S.Rajam’s (Music Appreciation notes)

Saturday, 14 October 2017

A new app for Carnatic music

By T.T. Narendran

Technology has had a role to play in Carnatic music over the last century. The results have been mixed—it has been a boon and a bane! Technology has been used, misused and abused abundantly, for the comfort, delight and annoyance of the listener. There have been plenty of instances in which the musician’s delight was the listeners’ discomfort; probably true, the other way around, too. If amplification of sound and acoustics of auditoria were the concerns earlier, the current focus is on the utilisation of Information Technology, web and internet for a variety of applications. Some of the younger generation of musicians are, themselves, tech-savvy while others still seek to make an impact with the help of friends who have the competence in this area. There are music classes that happen across the globe using the internet. They swell the coffers of the native musicians at negligible cost to the dollar-paying learner, thanks to the weak rupee. A welcome use of technology, indeed, to motivate musicians to remain in the profession instead of migrating to a routine office job, for which they qualify based on their college education. Are the media for distance-education effective? Are compromises made to keep this going? It will be unfair to comment without assessing the situation on the ground.

A recent development has been the launch of the Veena JJ mobile app by the veena duo, Jeyaraaj and Jaysri. How would it be if one can listen to any chosen kriti of Dikshitar at a mere touch? Well, that seems to be a long-term goal of this couple, who plan classifications under different heads. Their project is motivated by the realisation that the mobile phone has the widest reach, well beyond the internet. The target audience is mixed—it includes casual listeners as well as serious students of Carnatic music.

The couple's initial focus is on kritis, particularly those of Dikshitar, owing to their guru-lineage that traces back to Ambi Dikshitar, a descendant of the Dikshitar family. They have learnt from Calcutta Anantharama Iyer and his sister Champakalakshmi. Some rare kritis may not have been featured in regular concerts, similarly there are ragas that have to be understood through the sparsely available, short kritis that have just a pallavi and a samashti charanam. Ragas such as Easamanohari, Saraswati manohari and Udaya ravichandrika differ from those with the same names as used by Tyagaraja. Preservation of these rare musical pieces is one of the objectives. Access through the app will facilitate repetitive listening for those who wish to learn or to analyse.

For familiar ragas, the veena is used to demonstrate the gamakas clearly. Jeyaraaj and Jaysri feel that some kritis of Muthuswami Dikshitar can serve as tutorials for learning the nuances of a raga.

Eventually, the scope of the project will expand to encompass the kritis of the trinity with an effort to preserve the pathantara. The couple cite an instance of Tyagaraja’s Chakkani raja margamu in Kharaharapriya; what they learnt from the late Chengleput Ranganathan, about a decade ago, matches the version rendered by the Alathur Brothers, over fifty years ago.   

In the current design of the app, the kritis have been classified according to the deity, raga, tala and composer. It will facilitate a prospective user to obtain a list of compositions devoted to a particular deity, a list of kritis in a raga and so on. There is an initial database of compositions, the creation of which required quite a bit of technical support and finance. They intend to charge a small sum for users to access the app, raise the money, record more music and expand the database in a phased manner. From what they describe, it seems a formidable task to find the resources, create the content and provide the access. As of now, the app works on android phones and is yet to be made accessible to i-phones.

The idea sounds good though ambitious and one hopes, for the art’s sake, they succeed.

1 comment:

  1. RR. Very good initiative by the Veena couple. Sister of Sri Anantharama Iyer is Smt. A Champakavalli.