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BLOT! is Avinash Kumar and Gaurav Malaker — an electronic arts collective based out of New Delhi. See some of their work on

Why achieving a fruitful collaboration is easier said than done

A still from the silent film Metropolis (1927)

ne of us got married last week (not to the other).

Thanks to the benevolence of the wife's friend, we had an all night rave at her farmhouse. It was splendid and amusing to see how something as simple as a night full of dance music is something that happens so rarely in Delhi, in spite of us being "in the scene", so to speak. It has brought about some talk on starting a club of our own, but perhaps that's best left to after-party conversations. That aside, the wedding provided a chance to record my eccentric Tam Bram uncles and aunts belting out Carnatic bhajans for our upcoming video game.

Fresh from a major bonding ceremony such as a wedding, we thought it might be appropriate to speak about partnerships and collaborations in music, as always using our own experiences as cases for the same. In particular, we will reflect on the collaboration between music and visuals since that's of special interest to us as BLOT!

It might be apparent that the experience of a solo practice differs from that of a collaborative one. It is the manner in which this differs that makes embracing both aspects of the practice a crucial attitude to live by and live for. Let us start with the simpler situation of making music and video work together and keep them at the back of our heads as metaphors for two individuals.

Which comes first: music or visuals? A simple question, but loaded in meaning if broken down. Or do they come together as a single pipe of experience?

The early decades of the 20th century saw an explosion in the growth and adoption of cinema. Starting out as silent pieces, and perceived in equal parts as technological marvel and exciting medium, the mechanical eye was also adopted by a small band of avant-garde artists who went about exploring non-narration and poetry, and arrived at visual music; pieces that explore the representation and generation of musical experiences through visuals.

ilent films and visual music films present two sides of the audiovisual spectrum; the former celebrating the purity of the visual alone (or a solo practice of sight), and the latter proposing the complete transformation of one to the other (a situation of such complete collaboration that the visual becomes music itself, both in play and structure.) From this metaphysical vantage point, let's think again about the relationship between music and visuals.

My wife has been teaching me yoga since last year, and we had a pretty interesting exchange yesterday about the dynamics of doing the practice together. To cut a long side-story short, what I realised was that by following our own patterns of breath and asanas (or by going "out of sync with each other") we were free to be ourselves without the extra "processing" of a partner. But in the act of practicing in the presence of the other — by being ourselves but together — there was a sense of complete union, thus reinforcing the basis of the practice itself.

The above scenario is useful in describing what could be a good attitude while establishing partnerships for, and with music. I see the same approach to being on stage and performing between the two of us — we let each other be; in preparation, and on stage.

This might not be the best strategy for situations that do indeed need a lot of collaboration in preparation, and where getting in each other's face a bit does more good than bad. This highlights the flip side of the discussion so far — that the spirit of partnerships can sometimes be counterproductive. How many times have you been tolerant of your friend while you should have been cursing the partner in him or her? The point here is that from the time a willingness to collaborate has been struck, the relationship will explore all points on the continuum between two people. This is true for music and video; it's true for a DJ and a VJ; and it holds truer for two people trying to relate to each other.

There will be times and spaces for solo purism and there will be others for mashed up goulash, but mostly it will be odd mixes and patches of two personalities grappling with each other. If these shifting currents can be navigated with an understanding of their inherent dynamics, then partnerships — whether creative or personal — can hope to sustain themselves in relative peace and constructive glory.

Let's not forget that the primal function of the arts is to express and explore new ways of communicating with the self and others. It is the resonance of these expressions over the course of mankind that legitimises and articulates present-day professions and professionals. When artists lose touch with this everyday appreciation of their craft, musical and artistic partnerships will discover a hollow core within.

So what comes first — music or visuals?

(Hint: It doesn't matter.)

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