of all shaves. He runs the blade straight on not as at angle, to clear the woods before he can actually get on to the second round.
The second round is faster but its all business. The whitewash is reapplied and the blade sits at 90 degrees and is drawn like a portcullis over the skin while stretching your face to accommodate the blade. The sensation is different, there is less resistance and there is a mild burning sensation trailing the blade but is gone in the same instant. The towel comes and gently maps your face with two strong hands inside it, opening your face from the center along the line of your nose. Your eyes are rubbed, your ears are cleaned and your nose is squeezed and there is no hiding the contents of your nose from these guys; they clean your face.
The face massage starts instantly with a cool barrage of viscus gel rubbed into every area of your face, ears, eyes and around all corners and is applied with the symmetry of two fast hands, your skin soaks it up and he wipes it off and then applies aftershave, the ultra cleansing pore cleaner and nervous system wakeup call. He rubs it in with rough hands, his skin is professional grade labor quality texture, and the warmth of his hands belies the capability of the tools.

The towel is removed and replaced with something smoother, like the curtains of intermission, a chai comes you open your eyes and the mirrors of the room show more boys in the room now because theres a white guy getting the works so theres curiosity. Someone puts their phone on the table and puts on a pop song with religious lyrics, they can all sing the lyrics and jesus can they sing and know how to make their voices change pitch mid refrain. The heat of the masala chai wafts up your nose and you can smell the ginger accents. The sweet milk offsets the ginger and tea to make a quick charge down your throat and into the realm of satisfaction.

The face massage begins, by mapping the shape of your head with his thumb and forefinger on each hand and acts out an Art Nouveau ribbon line in gold and green on your skull mapping the pulse points, the shape, the symmetry, and the metaphysical currents of electrical elements and their points of congestion. More pressure is applied at certain meridian points and intersecting crossroads, like thumbs in latex, re-routing and redirecting the bioelectrical traffic. Clearing your mind, and vacuuming out the static.
You are put in a trance and the hands go to work: fingernails rattle across the cobblestones on top of your head, the roots of your hair are manipulated and woven back to life, Oils are applied, poured into the hand and rubbed together until heated to the right temperature to affect the most amount of effectiveness. There is a heavy clapping on the crown of your head like the sound of shoed hooves on stone, a clopping sound is made and the hollow drop of the heal of the hand is applied heaviest at the back of the crown and the break of air inside the hand make for an wide echo in your entranced brain. It also serves to release something in your brain, like a spell and suddenly you are aware of your other senses. Sound becomes clear as crystal and the clanging of the Shiva bells for temple arrest you with gentle awareness because you’ve been hearing them the whole way through but didnt fully realize it. And so begins a slow but serious breakdown of your sinuses, through pinching up of the eyebrows and gentle eyelid rotations followed by pinching the soft skin of the lid and lifting it off your eyeballs and dropping it back a few times, and instantly your eyesight is improved. The smells of the shop and of your own clothes come back to you like a snap. A single hum of an electrical box finds you and takes to you an extended state, your neck and shoulder are braces and gripped by strong clamping hands biting your sinews and awakening muscle, the mass is manipulated and your head is separated from your shoulder in a powerful fanning of ligament.
The shoulder is clopped softly and your arm is taken by the barber and put on his shoulder and from the arm pit the muscle is tenderized and the arm is twisted all the way along its trajectory and up in to the hand until your palm faces the wrong way and your fingers are gripped like a bundle of twigs and rotated, your wrist pops first, then your lower thumb joint then your knuckles, the hand is rotated the other way, and the shoulder pops. your hands are placed by your sides and there is a water spritz on your face, the towel comes back and your are truly worshipped.

It is also amazing to see the face to the barber when he is working on you. There is nothing but dedication and a most amazing sense of ultimate concentration. There is much physical effort put in to a ‘haircut’ here; the barber will cut your hair with scissors not an electric clipper and the momentum kept in the hand that operates the scissor is non stop. I know from my stylist friends how hard that is on your hands, and then there is the massage element on top of that also. The experience is nothing but stellar.

End of Maha Kumbh Mela & Beginning of Varanasi

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