Drones To Infinity: An Interview With Bios Contrast

I first learned of Bios Contrast’s (aka Nilotpal Das) work while tag-hopping on Bandcamp and ending up on his release, Meltwater Pulse. The two side-long pieces are expansive and immersive, overwhelming the senses with harmonium drones, violin, processed vocals, and more. Digging further into Das’s work revealed an extensive discography built around heady concepts and interesting compositional approaches. Soon, he’ll release a massive 12-hour harmonium drone album (first track HERE). You can find his work at the Bios Contrast Bandcamp HERE.

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I always like to start at the beginning, so what are some of your earliest memories or experiences related to music or sound? What are some of the real formative things from when you were young that have stuck with you?

I started making music in late 2016 with my friend Rohan Thakuri. We listened to Dubstep, Bigroom, and other Club music of that time together. We did some DJ shows as well, haha never thought I would end up here. 

As a child, I always used to break toys and turn those into something different I think that part of me is still very active in me.

Did you always want to be a musician and a composer? 

At age 12, I thought of becoming a Graphic Designer but was never quite interested in it except for Photography, an essential part of my music artwork. I started learning how to make electronic music from youtube after going to Sunburn Kolkata in 2016. 

Two years in, I was making music like Flume. I collaborated with Enesai and Dobi, who have releases via Bitbird. 

In late 2020 I watched Johann Johannsson’s short film Last And First Men and my world turned upside down. By then, I was already improvising on instruments.

What pushed you to finally start creating your own sounds and recording original music? And, just for curiosity, what all do you play, instrument-wise?

The search for something that has not been done before is why I started making my original music, but everything that will be done has already been done, so I’d say I don’t create original music; instead, I curate sounds in a specific way. 

I can only play Harmonium and Guitar properly. 

I have a guitar, harmonium, violin, a custom-built wind instrument, dholak, damru, and manjira. 

Sometimes I record these instruments raw; other times, I resample and turn these into electronic-sounding music.

Has your family been supportive of your creative practice?

Yes, my family has been very supportive from the beginning but always suggests that I shouldn’t waste my money on fast foods, which I have reduced eating since January. I had thought about converting to Vaishnavism, too, and I already have Sikha on my head, but that thought will remain a thought for now.

Meltwater Pulse was my first introduction to your work, and it really blew me away. I feel like I’ve heard a fair bit of music that has some conceptual or sonic relation to climate change, but I haven’t connected with many like this. Can you talk a bit about where these pieces’ ideas first came from and what your mindset was like when composing?

Meltwater Pulse is about sea level rise that began about 14700 years ago and ended around 11200 years ago, estimated. It is also related to Climate Change and how the previous sea level rises impacted the globe. At first, I got the idea of making this album after watching Joe Rogan’s Podcast of Graham Hancock & Randall Carlson. 

I agree with all their pieces of evidence based on the massive flood that caused those terrain changes though the wiping of civilizations needs more study, research, and focus. Also, I didn’t mention any of it in my album because I didn’t intend to disrespect their work.

While making it, I was thinking about what the weight of the flood would sound like.

What surprised you the most when you were creating Meltwater Pulse? (It’s a great album title, too, by the way!)

Thanks, haha. After listening to Colin Stetson Chimaera I, I thought I could try something like this slightly differently. Still, nowhere near his compositional skills, I tried and succeeded in completing this project.

The conceptual component of your work is always so interesting and engaging. Dragon Rising talks about taking place over the life of Siddhartha Gautama. How do you channel these ideas into these sonic forms? I often think about the way some artists (myself included) get ideas or even images in their minds and then use that to translate them into sound (something Laraaji called ‘pulling music from the air’). Still, I really wonder how it is for others.

Yes, it is actually like that ‘pulling music from the air’ for building the foundation of a project. I also get my ideas from my dreams sometimes. But for big projects like Dragon Rising, I do a lot of research and plan for years in advance, which includes visiting archaeological sites to gather more data.

My primary focus in music is always about going through the past and discovering more about long-lost civilizations and their worlds. Speaking of which codename Dragon Rising II is in the works and will take at least two more years to develop and a few more years till it’s out.

You’re working on a 12-hour harmonium drone piece right now, which blows my mind. I am pretty excited about it as there are few instruments’ timbres that I connect with, like a harmonium. What motivated you to write and record this massive piece?

This 12-hour harmonium drone album is coming out under my legal name Nilotpal Das not to be confused with Bios Contrast. I try to separate these projects because I don’t want to put out anything ridiculous or too extreme under Bios Contrast.

The harmonium I play was originally gifted to my grandfather by his friend 45 years ago, but this thing dates even further back, about which I asked my grandmother, and unfortunately, she couldn’t tell. 

I was inspired to make the 12 hr album after listening to a few mins of Bull of Heaven’s 310: ωσpx0(2^18×5^18)p*k*k*k and watching this youtube video.

I also made a 1 hour and 20-minute single, Harmonica C# Ab which is available via ‘Nilotpal Das’ Bandcamp and will be out on other platforms on 24th March. I got the idea of the track name ‘Harmonica’ after listening to Zheng Hao’s Harmonium released via Hard Return, in which she recorded two harmonicas with two contact microphones.

What’s been the biggest challenge with recording it?

I successfully recorded the entire 13 tracks 3 hours ago before I started to write this Interview, and I must say I was pretty overconfident about simply saying no big deal recording for 12 hours. 

The last 10-minute drone track was the most challenging piece, as all the springs on keys and drone stoppers on the album are opened all at once, requiring more wind and a faster pump.

What is support and interest like in Kolkata (or India, more generally) for experimental music and composition?  

I personally don’t know any artists here in Kolkata in the experimental scene. In general, people are more towards traditional music, which I appreciate as well. 

I know an artist Nischal Khadka from Kathmandu, Nepal, which is also interesting because my mother and her family belong to the Thakuris of Nepal. 

I also enjoy music from Ladakh-based artist Ruhail Qaisar and his new album Fatima.

What are some of your favorite sounds in the world?

That’s a very interesting question. I enjoy the sound of the lyrebird, Seagull, Wind, Helicopters, 2 CPU fans oscillating, Sumburgh Foghorn, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Johann Johannsson, Colin Stetson, Senyawa, Mario Batkovic, and Tim Hecker.

So obviously, part of the answer for this is the 12-hour harmonium piece, but what else do you have planned, or are you looking forward to, in 2023?

For Bios Contrast, I have two more single tracks on compilations, one called “The Fog Of War” on 7K – Ambient Layers Vol: II and another on an independent record label.

Foxy Digitalis depends on our awesome readers to keep things rolling. Pledge your support today via our Patreon or subscribe to The Jewel Garden.