Monday, December 26, 2011

2011: Music and me

Just thought I'd share some quick notes on how this year has been for me, musically. Not that I do this customarily every year and not that I have any tremendous accomplishments to report this time; but 2011 has been fulfilling in many ways and I just felt like jotting down some thoughts here. I had my first article on music published (in Sruti). Gruhabhedam having been a pet subject for many years whereas cognitive science being a whole new ball game, it was exciting and intimidating at the same time. It seems like the article was well received overall and I hope I did some justice to the subject.

In October last year I mustered some guts and started to write some elaborate concert reviews on (unfortunately haven't been able to keep up with it much post May 2011 as I haven't attended many concerts since - hopefully 2012 is better). It's been a great learning experience to say the least (a small digression: the mere fact that SO much debate and discussion happens around it with such fervour makes me very proud to be part of this Carnatic tradition - not many traditional art forms can boast of such strong, academic involvement from connoisseurs). One of my reviews is leading to a larger project in the pipeline about which hopefully I'll soon be able to write here. Moving on... I got involved in an interesting movie project in the summer. Wish I could write more about it but again, will have to wait until it sees the light of the day. Hmm.

Ha, and a random post on my synesthesia resulted in some pleasantly surprising responses. First, I didn't expect the post to resonate with that many people and second, it led to getting acquainted with a talented filmmaker interested in the subject! It's a strangely satisfying feeling to talk in detail about something (especially as surreal as synesthesia) you've experienced all your life, for the first time - with someone you've never met/ talked to before. Thank god for blogging.

It's always a nice feeling to perform on stage a blockbuster number that you've grown up listening to - I sang Chandralekha at a Tamil New Years event in San Diego. I don't care how it came out but I thoroughly enjoyed myself :P Talking of performances, a more serious one happened a few months later, in October - with the blessings of my guru, I did my first full length Carnatic concert in the US at Shri Mandir, San Diego. I'm nitpicking my performance to this day- nevertheless, it was an eyeopener and a very valuable learning experience in many ways; many thanks to the accompanists.

One of the most exciting things this year has been a song I've composed - it's exciting because it's my first non-Carnatic: a ghazal. I'm usually extremely hard on myself but I must say I'm quite pleased with this one. With all the encouraging feedback it got from friends and family, I'm hopeful that it will soon be completed and up here. The fact that I'm handing it over to someone else to sing is even more exciting. More, soon!

Last but surely not the least, thanks to an eight year old bundle of incessant energy and talent, I discovered the teacher in me and I can only say that it has been an immensely gratifying experience!

Octaves hasn't seen a lot of audio posts from me this year (and I'm beginning to think it's going to continue to be like this) but I've enjoyed writing here and hope you've enjoyed reading as well.

Okay, time to get back to whining about not being at the Madras music season now. Signing off, and wishing you a fulfilling and fruitful 2012.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Concert at Shri Mandir, San Diego

Alapanais need to be more crisp and "tighter"; neraval less restrained, swaras more free flowing... I could go on. Heck, anyway- here are some videos from a concert I did at Shri Mandir, San Diego last month with Radhakrishnan on the flute and Sanath Kumar on the mridangam. Feedback would be much appreciated.

Santhana Gopala: Khamas

Sriramachandro: Sriranjani

Dayarani: Mohanam and Sarideno: Vidapi

Thillana: Rageshri

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Kannodu Kaanbadhellam: Revisiting after a decade

Kannodu Kaanbadhellaam was the first film song I covered. Ever. On a casette, with the help of the "karaoke" button on the music system that would suppress the original voice (the casette was then supposed to go to ARR - but ah, well that's another story). That was ten years ago, but the memories are still fresh. "Jeans" had released a couple of years ago and although a ludicrous movie for the most part, it was a laugh riot in our family and we all loved it. In fact if I remember right, we watched it multiple times in the theatre. I was at the peak of my ARR craze then and every time I would see his name appear in the credits on the screen, with the ni-sa-ri-sa track playing in the background, I would melt. We loved the songs so much and I almost damaged the casette by playing it too many times. And my uncle would joke that his car just wouldn't move if he didn't play Jeans songs =) Ah, those were the days...

This song, kannodu, surprisingly wasn't a favorite at first. It was Nithyasree's first film song and I found it.. er.. funny - for lack of a better word. The visuals were hilarious and that added to the comic factor. But it slowly grew on me and as the influence of the movie waned, I started seeing the classical richness of the song. And then in 2001, something came over me suddenly and I wanted to explore that "karaoke" button on our music system (although we'd had the system for a while before that) and kannodu was the first that came to mind. Everything was simpler back then - from the process of recording to my process of thinking. It was a more naive, carefree mind, not super intent on self-nitpicking. And I surprise myself every time I think of how I recorded back then: the whole song done at a stretch (coz you see, I couldn't cut-copy-paste on a casette).

