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I’m New Here – Arushi Jain

A heavenly hybrid of modular synthesis and Indian classical music

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Three years ago, the Delhi-born, US-based composer Arushi Jain quit her comfortable tech job in San Francisco and headed to New York to become an artist full-time. Since then, it’s not gone too badly. Jain, who styles herself the ‘Modular Princess’ after her musical practice, released Under The Lilac Sky in 2021, a beautiful meditation rooted in the Indian classical tradition that also veers into seriously mind-expanding psychedelia. The album fell victim to the pandemic but has since come to resonate with a growing audience who appreciate transportive synthesiser jams, including James Holden, Arooj Aftab, Floating Points and Suzanne Ciani.

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“I think I’m finally over ‘San Francisco Arushi’ and entering a different version of me that’s craving human connection a bit more,” says Jain, 30, from her Brooklyn apartment. “In San Francisco you had to make things happen because there wasn’t much going on. In New York I want to meet more artists and write with them.”

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Jain was taught classical music at a number of prestigious schools in India before she moved to the Bay Area at 18 to study computer science at Stanford University (“the only reason I was in the US was to become a software person,” she says). While there, she discovered computer synthesis at the Center For Computer Research In Music And Acoustics. “I took a few classes and was like, this is so empowering – you can just build a thing that you think of. And I carried that energy of making it happen for yourself into other aspects of my life.”

A major part of Jain’s New York chapter has been the realisation of her second album, Delight. It’s another sublime collection of richly textured electronics, this time laced with saxophone, flute and her voice – “I wanted a new sound palette that was a little more organic and acoustic, not just generated” – and based entirely on the Bageshri raag. A raag is a melodic framework used in Indian classical music, and Bageshri – essentially about love – is one Jain felt impelled to explore. “I was listening to it a lot and playing it on the piano and it really spoke to me. It’s a beautiful raag, very captivating. It’s about being in love, but it doesn’t have to be a person. It could be an experience, a meditation, a ritual, a foundation you build for yourself. It’s like something that you want to be around all the time, someone or something who replenishes and nourishes you.”

On Delight, Jain uses the raag to search for the “state of flow” she feels while writing – a process somewhat hampered by a repetitive strain injury that restricts playing. “There are certain parts of the creative process that I have briefly experienced that I adore, and I’m committed to finding that again,” she says. “I use a lot of my logic brain and rational brain in the act of composing, but the goal is to eventually go from the logic to the feeling, because that’s when you realise what’s working.”

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Jain also hosts a monthly show on NTS radio and runs a label, both called Ghrunghru, which focus on new experimental electronic music emanating from the South Asian diaspora. “The reason I started writing this music is because I was feeling a lot of dissonance within myself around what I was doing so far from home,” she says. “That experience of taking multiple worlds of yours and putting them together is something that all immigrants have to do. Under The Lilac Sky helped me glue the different parts of me together.”

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