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Almost Unison : Returns to the Unfamiliar in Rajna Swaminathan’s Of Agency and Abstraction


In this paper, I explore the making and recording of “Offering,” the first track of Rajna Swaminathan’s 2019 debut album Of Agency and Abstraction. Performed by RAJAS, a set of musicians who are differently situated in diverse musical practices, the album provides an opportunity to understand and imagine improvisational possibilities across cultural space. Rather than trying towards an understanding of technical details, I use an examination of Swaminathan’s improvisational strategies, tensions between notation and enacted sound, and the varying musical subjectivities of the members of RAJAS to inform a broader theorization of musical liminality. While Swaminathan’s work is oftentimes characterized as a point of intersection between “Indian music” and “Jazz,” I would like to propose a more fluid reading, one that does not take any named musical tradition as a prior truth. As such, I focus on how “Offering” exists liminally amidst the multiple and specific stylistic tendencies of the musicians who perform it rather than as an intersection of separate, originary wholes. Further, using the critical theory of Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Spivak as a theoretical framework and building on the scholarly work of Vijay Iyer, Elisabeth Le Guin, and George Lewis, this analysis posits Of Agency and Abstraction as a model for musical theorization that is grounded in the body.

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