The Glory, the Grandeur of the Synthesizer

Guru’s esraj has always been my favorite instrument; it almost invariably transports me to a world of peace and light, perhaps even bliss. In the middle of a concert, when I am flooded with its supernal beauty and stillness, the synthesizer can come as a shock. One moment I’m deep inside my heart, sitting by the fire in a warm cabin, so to speak; the next moment I’m standing outside in a torrential rain, the roof and walls collapsed around me.

Guru’s synthesizer music is like a great storm – with fierce bolts of lightning and deafening thunder. Huge trees are being uprooted, entire villages swept away. Surges of consciousness, like tsunami waves, rise towering into the air, then suddenly crash down. Gods and demons grapple for supremacy, colliding like giant mountains forced up by a terrible earthquake, while the very planet shakes and trembles. This is the vital world that Guru deals with every day, and his keyboard music conveys it brilliantly. But it also conveys much more.

When Guru was playing the synthesizer on Father’s Day (2005), I happened to be concentrating on the statue of the dancing Lord Shiva behind his chair. The few times I glanced over at Guru, there seemed to be no connection between the person at the keyboard and the source of these astonishing sounds. Guru was an illusion; the concentration on his face, the movement of his hands, all deception. Whoever or whatever was making the music was not human; nor was the music human. What we were witnessing was something almost unfathomable: the Unknown creating the Unknowable – the impersonal in Guru performing for the impersonal in us.

But Guru never really performs; he does something far more extraordinary. He fashions a world, in the much the same way as the Supreme Himself fashions His own sound-manifestation. Guru’s music erupts from stillness, from nothingness…thunders in grandeur…then abruptly ceases. While Guru is playing, it seems the music can never stop. Suddenly it is no longer there, and all that remains is a deafening silence.

Watching Guru play is almost like witnessing the birth and death of a world – from the instant of creation to the instant it all ends. One moment there is nothing; the next moment a complete world stands before us – with thundering chords, explosive rhythms, sweeping melodies. For a few minutes, we see this world playing out its life: the boat of sound, like a tiny speck surrounded by the infinite ocean…with no horizon in sight. This outburst of music, this boat of time steaming across an empty ocean, is the only sound, the only thing moving in the entire universe. And when the music stops, as eventually it must, the boat sinks back into the ocean, leaving no trace.

This musical interlude we call life, no matter how brief and insignificant in scale, is of supreme importance in the vast scheme of things; and when Guru plays, this is what he reveals. His keyboard performance is more than a portrait of the vital plane, more than a depiction of the inner forces governing our human world. In a very real sense, it is our world. It is a representation of life itself, the musical expression of God’s own sound-life in its myriad forms. What we are listening to is a short excerpt, a few moments, from the dance of life. It can be called music only in the sense that the physical world, the manifestation, is the music played by God the Supreme Musician. It can be called music only metaphorically – in a feeble attempt to express the height and majesty of the ‘sound’ we call God the creation.

The esraj and the synthesizer represent, in a sense, two complementary realities: the world of silence and the world of sound, heaven and earth. The esraj shows us God’s ineffable Silence-Beauty; the synthesizer shows us God’s unfathomable Power and Will. To my Absolute Lord Supreme I am offering this prayer: May my heart eternally remain a devoted child of my Master’s esraj. May my life one day become a worthy instrument of my Master’s synthesizer.