Composer crosses borders, disciplines

Sandeep Bhagwati settles down after a nomadic career throughout Europe

Karen Herland

Sandeep Bhagwati found the drive and vision at Concordia for his creative and artistic exploration as a Canada Research Chair.

Photo by Kate Hutchinson

Each artistic discipline develops a tradition that dictates the creation of new works, but in an increasingly global and digital culture those distinctions are becoming blurred.

At least, that is the assertion of Sandeep Bhagwati, who has just been named Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Inter-X Art Practice and Theory.

Bhagwati is intrigued by what might happen if you mix different art forms. He would like to develop “a critical apparatus for intermedia, interactive, intercultural forms of art and ways of analyzing it that are satisfactory.” Ideally, he hopes to shepherd a collaborative process where art forms blend, are analyzed and redeveloped.

When the call to fill the CRC position went out, Bhagwati hesitated, since the call was for a visual artist and Bhagwati is a composer. However, he contacted the search committee and was encouraged to apply. He’s thrilled with the opportunity to have an institution back the work he had been doing on a freelance basis.

“I was looking around the world for an institution that would have the drive and vision for this sort of project.”

Bhagwati’s background suggests that crossing boundaries would come easily to him. He was born in India, where his father is from, and moved to his mother’s Germany as a child. In addition to music, he has also tried his hand at literature, “I write in both English and German. Essays are easier in English, poetry in German.”

He had no music training until he turned 16. Before that, he excelled in maths and physics. “Usually, by the time you finish school, the teachers have defined you.” But that was not the case for him, and he was able to reinvent himself.

Refusing categorization is something that he has continued to cultivate. He has worked with dancers, designers, theatre people and filmmakers. “The work was real collaboration. We would develop an idea together, and then try to make it happen.”

Coming to Canada is a new adventure for Bhagwati, who has been based in Europe. In fact, during the late 1990s, he lived a nomadic existence, primarily out of his car, as he worked as composer-in-residence and fellow for programs including the ZKM Center for Art and Media Technology in Karlsruhe (1998/ 99) and IRCAM (97/98). He also founded two interdisciplinary festivals, one in 1992, the other a decade later.

Bhagwati will teach courses in both music and theatre. This spring, he will produce Per/son/alia, a show for eight actors and eight composers. “The composers will follow the actors around in their everyday lives (as a documentary filmmaker would) and create soundscapes especially for each performer.” This blend of music, performance and film traditions is typical of the his research.

In addition to the Tier 2 CRC position, Bhagwati has been given nearly $50,000 through CFI to found the MATRA, (Movement/Media/music) (Art) (Theatre/Theory) (Research) (Agency) lab.

He sees the lab as an opportunity for academic and independent arts researchers and grad students to discuss and showcase their work. He would like the project to function both as a scientific lab does, where researchers can exchange ideas, and as a production lab and resource centre, where others could take advantage of the ideas and resources available.

“Research is often closely guarded by those who develop it,” Bhagwati said. In contrast, he would like those affiliated with MATRA to “open up their research to the world.”