Nanda Devi by Hans Christian

Music Reviews

Chinmaya Dunster reviews New Earth Record’s latest release.

Nanda Devi by Hans ChristianThe mountain as metaphor

Christian is an impressive multi-(stringed) instrumentalist. His list on this CD includes cello; Indian dilruba (bowed sitar), swaramandala (autoharp), sitara (small sitar) and sarangi; Swedish nyckelharpa (key fiddle), medieval psaltery (bowed small harp), lapsteel guitar, electric guitar, and fretless bass, all of which he plays with integrity and devotion.

His music is dense with texture and layered sounds and, until the final two tracks, floats without rhythm. I particularly enjoyed the first of these (‘Between Dusk and Dawn’) with its spirited Pink Floyd-esque electric guitar swirling over the groove. In general the influence of Western Classical is obvious on this CD, with the Indian instruments providing exotic timbre rather than any clear extension of melodic depth.

It reminds me of trekking up through Nanda Devi’s skirts, along rushing rivers bordered by pristine jungles, where every rock is home to leaf, moss or fungus, where the boom of rivers creates rhythm and birdsong evokes melodies. So far so good – music as verdant passion – but Christian’s stated aspirations reach higher when he states: “As I was gazing at images of this beautiful mountain in the Himalayas, and as the music was playing softly in the background I realized that the music was a soundtrack to my inner ascent of my inner sacred mountain.”

Such symbolism harks back to eighteenth century Romanticism’s discovery of reverence for nature in the raw, when mountains, no longer seen as mere dangerous barriers to free movement, became symbols of individuals struggle for transcendence. It converges with older Indian traditions of retreat to the Himalayas as a renunciate in old age, and Buddhist stories of guardian deities dwelling on mountaintops, which have infected many of us in the West with the idea that transformation and meditation are to be found more readily in high mountains.

Actually as a regular visitor to the Nanda Devi area, I picked up this CD out of curiosity. It seems valid for me then to ask myself if the title and sleeve notes (“The mountain has become a metaphor of an inner process of remembering our innocence and our divine essence.”) are mere New Age flim flam, and if not, whether Christian’s music succeeds in transmitting something of this metaphor of an inner ascent, nurtured by contemplation of a mountain, to listeners?

First of all, if there is an inner ascent to be made at all, it must be from a comfortably safe distance from the reality. I have trekked up to a point as close to Nanda Devi’s forbidding ramparts of deadly ice as travellers are allowed these days* and have heard the silence up there; it is far too overwhelming a silence to be conducive to music making, and neither fingers nor singing voice respond well to the emptiness of that chilling altitude. Only an egoistic desire to conquer takes humans further up, supported by an industry of mountaineering technology. Pursuing this far the metaphor of mountain as struggle seems far too serious for my taste!

Apart from rare moments by the greatest artists of Hindustani classical, only Zen seems to me to have attempted to capture in music the emptiness beyond this point. Perhaps the silence between the notes tends to dominate and ultimately engulf the notes themselves: after all Tansen’s teacher Haridas played only for himself towards the end of his life; Hazrat Inayat Khan left the sitar to concentrate on his spiritual teaching; Osho abandoned his childhood flute playing after his Enlightenment.

No blame at all then that Christian’s intense musicality keeps him rooted in the emotions of the lower slopes. In fact I find the times when he is obviously enjoying himself the most, as on those last two tracks, the most convincing and elevating. And that echoes my own enjoyment of the Goddess’ flamboyant skirts and the villagers who dwell amidst them, rather than the numbing purity of the rock and snow slopes above her waistline.

Reviewed by Chinmaya Dunster

* note: a point just over half way up the mountain, outside the Inner Sanctuary at the base of the peak, which has been closed to trekkers and mountaineers the past twenty years.

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Hans ChristianOriginally from Germany, Hans Christian started his musical career in Los Angeles in the 1980s as a sought-after bass player and developed his skills as musician, producer and recording engineer. He co-founded the World Music group Rasa. Since 2011 he has been joining the GuruGanesha Band. His solo concert schedule includes annual concerts on both US coasts. Hans resides in Wisconsin where he operates a recording studio.

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