During the covid-19 pandemic, music producer and composer Sanaya Ardeshir thought “the world was going to end and that music was done”. Ardeshir, better known by her moniker, Sandunes, spent the first year of covid travelling through Goa and south India with her partner, bassist and mix engineer Krishna Jhaveri, recording circadian rhythms—12 hours of day time and 12 hours of night time recordings, with no intention of making music again.
The songwriter from Mumbai considered doing something else but found it hard to separate herself from music. “Music is a seductive kind of thing—it’s very much who I am,” says Ardeshir over Zoom from Los Angeles (she moved to the US in late 2021).
In August 2023, Ardeshir announced her first full-length album in seven years: The Ground Beneath Her Feet. The 13-track album, set to release on 17 November on the UK label Tru Thoughts, was recorded in different studios, with songwriting and production in varied parts of the globe. The first single was The Surge, featuring singer-songwriter Ramya Pothuri. This electronica track is similar to Ardeshir’s shorter works—vocals, percussion, atmospheric synths—but also a layered and swinging string section with cello and violin, apart from clarinet and subtle saxophone.
Ardeshir and Jhaveri travelled across south Goa to Agumbe, Madikeri and Aldur in Karnataka, Vagamon and Shoranur in Kerala, spent six weeks in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu, and finally Mysuru, Karnataka, before returning to Goa. It wasn’t till the relatively stable set-up in Kodaikanal that she found herself stumbling into music-making again. The lockdown was a discombobulating period and in working on the album, Ardeshir found a tether to something constant. “At that time I found my home in this album, finding myself and my sanity,” she tells me.
In the electronic music landscape that largely furnishes dance-floor friendly beats, Ardeshir’s compositions evoke producers such as Oneohtrix Point Never and Nicolas Jaar, whose field recording work she admires, apart from the American electronic composer Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. The album consolidated her status as one of the few Indian electronic musicians doing what she does. Ardeshir places synth experimentations alongside orchestral instrumentation. Featuring pronounced percussion that moves through electro-pop, RnB and art pop, the album is primarily synth-led, with sprinklings of marimbas, mandolin (on Signs), a quena (a traditional Andes flute, on Earthquake), choral harmonies and string sections.
Ardeshir feels it is impossible to create without responding to your environment. She was in Goa at a home-stay during cyclone Tauktae in 2021. “I saw a tree getting pulled out of the soil in front of my eyes. This is the age of the climate crisis.” Jhaveri and Ardeshir had field recordings from the storm that have been placed in Cyclone, a track featuring Half Waif. Tauktae caused them to lose power for five days as their roof and wall collapsed while she was writing the song.
The opening track, Mother Figure, has stark vocals from Javanese musician Peni Candra Rini, whom Ardeshir met during a month-long residency in the US. It’s a soundtrack to “the beginning of zooming in from space and descending into Earth,” says Ardeshir. A primal connection to nature is centred in The Ground Beneath Her Feet. While recording circadian rhythms, Ardeshir and Jhaveri expected the sound of nature to be quiet, and were pleasantly surprised to find it so full of life.
Ardeshir tells me that music, when distilled, is effectively vibrations—which vocalists are more connected to. Channelling these is an act of vulnerability. She likes working with vocalists, five of whom feature on her album. “When somebody imbues (a track) with their own experience and transforms the conceptual framework, it’s like alchemy,” she says.
This is a pandemic album, where Ardeshir got very few opportunities to be in the same room as her collaborators. While one half plays with tapestries of sound and is more instrumental, the other showcases more songwriting with her collaborators—for instance, Indeterminance and Flamingo Dreams with Vermont-based musician Gideon Crevoshay, which are reminiscent of the ethereal art pop of The Soft Pink Truth. Ardeshir was pushing to be bold and not conform while working with him in Berlin. “It’s where we are able to leave behind the trappings of melody and harmony and song structure for a minute and be in a world of sound,” she explains, adding that she used a drone sample from a vintage synthesiser (a Moog III P) to complement Crevoshay’s witchcore vocals on Indeterminance.
This is symphonic, progressive electronica, which pushes against ideas of conventional beauty. For the album cover, visual artist Aditi Kapur scanned her feet—an image that celebrates the ground beneath our feet as a shared and sacred space. “Music is such a fragile thing,” Ardeshir says. “I am still an idealist with it.”
Arunima Joshua is a Mumbai-based journalist and writer.