In just a few months, it will have been two years since I interviewed Lachlan Dale for our What’s In a Label series. As label manager for Art As Catharsis and Worlds Within Worlds, he’s released some of our favorite albums from the last several years, including music from his own band Hashshashin. I kicked off my review of the band’s last album Badakhshan with a quote from our interview about world music. I won’t reuse it here, mainly because I hope you’ll read his full, insightful answer. Rather, I’ll compare it to a recent sentiment expressed by Parasite director Bong Joon-ho about the Western indifference toward foreign films:
Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.
I think many of us run into a similar issue with “world music,” starting with the label itself. We appreciate when bands in familiar genres incorporate musical traditions from cultures removed from our own, and occasionally, we’ll appreciate these traditions directly if they’re introduced via a comfortable medium like film or television. Yet, for reasons in and out of our control, music from the West frequently overshadows that of the East, and we leave plenty of excellent albums on the table. This is the case despite having a myriad of curation tools at our disposal; search any genre or country in Rate Your Music and you can fill an afternoon with styles you’ve never heard of before.
Progress begins with effort and intent, which is something I’ve aimed to do this year. I’ve added “region,” “country,” and “sub-genre” columns to my Master Music Doc so I can track where my listening habits are sourced from, with an underlying goal of stretching beyond familiar territories. I also recently recorded a podcast with a friend where we explored East Asian music from across styles, countries, and decades. It’s been a work in progress, but an illuminating and worthwhile process nonetheless.
Of course, the compliment to my listening habits is writing about what I discover, which is to say we’ve now arrived at the point of this post: celebrating sitarist Josh Feinberg and his excellent new album Time Does Not Exist For Light. I’ve dabbled in Indian classical music in the past, namely with the Carnatic stylings of Saagara. Yet, the group is led by Polish clarinetist and composer Wacław Zimpel, and as such, they take on elements of third stream that enhance their compositions but dilute the authenticity of origin. Feinberg, on the other hand, fully embraces the traditions of North Indian classical music on an album that should transcend listeners’ backgrounds and provide a transportive, stunning experience.
Feinberg’s dedication to his craft far precedes Time Does Not Exist For Light. As the album’s Bandcamp page explains, his experience is drawn from the Maihar Gharana school, one of the major instrumental schools of playing in North Indian classical music. He describes his relationship with the sitar as follows:
The sitar, and Hindustani music, is one of the most complex and beautiful musical traditions the world has produced. Great art not only transcends time, but also boundaries. We don’t question any longer if someone from anywhere in the world can be a great guitarist or violinist, and it is my dharma to bring that same open-minded understanding to the sitar. People hear my music and accept me in the Hindustani tradition with open arms, judging with their ears and not with their eyes. With access to knowledge and education, mixed with hard work, we can do anything. We are boundless.
While my knowledge of these musical traditions might be limited, the central beauty of Time Does Not Exist For Light (besides its gorgeous instrumentation) is how clearly Feinberg conveys these beliefs through his music. Joined by Shahbaz Hussain playing the tabla, Feinberg dazzles with hypnotic sitar textures accented with subtle, steady percussion. Each of the album’s five track run around the 15-minute mark, yet the hour-and-a-half total feels timeless. Feinberg’s playing effortlessly transports the listener to Northern India, as if for a fleeting moment we can bear witness to a sacred ceremony far removed from our own Western experiences.
In essence, Time Does Not Exist For Light requires a dedicated, meditative listen to fully appreciate and understand. Even so, the album’s impact is immediate once the first notes from Feinberg’s sitar wash over you. Whether this style of music is outside your purview or comfort zone, it’s worth challenging any preconceived notions and exploring one of the finest classical music albums of the year, regardless of tradition or country of origin.
Time Does Not Exist For Light is available now via Worlds Within Worlds.