FOR more than a decade, University of Huddersfield students have experienced work placements at the London studios of the world-famous composer and performer Nitin Sawhney. Now, he has journeyed in the opposite direction to give a presentation – including sound and images – that provided fascinating insights into his musical philosophy and his near-incredible work schedule.
It has included the legendary album Beyond Skin, which is marking the 20th anniversary of its release with a sold-out concert at the Royal Albert Hall in September. Drawing on a wide range of cross-cultural influences – including the classical music and instrumental virtuosity of his family’s Indian background – Nitin has also composed countless scores for TV, film and video games.
“I have spent more of my life playing music than I have talking!” he told his University of Huddersfield audience, when he made his appearance as part of the year-long Sound.Vision.Place Festival events.
One of his most demanding assignments was to provide 50 minutes of music for all eight episodes of BBC documentary series Human Planet. He had a week to compose each score from scratch and had to satisfy the differing demands of four directors.
“But it was also one of the most enjoyable jobs I have done because it was an incredible series. It didn’t feel like work,” said Nitin, who spoke of the need for passion in his profession. “It’s a privilege to be involved in music.”
He screened an excerpt from Human Planet – pointing out details in the complex orchestral score – and the presentation also included sound and vision from other major projects, including the video game Heavenly Sword and the 2018 film Mowgli, for which Nitin also composed the lyrics of the end-credit song.
Involvement in music can mean cross-disciplinary working in a wide variety of art forms, he told the audience, and described the origin of the cover art for Beyond Skin, which is a plaster cast of his own head and shoulders.
Nitin Sawhney said that he thinks of music as a language and told how he cross-fertilised his compositions, recordings and performances – he is a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist – by drawing on a wide range of cultural influences. One of the video sequences at the presentation was an extract from a concert at the Roundhouse in London when he played alongside the Indian sitar virtuoso Anoushka Shankar, daughter of the famous Ravi, whom he knew and admired.
Nitin told how he resists cultural boundaries and dislikes national anthems that compartmentalise people. When Sky Arts asked him to compose a piece for Brexit night he came up A Rational Anthem for a National Tantrum, and at the University of Huddersfield presentation he played an extract from the work in progress.
The Evening with Nitin Sawhney was introduced by the University of Huddersfield’s Dr Geoffrey Cox, who outlined the guest speaker’s life story – including a collaboration with actor-comedian Sanjeev Bhaskar that led to the creation of Goodness, Gracious Me – and told the audience that for 15 years, music and music technology students from the University had been taking up work placements during their degree courses at the Brixton recording studios of Nitin Sawhney.
The most recent was Jay Witsey – whose work earned a credit in the closing title sequence of Mowgli – and an earlier placement student, Harry Timson, had now graduated and was now a permanent studio manager for Nitin Sawhney.