Shoummo Saha, an electronic musician, embarked upon his musical journey with a vision. He wants to render the genre a household name.
Saha shared a glimpse of his vision on the opening day of Dhaka Art Summit 2023. He blazed the stage with an audio-visual performance – which represented the country's music, art and history – in collaboration with digital instruments.
The Shoummo Saha directorial performance, titled 'Encore' featured artists Gullyboy Rana and Tabib and the Arif Baul ensemble. Inteza Shariar was the mind behind the project's research. To bring the performance to life, Sakib Tonmoy and Jaami A Farooq collaborated on video mixing and lights while Shadwaan Chowdhury led the electronics and guitar.
The experience portrayed an ensemble of old architecture of Bangladesh and modern day electronic music.
What you witnessed on stage was a visual representation of Dhaka's core: people and their daily activities through the lenses of a city dweller. Various settings, including Dhaka University grounds, Hussaini Dalan in Old Dhaka, and ancient Panam Nagar, were shot in perspective. You could see grand trees; vast sky; shabby yet aesthetic footage of boats, rickshaws, and seized car impound; a ferris wheel and so on.
Meanwhile, the audio captured an amalgamation of computer generated music with folk and classical instruments on top – such as the harmonium and Arif Baul with his trademark dotara.
"When you select songs for your set, weave it in a way so that you provide an experience and create a relatable ambience where people feel comfortable grooving, dancing and thus, engaging"
In an interview with the Business Standard, Saha spoke candidly about the start of his career to where he is now.
Electronic music, as he explained, can compliment any genre, adding a vivid dimension to quality, aspects and texture of sounds.
"When you select songs for your set, weave it in a way so that you provide an experience and create a relatable ambience where people feel comfortable grooving, dancing and thus, engaging," he said.
Saha has been learning the piano and classical music since childhood. Waking up to his father singing Rabindra Sangeet everyday was a ritual.
Saha remembers working with electronic music at a time when the internet was not a household luxury. Some ten odd years ago, he said, "It all started with a camera…I was exploring filmmaking with my friends. I was a bit of a computer nerd so I also explored music softwares."
He would create beats on the 'FruityLoops' software, and worked his way up to learning Ableton.
"We started the 'Dhaka Electronica Scene' eventually, where we filmed a documentary and composed music. This was the first calling of electronic music in Bangladesh," he said. "We got noticed by the international press. German filmmakers who came to document electronic music sub-cultures of South Asia credited us. I started doing international gigs in Delhi and Kolkata. Ï went by the artist name 'Spaceghost'. We later graduated from being 'bedroom producers' to establishing our own studio. With modern technological advancements and a computer generated neo-futuristic zone, we realised there is an aspect of performance through electronic music."
Back then Microsoft had been experimenting with methods of motion sensing input through Kinect with their Xbox game consoles. It scanned your whole body and took your movements as input.
"I thought, what if we use this to make music? We turned this idea into perhaps the first augmented reality installation in Bangladesh with the AR glyph-based visualisation authoring tool, where people could interact with the object being projected on screen, a ball, or a piece of polygon, and thus generate music."
Saha studied in Shillong at a boarding school called St Peters. He dropped out of university. He did not study art, or attend a music school. But he taught people who had a knack in learning the piano and electronic music.
"Time down the line, I was asked to join Jatra Biroti where I would work as a sound technician and event manager for a few years. People were becoming quite welcoming to the idea of computer-generated music with further scope in film and television media."
Among various projects they organised was 'Ether' where handwriting was translated into music; another augmented reality show. "I remember Arundhati Roy attended the programme and was doodling around with the pen."
They arranged 'Ghurni' in 2019 with a group of artists. Saha also did a project in Birmingham where he produced soundtracks with artists there.
Saha was involved with the 'Concert from Bangladesh', which was organised in New York's Times Square during the lockdown. The Dhaka Art Summit performance, he said, was an "encore" of the Concert from Bangladesh project.
They also organised a DJ-community based project called 'Bhai-Bhai Sound System' in 2022.
In regards to taking on a multitude of roles throughout his versatile career – sound technician, music producer and director, filmmaker – he describes singing as a subconscious influence of having shared the art with his father as a child.
"Finding your own sound is the true journey of an artist. My work-in-progress album comprises original compositions, where I'm implementing different voices in each track to create separate characters, kind of like acting, in order to capture varied emotions," said Saha.