Fast forward to 2011. The spontaneity, the unbridled enthusiasm, the uninhibited singing - all muted. I like to call it maturity - to keep my sanity. But there's also one other huge difference now: "cooler" gadgets and recording softwares that seem to mock you and exaggerate the smallest flaw. And these things only make it that much harder to achieve complacency.

Anyway... I've had this karoake track for quite sometime now and I somehow never wanted to try recording it- I just wanted to be content with my decade-old recording and not venture into it again. But venture I did, and here's the result. I wanted to sing some actual "kalpana" swarams at the end but the karaoke track had an annoying loud flute sound playing the original swarams, so I couldn't sing anything else there, hmph.

So here goes...

Song: Kannodu kaanbadhellaam
Film: Jeans
Music: A. R. Rahman
Lyrics: Vairamuththu
Singer: Nithyasree Mahadevan

And here's the old one (which I'd posted here some years ago) again, for the record (I think the tempo got increased somehow as a result of which my voice is kinda distorted, but anyway)

Monday, September 19, 2011

My article on raga recognition in Sruti Magazine

I'm happy to share that my article on the neurophilosophy of raga recognition appeared in the September 2011 issue of Sruti. What started as a term paper for a class I took long ago (more than a year now) with Prof Paul Churchland has resulted in this. Thanks to Swaroop who first spotted it on my blog when I'd posted it for a very brief period last year; and of course, to the editor Ramnarayan.

As Octaves completes five years this month (that's right, five! hard to believe for me); it's a nice feeling to be writing musicology/ music theory related posts back to back. After all, I've always primarily been a theorist at heart.

Here's the article.
(Disclaimer: the model I discuss as I conceived of it in this context is just that: a model; a kind of an artificial neural network for heuristic purposes only)

PS: Please do subscribe to Sruti if you're interested in the Indian classical arts. It's an immensely valuable resource!

Raga recognition

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Colored Ragas: Synesthesia and Carnatic Music

Here's something very curious - and very personal in some ways - I wanted to put out there so that hopefully, I get to hear what people have to say about this and even better would be to know if there are other people who have similar experiences.

I associate colors with ragas. Yes. And swaras too. Kharaharapriya is greenish; Kalyani is yellowish; Bahudhari is purplish; Nalinakanthi is orangish... Sa is yellowish, ri is greenish, ga is majenta, ma is reddish... I could go on. You might think either a) I'm making it all up, or b) I'm crazy. Well for now in my defense, I can only say neither is the case, unless you can jump into my brain (which, trust me, you likely wouldn't want to do). I've experienced this raga/ swara - color correlation since childhood. In fact, I associate colors with abstract things much more fundamental than colors and ragas in some sense: I see letters of the alphabet as well as numbers, as colored. I have always been very curious about this and among the handful of people I shared this with when I was growing up, no one seemed to experience anything similar. It was only a couple of years ago that I learned about synesthesia from this extremely insightful and engaging talk by V.S Ramachandran (and shamefully, I go to the very university he teaches at and I haven't had a chance to meet him yet). In brief, synesthesia is a neurological condition where multiple (usually two) senses/ perceptions get mixed up.

The correspondence (between the color and say, a raga) in my case seems to be completely random: there doesn't seem to be a pattern in the correlation between say, the frequency of a swara or the mood of a raga and the colors I associate with them respectively. Same goes with numbers and letters: I see no pattern (for instance, higher the number, darker the color). My initial suspicion was that this had its roots in the fact that I had colored plastic letters and numbers to play with when I was a kid; but now I doubt it, for I don't even seem to remember the colors of most of the pieces. But may be the colors, in their abstract, stuck on subconsciously and I lost the ability to actively recall what color each piece was. But even if all this began with my playing with these colored pieces of letters and numbers, how did it catch on to music as well? May be it's all linguistic after all? May be the color of a raga for me is the color I associate with the first letter of the name of the raga? For I see 'N' as orange, and Nalinakanthi is indeed orange too. But this cannot be the case: the foregoing example has to be a coincidence, for other ragas starting with N are not necessarily orange for me. In fact, I don't seem to always perceive ordinary words as colored (although letters are colored) and even when I do, the color seems to have little to do with the color I associate with not just the first, but any of the constituent letters (and similarly, the color of a raga seems to have little to do with the colors of the constituent swaras).

