Wed 13 Nov
The Record Stache

The Sitar Strikes Back: an Interview with Monoh (with Album Review of Hypnotic New EP)


Written by: Jen Dan

There is a magical, otherworldly sound to the sitar. Listening to it, if you can actually take the time to indulge and soak up all the reverberating overtones that it has to offer, really feels like you’re slipping into a mild trance. Whether it’s the relentless drone or that peculiar shimmer, there’s definitely something about this cascading sound that is mood-altering.

The self-titled debut EP from Zurich native Monoh (AKA Roger Odermatt) is a package of four hypnotic songs that play around with a whole array of club-inflected music. While these more absorbing tracks might not ignite prime-time on the dance floor at your favorite club, they’ve still got some nice after-hours bounce, and enough low-end to keep you warm through the winter.

With Attitude is probably the most driving song on the record and the genre cross-over standout. Panjaam, especially when the beat hits, is a good runner-up, with a slow simmer that eventually boils over. Zooloo, on the other hand, goes more for a soundtrack-type feel with a spacious, panoramic view.

The EP closes with a gorgeous improv song titled For Good, which could technically be classified as an ambient tune, as it consists of only sitar and bass. This is also the song where you can hear Monoh’s craft at its purest and best.

The MONOH EP was just released via Quiet Love Records and is available as a download and a limited edition 180g vinyl. To find out more about this release and what it took to make it, read the interview with Monoh below:

Roger Odermatt as Monoh – Photo Credit: Daniel Sutter

Hello Monoh! Can you please introduce yourself to our readers? 

I am a sitar player and producer from Zurich, Switzerland. As MONOH I combine the sitar with electronica.

Please describe in more detail the type of music that you make. 

My music ranges from uplifting, beat-driven, high-energy club tracks to improvisations that crackle with intimacy. In a way, it’s like flying on oceanic sound carpets and repetitive patterns, which were quoted from the Indian tradition and mixed with contemporary groove-based music. And it’s not all linear either; you will experience some triumphant outbursts along the way, as well. I call this “Deep-sitar-Electronica”.

What is special about the sitar and how is different from Western instruments? 

The sitar is a monophonic instrument. That means that usually only one note is being played at a time, which is similar to a saxophone, for example. The sound chamber is made out of a dried pumpkin and this is why a sitar is a very fragile instrument. There are travel or studio sitars, as well, which are smaller and made completely out of wood.

In addition to the main strings, there is also something like a small “harp”. This harp contains sympathetic strings which resonate with the tones played on the main string. This creates the overtones which add to what is considered the typical sitar sound.

Generally speaking, Indian classical music is monophonic and Western music is harmonic. That is why to “Western ears” Indian music can appear monotonous. In the West we are used to harmonic progression in music. Whereas Eastern listeners, in general, are used to melody-driven music. And a lot of mesmerizing polyrhythms as well!

Is there an overlap between Indian music and electronica?

I guess; both are very broad fields. You might find similarities when it comes to energy in the music. There are parts in classical instrumental performances which get their energy from repetition. Electronica often is also beat-driven. That’s why Indian percussion instruments like the tabla are a great addition to electronica.

Is there anyone else right now – outside of classical Indian music – that incorporates the sitar into their oeuvre? 

There are many young artists who experiment beyond the classical borders. To name just a few of them, off the top of my head: Rishabh Seen, for example, with his sitar Metal or Rishab Sharma, the son of legendary instrument maker Sanjay Rikhi Ram Sharma. Then Anoushka Shankar, of course – the daughter of Ravi Shankar. Apart from her classical output she also explores electronic music.

Can you imagine the sitar, as an instrument, making a comeback in the mainstream and having an impact equal to that which it had in the ‘60s and ‘70s?

That would be awesome and I sure hope that it will! Not the sitar alone, though. I hope that percussion instruments like tabla or mridangam will come back, as well. I see the demand and the interest increasing and a lot of young people from India being open to collaborating with musicians abroad. This might push things further, [so] who knows?

Keep up with Monoh HERE