Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Talk & Performance: Music as Thought, Creativity as Argument

11 October 2023, 7:00 pm–9:00 pm

In the image you see Amit Chaudhuri performing, singing into a microphone in front of him, eyes closed. He wears a dark blue shirt and in the background is a music stand

Join author and musician Amit Chaudhuri for his talk and performance exploring the question 'What is the raga?'

This event is free.

Event Information

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Institute of Advanced Studies


Marshgate Staff Common Room
UCL East
7 Sidings Street
E20 2AE
United Kingdom

In a talk that will also involve the performance of two new ragas, Amit Chaudhuri will explore a question to which there seems to be no ready-made answer: 'What is a raga?' He will also dwell on the genre that dominated 20th-century North Indian classical vocal music, the khayal (Arabic for imagination, mood or whim), whose experiments with form produced an unprecedented form of music and also alienated lay listeners so they would often not recognise classical music as music at all.

Working between and across art forms, Chaudhuri has come to believe that the raga in North Indian classical music is primarily a reshaping of what Marcel Duchamp called "found material". That is, tunes and melodies aren't set to ragas; instead, ragas are a slowing down of, and minute investigation into, particular tunes and melodies, with their characteristic clusters of notes and progressions. 

Here, among other things, Chaudhuri will conduct a playful transnational experiment: taking a well-worn melody from the Western classical tradition - the main uplifting section of 'O Sole Mio' - he will investigate its interrelationship of notes so as to transform it into a raga. The raga that will emerge is not set to the tune of 'O Sole Mio'; it will slow the tune down and explore the interrelationship of notes that are found hidden within it.

The performance will begin with a discussion of the ways in which the khayal in North Indian classical music is, as we know it today, a 20th-century modernist form. 

Amit will be accompanied by Dhanraj Persaud Pandey on tabla and Rishikesh Kardile on harmonium.


The event will coincide with the opening of the UCL School of Creative and Cultural Industries. 


About the Speaker

Professor Amit Chaudhuri

at Ashoka University, Haryana

Amit Chaudhuri is a leading novelist, essayist, poet, and musician. Among the prizes his fiction and non-fiction have received are the Commonwealth Writers Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction, the Government of India’s Sahitya Akademi Award, the Infosys Prize, and the James Tait Black Prize. He is Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

His North Indian classical recordings were first released in the 1990s by HMV in India; his experiments in ‘not fusion’, in which he brought jazz, blues, and other kinds music together with the raga, were released by Times Music and EMI in India, and Babel Label in the UK. The second CD in this genre, Found Music, was on allaboutjazz.com's Editor's Picks for 2010. 'Summertime', from his first album, was one of the versions of Gershwin's composition featured on BBC 4's Gershwin's Summertime: The Song that Conquered the World. He has also been a featured artist on various flagship UK radio and TV shows, including Loose Ends and BBC 2's Review Show.

He wrote the libretto for Ravi Shankar's opera, Sukanya, and sang and read from his work in 2019 as part of the finale of the London Review of Book's 40th anniversary celebrations at Queen Elizabeth Hall.

The West Bengal government conferred the Sangeet Samman on him for his contribution to North Indian classical music in 2018.

His book, Finding the Raga (2021), about his relationship with North Indian classical music, won the James Tait Black Prize in 2022.