Is this thing on?

August 1st, 2013

Written by Arjun Ray.

This will be the first of many posts from me, and the first of a few posts introducing fragments of my life and my mind. I hope to get to know many of you and your music in the future. Let me go out on a limb and introduce myself to all of you, first.

As the Curator for Unraveled, I listen to the full discography of every band that comes through this project. Underground and independent music is a spiderweb of complicated nuances and little-heard sounds. In order to find artists, I work with people who live and breathe on this web. Once I find an artist for the project, I select a single lyric from one of their songs; something witty, controversial, confrontational, wonderfully weird; something that makes you stop and smile, or stop and think. I take this lyric and deliver it to another breed of independent artist, a graphic designer. The designer lets the music inspire their work, allowing them to create a graphic design for a t-shirt using the selected lyric. As Unraveled, we send the shirt back onto the streets – a piece of apparel that connects the artist to the public and artists to other artists. 

Besides curating, I am a full time graduate student in Molecular Biology at Brown University where I study male and female behavior along with alcohol addiction in the amazingly versatile fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster). I also run a recording studio in Allston, MA called Echo, where I record, mix, produce, and solder solder solder.

All of these pieces of my daily life don’t sum up into a nice concise picture. I am not easy to define by what I am or where I fit. I’m a weird artist to scientists, a weird scientist to artists, a non-Muslim in a “Muslim punk” band. I’m better described by my interests, which are many, and dedicated. Basically, I’m a humble explorer of the universe, with a day job.

My vested interests include music in general, punk/hardcore, philosophy, gourmet cooking, quantum physics, culture, science, mathematics, spirituality, animals, biking, politics, psychoactives, reading, programming, writing, teaching, arranging, producing….

All of my interests are driven by passion, curiosity, and emotion. Within that, they fall into two broad categories: The Analytical, and the Creative. These two halves barely touch. There is the part of me that works in science that will focus on every technical detail and scrutinize every result and experimental design. Then there is the part of me that is a musician, a writer, a producer, and an artist where I refuse to examine things to the point where they lose their spirit, their vital energy or their “magic.” For these creative endeavors, I only learn as much technique as I need to progress, and I leave the hyper-technical and over-categorized to the virtuosos and musicologists. I let instinct drive my creative process. I believe even listening to music is a creative process where you have to practice openness and critical listening to connect emotionally and personally with sound.

What gets me about music is purely visceral. I’m after physical reactions: shivers, hairs on end, fuzzy waves of sensation washing over one’s body. If you love music, then you know the feeling. I work on Unraveled to allow myself more opportunities to get affected by music. If music were a narcotic, I’m a crafty addict.

I am a multi-instrumentalist but these days more of a composer and arranger than a player. I started out young listening to classic rock and hip hop, went through a Grateful Dead phase, and later eased into Punk and Hardcore while developing my playing around free jazz, post-rock and metal. I used to play and write in a seminal band at the forefront of a then-new, now-dead genre of punk called Taqwacore (inaccurately dubbed “Muslim punk”). If you are interested, look up The Kominas. I played on/wrote for/toured behind the first album.


The Kominas playing live after a mediocre-at-best theatre performance about water boarding. Photographed by Aisha Linnea Akhtar at The Oberon in Cambridge, MA, 2009.

My listening tastes lean towards the heavy, the abstract, the heady (but not overly cerebral), the dark, the mysterious, and the just plain weird.  Buried somewhere back there, I also have a sweet tooth that allows the perfectly crafted pop hook to absolutely slay me. I am equally at home with the glorious primal abstraction of Messiaen as I am with the hooky insolent brattiness of the Ramones.

As you will learn, I can sometimes come off a bit sarcastic, maybe even cynical about the vapid state of modern music, but I really believe in the undeniable power of exemplary and honest music. I believe the future of music is unpredictable, and will awe us with textures and feelings we could have never imagined. I’m open to be swept up in whatever is real and experience something deeply familiar or shockingly new. I try not to hold allegiances to any particular genre or scene. I refuse to be a dinosaur!

In short, I couldn’t be happier to be on the Unraveled crew. I can’t think of a better way to expose myself to new music as well as put my humble skills to work helping out independent musicians. Keep your eyes and ears on the lookout for more content from Unraveled. We plan to produce and release exclusive interviews, music-related editorials, and personal rants/stories on a regular basis. 

Until next time.

Featured image (above) of Arjun Ray absorbing Zach Staska’s vocals during The Navidson Record’s live performance at the Unraveled Launch Party taken by Farida Amar at The Good Life in Boston, MA, 2013.

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