The music was rising with tension. The actors stood still, like statues. One of them gave me a furtive glance - the timing had to be perfect. ‘STOP’ shouted Rashida Ma’am. The glance had been too obvious. The actress wasn't supposed to look at me.
My school at the time didn’t have many artistic events, other than annual day - a yearly showcase of student talent. This was different. Rashida ma’am had fought to get her adaptation of King Lear performed, on a day other than annual day. This was meant for King Lear and King Lear only. I wanted to be a part of this. My acting skill, however, wasn't top notch, and let’s not get started on my dancing skill - if I was an alien with three feet, they’d still all be left feet! I couldn't be in stage design either because a paintbrush just didn’t belong in my hand. I could play a little bit of music though, so I convinced her to let me compose music for the play. She gave me a chance, so I began brainstorming with my guitarist, Tejus.
We came up with various compositions as background music for the play. I noticed that my desire and ability to compose increased a lot when there were certain restrictions. Restrictions, such as the time for the music cue, the mood and intent of the piece that I needed to portray, and the genre and instrumentation thus required to do so. I wasn't just composing on a whim as I usually did. Maybe it was the inner teenage rebel in me, but I enjoyed struggling against these limitations – they were the authority, and I had to figure out a way to defy them. I did so by breaking the rules, ever so slightly. Let me give you an example – in the scene mentioned earlier, I composed a baroque styled suite for guitar and piano. The piece was intended as a background to a scene in the king’s court. It needed to sound ‘stately’ and ‘majestic’, but I decided to incorporate some unusual symphonic metal techniques (making use of Phrygian dominant scales). By fusing these outlandish metal harmonies with the regal and ornamental nature of Baroque suites, it created an unnatural feel to accompany the slowly rising tension of the scene. I realised that I tended to work well under rules and limitations that control what I was allowed to do with the composition. By attempting to defy the “authorities”, a few rays of light managed to break through the dense canopy of limitations.
Originally, Tejus and I were going to record some pieces, and electronically render others, but Rashida Ma’am changed her mind. We had to play it live, along with the play. This created so many new complications. Everything had to be played by the two of us, and had to be rehearsed with the actors and dancers. I enjoyed having challenges, but this seemed all too sudden and overwhelming!
Reducing the music for two instruments (guitar and synth keyboard) didn’t turn out to be much of an issue. The timing, however, did. To be perfectly in sync with the performers on stage, we had to understand them, even though we spoke different artistic languages. I had to stop composing for myself. This was much bigger than that. I needed to compose for them - the performers. I began to look at the performance from their perspective - imagine I was the actress that just drank poison and was about to begin the Dance of Death (This rendition drew its melodramatic flair from Bollywood itself). After recognising this, I noticed that the issues settled themselves. The music rose with tension. The actors stood still, like statues. There was no furtive glance. The timing was perfect.