photo courtesy of Rohan Chander
“I’m an extremely anxious person, I always have been,” Rohan Chander said. “I don’t think it’s an accident that that ends up reflecting in my work, especially since I’ll spend long swaths of time writing and obsessing over it… I’m often pursuing a really high intensity experience and in that pursuit I think my brain can go off the rails.”
Piercing strings and distorted electronic samples nail home this very nervousness in Chander’s “iamwhoami,” written for and premiered by the International Contemporary Ensemble in 2019. Within the first thirty seconds, a livid soundworld that bounces between inorganic granular synths and jagged violins beg you to keep listening.
The same energy that drives “iamwhoami” saturates everything that Chander accomplishes. Whether he embarks on composing commissions for the Los Angeles Philharmonic or sets up concerts and events as a co-organizer of NYC’s Pulsing & Shaking Festival, Chander’s drive breathes fresh life into the next wave of contemporary classical music.
Chander’s music thrives driving the listener forward, while giving them multiple paths to walk down as they decipher his music.
“I want to give a place for people to think,” Chander said. “Not just about the possibilities of music, but rather the way they look at life and the things around them. Music was the only language that I knew of so I chose that, but had I had skills as a visual artist or something else, I might have gone down that path. My goal as a musician would be that my work invites people to take a look at things differently without ever telling them how to feel.”
These ruminations pay off. His music achieves a level of hyper-detail that makes you feel like you could reach out and touch the sounds that he conjures, while freely straying between electronic and classical realms. He makes some of the youngest-sounding art music in the best possible sense – his unique style truly freshens up a classical landscape where tired atonalism or predictable post-minimalism still reign supreme.
The evolution of Chander’s music didn’t spontaneously bloom overnight - his style developed as a result of deep introspection.
“I like to think super critically about how the experience of music varies across people both within and outside of musical communities, so when it comes to drawing inspiration, I tend to gravitate to objects that are extremely sensory such that they can be internalized regardless of your relationship to the larger ‘institution’ or your current mode of listening,” Chander said.
“I sample quite a bit, which helps in creating a compositional system based on material that we have a shared understanding of, even if placed in a contextually different environment,” Chander continued. “To the same end it also allows me to immediately begin a kind of development with extremely short articulation, so the immediate experience is informationally dense and (hopefully) really intense. When I’m making my work, I think a lot about broad gesture and composite texture, which ends up bringing me close to sounds that have strong, characterizable identities.”
Like many other musicians, Chander channels the abstract elements into discreet themes, which are tackled with a delicate touch.
“For some pieces, I write thinking about mental health or body shame or identity issues, others I’m thinking about love, memory, or god,” Chander said. “Some pieces are very explicit about it, for others it’s subtle. In this way titles are actually quite important to me as it can set up that fundamental interrogation before they even hear the piece.”
“I think if you have something to say, it needs to permeate into every corner of the work, and on every level,” Chander continued. “I think the times are now allowing for diverse POC and LGBTQ+ artists to rise up and tell really deep, meaningful stories that have been suppressed and held back, stories that have such depth and intensity that when they’re told they really permeate to the very recesses of the piece. If you’re going to engage with an idiom, idea, or concept, really know it.”
With such an animated sonic vocabulary that Chander has refined, expect to see some exciting projects from him this year.
“Currently, I’m working on a new piece for two midi keyboards, harmonizers, and toy pianos which was commissioned from the Barlow Endowment for Chromic Duo,” Chander said. “I’m also working on an evening length quasi-opera/futuristic ritual for Alarm Will Sound that investigates a society that has the technology to confirm an existence of God. The project was commissioned through the Matt Marks Impact Fund and will hopefully be premiered in the next couple years. Additionally, I’m developing two solo + electronics pieces, a quadrophonic violin and electronics work for Jennifer Curtis, and a solo bassoon and electronics work for Rebekah Heller.”
You can listen to Chander's music at his website or on Soundcloud
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Erich is a musician and writer living between Montreal and New York whose work appears on Best Life, Eat This, Not That!, MSN, and more and has represented artists for years as a PR rep. He likes weird music. If you want to find his music, it's over here.