Kavish Seth

Arts Practice

Grant Period: One year

Kavish Seth is a singer, songwriter and poet based in Mumbai. He has performed across the country. He conceptualised Zubaan, a music project that aims to create platforms for collaboration between independent music artists from different corners of India. It has now become a collective of more than 40 artists in major towns and villages. Through Zubaan, Kavish has facilitated collaborations and organised more than a hundred music performances until now in Odisha, Varanasi, Deoria, Kausani, Khetri, Nagpur, Wardha, Gadchiroli, Mumbai and Kolkata. Over the last few years, Kavish has been working on the creation of a new musical instrument that he has named ‘Noori’. This grant enables further development on the early drafts of the instrument towards creating the final version of it.

In August last year, IFA circulated a call for proposals soliciting project ideas especially in the field of music. The call came from the concern that we were not receiving enough proposals in the field of music across our grant programmes. This proposal by Kavish Seth came to us in response to that call. 

Most string instruments in India that are part of the current Indian classical repertoire, are generally considered to be adaptations and refinements that have taken place over several centuries on a family of central Asian string instruments. As part of codified classical music systems, in terms of design, materiality and sound, many of these instruments have become fixed. Their categorisation into instrument types such as idiophones, membranophones, chordophones and so on, and classical music’s strict division of instruments as melodic and percussion have contributed to this rigidity, thereby restricting new possibilities of their expression. This is certainly not to say that there have been no experiments in this area in the recent years. However, such experiments are very few and most of them do not attempt to holistically address aspects of design, materiality and sound. In this project, Kavish seeks to create an instrument that takes all these into account.

Kavish was deeply inspired to create a new instrument after a gentleman, watching him play the guitar, advised him to ‘create his own music’. It was then that he set out to find for himself a new sound vocabulary and a new instrument that would enable a contemporary musical expression, while still keeping its connections to the rich legacy of Indian string instruments. He conceptualised a design that could break the boundaries of fretted / non-fretted, and string / percussion instruments and enable him to move seamlessly between them. Thus was created the first draft on the instrument that he named ‘Noori’. Noori has a fingerboard that has both fretted and non-fretted string sections and a wood / skin soundboard that can be played as a percussion instrument. Noori’s musical sensibilities combine influences from the rubab, sarod, guitar and djembe.

With this grant, Kavish will make further refinements to a basic draft of Noori that he has already created. He will add two or three chikaris (drone strings) to Noori; the soundboard will be made round and tuneable; there will be experiments towards making the instrument lighter by exploring options like lighter wood and thinning the neck; and use of a truss rod which will reduce the dampening of the sound and make the sound more projectable. There will also be experiments towards making a moveable fretboard and a removable fingerboard for flat and scalloped frets. There will be experiments with synthetic variations of string and skin as well as plectrums. In the end, Kavish wants to have an instrument that is both string and percussive and has monophonic, polyphonic and microtonal possibilities. For this, he will work closely with Nizamji, a senior luthier in Delhi.

The outcomes of this project will be two iterations of the instrument, one evolving from the other. At every stage of iteration, work-in-progress performances and sharing sessions will be held for intimate audiences in cafes and other unconventional spaces, where feedback will be sought. Kavish will also explore possibilities of larger performances. Deliverables from this project to IFA will be video and audio documentation of the instrument making process and the performances and sharing sessions.

One of the evaluators of this proposal noted that the project ‘looks towards Central Asia and it is good to see Indian musicians re-familiarising themselves with this area.’ In addition to retracing instrument roots and histories, IFA hopes that this project will open new conversations between artists and instrument makers and pave the way for collaborative processes and innovations in the field of music. Further, we also hope that this will provide the much needed fillip to instrument makers and bring in new dimensions into their practice.