It’s hard to describe Oxygen’s music in one word. It doesn’t fall into any particular genre, and that’s how the Chennai-based instrumental music group prefers it.
If we really had to put a name to their music, we could call it “world music”, explains Vijay Ganesan, the group’s newest member. And Metagenethe group‘s latest release is a perfect embodiment of this.
The Scrapbook is a well-brewed potpourri of six great compositions inspired by musical genres from around the world.
If you think the room Saraswathi is a purely Carnatic composition based on the raga of the same name, wait until you hear the symphonic classical strains in the middle. So there is northern Lights, a James Bond score with Indian nuances. For this composition, Oxygen collaborated with Stèphane Montigny, a French trombonist.
Taking the road to the Orient is Yin-Yang who uses a Chinese wind instrument dizi and reed instrument bawu. Thandanaan is based on South Indian folk music Uthal Puthal is a Bihu-style folk number with Western classical influence.
5th Dimensionthe last track on the album, is a mad, new-age experimental feast, with a hey five-step cycle. “The coincidence was that when we first played this song, it ended at exactly 5 minutes 55 seconds,” says C Girinandh, founder of Oxygen.
The band collaborated with Tenor Strings, a 20-piece string orchestra, for the Metagene project that marks the 20th anniversary of Oxygen.
(At the time of this piece’s publication, Oxygen had released three of the six compositions.)
Twenty years and counting
The group, founded on the basis of friendship and strengthened by the bonds formed along the way, has gone through a long journey of two decades.
Although some of the original members are no longer with the band, the ethos of Oxygen is intact – the sense of togetherness the members feel and the emphasis on collective effort.
This is why Oxygen has never promoted a single musician as its face. Everyone plays their part as a cohesive unit, which has helped the group hold together over the years, says Girinandh, who firmly believes that the word “group” means “bond”.
It all started when a group of boys put together an orchestra at school to play in “culturals”, at a time when “orchestra culture” was new and film music was the mainstay.
“At the time, we had no entertainment medium. So we jammed regularly. It deeply instilled a sense of togetherness in us,” says Girinandh, who teamed up with neighbor KS Ramana to launch Oxygen.
Today, Oxygen is a seven-member team delivering original music with panache. While Girinandh composes, arranges and plays keys, Ramana plays percussion and composes. Lalit Talluri is the flautist, while Vijay plays lead guitar. Carl Fernandes (bass guitar), Bharath Gopal (drums) and Akshay Ganesh (violin) make up the rest of the band.
Oxygen works with different musical genres such as Carnatic music, jazz, punk, western classical and folk music to create fascinating sounds. The group has 40 titles and 3,000 live concerts to its name. His albums include breath of music, Dimension, Aura, and Metagene.
technology in music
Over its 20-year journey, Oxygen has seen the music world undergo a sea of transformation. The emergence of technology is one of the most important developments.
“Thanks to new-age technology, we are able to feed our ideas on the go and perform the sounds we have in our minds,” says Girinandh.
Metagene integrates spectral and sonic capabilities and aesthetic lighting to provide listeners with an immersive experience. The album was mixed and mastered using Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio technologies for pristine clarity and superior definition.
According to Lalit, these technologies allow listeners to be part of the experience. “You feel the concert unfolding in front of you, when you close your eyes.”
essence of music
How does Oxygen ensure that musical aesthetics are not compromised while incorporating technology?
“Regardless of the technology, the most important element is the composition itself. Without it, any amount of technology will be meaningless,” Ramana replies.
Therefore, Oxygen’s compositions are created the old-fashioned way, by printing songs and planning out the various parts. “Only our production is displayed by technology; there is no change in the basic process”, explains the percussionist.
Comparing the music of yesterday and today, Girinandh says that the soul of music today is missing because artists do not share musical conversations with each other. “We have adapted to a workflow where artists are called separately and their music is recorded. There is no conversation between the artists. That’s why we play and jam together. We generate ideas during our performances. We want to bring the soul of music back through conversations.
Live concert culture
The band also wants to bring back the culture of live concerts, something that has taken a back seat lately.
Lalit says, “If something isn’t interesting, listeners move on. They would rather listen to the concert’s YouTube link than watch it live.
However, Ramana believes it is possible to rekindle the aura of live concerts. “Before, people would attend a two-hour concert and enjoy it. Now their attention span has narrowed to a great extent. But if you can attract in 30 seconds, there is always an audience that will come to listen to a live concert.
Vijay thinks live concerts won’t go away as “nothing can match the experience of being in a concert hall”. It refers to the common influence of the group, Sarcastic puppyan American instrumental ensemble, known for promoting live music.
What will draw audiences to a live gig, even in the era of Reels and Shorts, is original content, the band believes.
“People connect with original music,” Girinandh insists, and that’s what Oxygen wants to give people. “Instrumental music is not bound by language and works well in a congregation of people of all ages.”
Girinandh wants to see more independent bands emerge, with a faith in original music. “Movie covers are good, but we need original music. There are a lot of passionate musicians. But I want to see the culture of the band. More musicians should develop their musicality.
Explore with an open mind
Oxygen develops its musicality by going with the flow and instinctively exploring various sounds. This exploratory nature also works well when collaborating with other artists.
The group has worked with artists such as AR Rahman, Carnatic singer Aruna Sairam, singer Shankar Mahadevan and flautist Rasika Shekar. “We like collaborating with artists who are open-minded and have no limits on what will or will not work,” says Girinandh.
Group members like to keep an open and clutter-free mind. “Today, Ramana and I don’t even listen to songs anymore. So we don’t have a validation point,” says Girinandh.
Ramana illustrates this further: “Every time an idea arises, it is new to us. We are in the moment of admiration. We don’t have a point X so we arrive at point Y.
This ability to explore sounds with an inquisitive, eager mind and not seek validation every moment is what drives Oxygen forward.