Prasanna sounds interesting, literally

On Nov. 4 the pianos of the Southwick Recital Hall were rolled away to make room for a concert very much out of the ordinary setting of the wood-and-concrete music hall. “The good news is I’m not going to do Guns and Roses,” joked Prasanna in a thick Indian accent. “I’m going to stay with what I’ve been doing and play a very sweet composition … ” Prasanna’s musical pursuits started when he was 10 years old in India, where he took up the guitar. He began playing in local bands, covering classic rock acts like KISS, Santana and Scorpions (to name a few), and was subsequently hired to play on Indian movie soundtracks. After completing a bachelor’s degree in naval architecture, Prasanna became a software engineer, only to quit that job and attend the stateside Berklee School of Music, where he studied jazz and Western classical music. The fact is, Prasanna could shred up G n’ R’s entire catalogue better than Slash himself. At last weeks performance, however, Prasanna presented a concert in the custom of his native South Indian classical music, called Carnatic music. Its forms are based on ancient precepts of rhythm, melody and song structure and are traditionally played on instruments indigenous to South India. Though he adheres to the conventions of Carnatic music, Prasanna plays an instrument considered unconventional by classical Indian standards-the Les Paul. Joined by Lakshman Mahadevan on mridangam (a South Indian drum similar to its northerly cousin, the tabla) Prasanna performed exclusively classical compositions except for “Bowling for Peas,” a piece that highlighted Prasanna’s diverse musical background. The electric guitar proved to lend itself well to the microtonal qualities of Carnatic music, and Prasanna’s subtle use of effects provided textures otherwise unheard of in a traditional setting. Mahadevan cautiously stayed the course of rhythmic formulas, at times sounding like an Indian version of “Wipeout” and, together with Prasanna, made frequent eye contact. Often, it seemed as if the two were speaking to one another through their playing. For Prasanna, communication is integral to the music he plays. “It’s like jazz: if you take jazz as a language, it can work anywhere,” he explains. “If you take jazz as a style, then people are always fighting with each other, right? “Carnatic music is similar. As a style it’s traditional, but as a language it’s not, Prasanna says.” This concept no doubt pervades the work of Prasanna whose latest album is entitled “Electric Ganesha Land.” “It’s actually a tribute to Hendrix,” reveals Prasanna. “It’s kind of wailed-out rock guitar but it has only Carnatic percussion.” One thing is for sure, Prasanna has some experience.