Insight into Synthfarm 2020 Edition of India's Foremost Electronic Music Residency

Two weeks ago we participated in what is arguably India's leading residency for electronic music, synthesis and DIY knowledge. Each year, in Duttapukur, West Bengal, a diverse bunch of artists, DJs and sound-geeks come together to enmesh themselves into a singular subject: synths. For three days, these residents observe, learn, and discuss modular synthesis and musical synthesis at large, absorbed completely in the subject matter.

Duttapukur is a small pottery village a little over 30 kms from the city of Kolkata, its name translating quite literally to 'potter pond'. One of these 'pukur' or ponds also lays placid on the farm that sees Synthfarm manifest each year. This farm is a lush escape overrun with dahlias and greens, a vegetable patch on on end and a pottery workshop on another.

25 participants made it to Synthfarm this year, the largest turnout to date, of which seven were female. This number of woman participants climbs each year, mainly as a consequence of the Synthfarm Female Empowerment Program, which grants full scholarship to two female participants each year, in a bid to redress the lack of female representation in modular synthesis, and in the creative arts in general.

We were able to attend Synthfarm 2020 under a third partial scholarship initiative, however whether this shall continue remains to be confirmed.This year's learning programme encompassed modules on Ableton Live, modular synthesis, introduction to electronics, and synth-making. The modules followed a progressive format, from beginner to advanced, to allow relative novices to find their rhythm.

The schedule allowed for some level of customisation, based on personal preferences, enabling participants to craft a schedule best suited to their interests and level of expertise. This was crucial as the synth-making workshops often ran concurrently with other courses.

The workshops moved fluidly, punctuated by open studio sessions, allowing for participants to freely experiment with a surfeit of gear, through collaborative efforts or individual testing.

A finished Poca Synth

The pièce de résistance of the residency tends to be the building of Poca synths: an analog battery-powered synth designed by homegrown designers Animal Factory Amps, and Varun Desai - who is also the co-founder of the residency.

A clever thing Synthfarm accomplishes through its modules and general culture alike is opening up a niche to curious onlookers, and make them into converts. By staying open on a first-come, first-serve basis, Synthfarm eliminates cherry-picking to a degree, leaving the space open for those with pretty much any degree of expertise, including next to none.

Synthfarm has also thus far indicated a willingness to open dialogues where necessary, whether it is through their scholarship for woman artists offered in response to the gender disparity in music, or through the inclusion of a discussion of the music industry's role in the ongoing climate crisis in its 2020 curriculum.

This cements intention, however, it is essential to see a more diverse faculty, and the ways in which Synthfarm could benefit from that. Lived experience can really transform teaching styles, and goes much further in making coursework adapted to a similarly diverse audience.

It would be downright insulting to wrap up this wrap up without a mention of Zareen Desai, who put together homestyle, delicious meals with clockwork precision for a number of people not to be sneezed at. A DJ herself, Zareen is the proprietor of the much-adored Zee's Café in Kolkata, and has recently opened a second café location in the city of joy.

For additional information on the events that unfolded at Synthfarm 2020, read Audio Pervert's round up here.

Written by Uvika Wahi