D.K. Pattammal

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Medium, The Message, The Music

By Shrinkhla Sahai

A recent television advertisement of a British daily depicts the hypothetical media coverage of the children’s tale ‘The three little pigs’ as part of its ‘open journalism’ campaign. The spot traces the coverage of the story in print and online media, from the arrest of the pigs for killing the Big Bad Wolf to protest on social media, editorials and debates to activism for economic reforms. Reflecting on modern news gathering, media representations and citizen journalism, the spot is an active springboard for probing further into the role of media in a neoliberal economy. In the case of media’s role in music, it is significant to review which musical genres are represented in what way and how that accentuates decisions on what kind of music is listened to, by whom and how. How do ‘the little pigs’ defend their musical moorings and in the matrix of media and music can the ‘wolf’ blow up or blow away certain musical forms?

These debates resurfaced at the recent conference on ‘Role of Media in the promotion of music in India’ organised by ITC-Sangeet Research Academy in collaboration with Mumbai's National Centre for the Performing Arts earlier this year. Facilitated by veteran sitar maestro Pt. Arvind Parikh, the two-day conference provided intense brainstorming sessions, yet the challenge remains in activating the music and media communities towards cohesive and concerted action.

In the inaugural address, Rajiv Takru, Additional Secretary in the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, elaborated on the delicate balance between the twin motives of promotion and profit in media operations. 

It is generally agreed that in the current scenario, the largest slice of the media pie has primarily focused on film music. While the mainstream mould of Bollywood music has remained invincible for the past few decades, it is noteworthy that the increase in the number of private players in the field has not yet led to effective formation of niches for various other musical genres. Consequently, the marginalisation of other musical forms in media has been further intensified. While Bollywood and classical music are often positioned as the polarities of Indian music, there are myriad other genres that are often neglected in academic spaces and discussion forums as well. Raising this concern, Jayant Kastuar, Executive Board member of the Sangeet Natak Academy, pointed out that ‘Indian music’ expands to a vast corpus of musical knowledge beyond Hindustani and Carnatic classical to other musical traditions also. Many of these need immediate attention and constantly face the threat of becoming obscure in the face of media’s myopia and the challenge of globalisation and homogenisation of popular culture.

While the categorisation of India’s musical heritage is a contested area, another issue that afflicts music in media today is the inadequacy of journalistic skills to articulate the aesthetics of musical forms. Chaired by N. Murali, President, Madras Music Academy and Director of The Hindu, the panel on print media comprised veteran journalists Kalpana Sharma and Siddharth Bhatia, and V. Ramnarayan, editor-in-chief, Sruti magazine. Commenting on the current state of music writing, the panellists deliberated on aspects of media education, quality of media coverage, viability of media and the role of the newspaper.

Underlying this lacuna in music writing skills is also the need for a language for effectively talking about music. Either the musicology-derived terms make it too technical for the layman to comprehend, or the critique becomes too generalist belying any claims at musical knowledge by the reviewer. The issues of effective and informed reviewing and relationships between the audience and artists emerged in the panel that focused on theatre and dance. The discussions inquired into replicable models of art production and reception and intersections of music with other art forms. The necessity of evolving newer formats of art writing was also voiced by theatre personalities Shanta Gokhale, Sunil Shanbag and Gowri Ramnarayan.

In the realm of electronic media, case studies of erstwhile WorldSpace satellite radio’s Hindustani classical music station and Margazhi Mahotsavam—a festival of Carnatic music telecast on Jaya TV—provided insights into the successful development of niches with a growing listener base. Panellists Geeta Sahai (Radio Gandharv) and Subhasree Thanikachalam (Jaya TV) emphasised that packaging and presentation of content into entertaining and exciting formats was the key to sustaining and initiating newer audiences into specific music genres. Independent music is another significant area where new modes of production and distribution are being explored. Vijay Nair, CEO, Only Much Louder, shared his experiences of initiating and creating a vibrant community for independent music through his indie music record label and artist and event management outfits.

A session exclusively focusing on All India Radio gave vent to many grievances while AIR Director General Leeladhar Mandloi tried to placate participants with the announcement that out of 65,000 hours of recordings in AIR archives, 50,000 hours have been digitised. He further added that eleven channels of AIR are likely to be available on the internet soon. Voicing the concerns of the music community, senior artiste Nayan Ghosh offered a list of practical suggestions for the improvement of AIR facilities.

In an engaging discussion on the changing performance context, music critic Amarendra Dhaneshwar pointed out that multiplicity of programmes and abundance of talent are often offset by lack of equality of opportunity. The politics of concert organisation and corporate sponsorship is a prime factor that steers the performance world today. Sarangi maestro Dhruba Ghosh reflected on the changing social structures within music and its effect on the aesthetics of the form. Music critic and writer Deepak Raja traced the historical trajectory of the shift from concert to electronic media and their importance in defining the musician and her relationship with the audience. Talking about emerging career strategies, he pointed out that musicians today effectively use new media, for instance by uploading their links on youtube, and further encashing that in the concert scenario.

New media have indeed emerged as the most significant playing field providing space for new modes of exploration, production as well as transformation of performance spaces, contexts and relationships between performer and audience. In the session on new media, prominent musicians Shubha Mudgal and Aneesh Pradhan shared their journey of initiating a record label Underscore Records, that facilitates a more democratic distribution network for artists and promotes musically diverse forms and formats. New web applications and e-commerce models are being increasingly adopted by artists for independent publishing and creation of digital identities.

A creative, committed and connected online community has the power to transform media monopolies and offer new models for promotion, dissemination and appreciation of music. Nostalgia for a bygone era must give way to different ways of making music, thinking and talking about music. Modes of listening have transformed significantly from radio, cassettes, CDs to online music sharing and mobile phones. The need of the hour is to facilitate enabling systems for experimentation and to create spaces for coexistence of various musical styles. As artists turn to new methods of engaging audience in a digital era, media also needs to redesign strategies to carry forward the jugalbandi.

1 comment:

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