Two clarifications are in order. First, I think letters or numbers or ragas or whatever - produce a sensation of color only when they're "inside" and not "outside". I mean, when I look at a number or hear someone say a letter; or for that matter even hear someone sing a raga or a swara or sing it myself; I don't think the color sensation shows up. Or if it does, it certainly is not very strong. It is rather the thinking of these entities (for lack of a better word); that conjures up the colors for me. And second, it's extremely hard to put a name to each color I see! It's usually a haze and while I'm sure that I'm having a color sensation, I'm not sure what color it is. I think it's usually not even a well defined color (which is why the "ish-s" suffixed to names of all the colors I mentioned above)

I don't know if what I've described above is characteristic of synesthetes in general. May be I'm not synesthetic at all. One goal for this year is to go to a Cognitive Science lab and get a test done. How interesting that would be!

Sorry for the ramble. I've been wanting to write about this for so long now and finally, just dashed it off while in a restless mode :( Hope it all made at least some sense, and I'm very eager to hear your reactions.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Sanga thamizh kaviye

To me, sanga thamizh kaviye is a song in which KJY and Chitra epitomize the ultimate immaculateness of rendering classical based songs. Every nuance in every briga and every sangathi seems to have been ever so carefully sculpted and delicately put in place. Of course, maestro Ilaiyaraja's magic is seen through and through - in the choice of ragas (Abheri, Sriranjani, Sumanesaranjani), the structure of the interludes, the talam which seems to have a seamless gathibhedam, alternating between tishram and chaturshram; and so on. But I feel the rendition itself is so integral to the song that I wonder if it would have sounded as good if anyone else had sung it (and excuse my bias- can't help saying, "especially Chitra" :) ) Although not a big fan of the lyrics, I simply love this song for the music and the voices.
Here's my "unplugged" version of the song. I haven't ventured into trying any modifications or improvisations- I simply didn't want to. So here's a modest attempt of the textbook version.
Thanks for listening!

Song: sangaththamizh kaviye
Film: manadhil urudhi vendum
Music: Ilaiyaraja
Lyrics: Vaali
Singers: K.J.Yesudas; K.S. Chitra

Friday, June 24, 2011

Crazy Kiya Re

A break from my long drawn Carnatic/ Classical spell. Here's a racy bollywood number.

Not my usual kinda song choice, but thoroughly enjoyed singing it! Feedback would be much appreciated.

Song: Crazy Kiya Re
Movie: Dhoom 2
Music: Pritam
Singer: Sunidhi Chauhan

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Wish list for my dream concert experience

I don't have a specific artist in mind; but I'd just LOVE to experience this dream (vocal/ instrumental) concert sometime. And I'm restricting myself here to the standard concert format- I could come up with other wish lists for other concert formats, but one's enough for now.

1. Maathe - Dharu Varnam - Khamas, Adi
2. Shankaram Abhirami - Kamalamanohari - Rupakam (swaram)
3. Ranjani Niranjani - Ranjani - Adi (ragam, swaram)
4. Chittam irangaadhenaiyya - Sahana - Khanda Chapu
5. Pirava varam thaarum - Latangi - Adi (ragam, neraval, swaram)
6. Niravatisukha - Ravichandrika - Adi
7. Inta sowkhya - Kapi - Adi (ragam, neraval, swaram)
8. RTP Nalinakanthi with swaras in Bahudhari, Hamsanadam, Valaji, Nattakurinji, Varamu, Behag.... you get the idea :P
9. Entha muddho - Bindumalini - Adi
10. Aliveni - Kurunji - Mishra Chapu
11. Thillana - Rageshri - Adi
12. Mangalam

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Payaliya Jhankar

For a while now, I've been having what a friend rightly called "singer's block"- I simply haven't been able to sing. Not been practicing, abandoned music classes constantly feeling I don't have time for it, and worse, reinforcing in myself that I simply cannot do it. Grad school has indeed been exhausting, but I can't conscientiously convince myself that I don't have time to sing- it's rather just been a different avatar of plain procrastination I guess. I finally forced myself to resume music classes and it feels very rejuvenating! Anyway, all the ranting apart, here's a new song finally.

I first heard Payaliya Jhankaar, a popular "chota khayal" in Raag Puriya Dhanashri (Pantuvarali in Carnatic), when I was probably 6 or 7- sung by one of my cousins who was learning Hindustani. My sister and me used to love this song... And then after many years, there was the silken voice of Hariharan rendering a few lines of the song as a prelude to A.R.Rahman's "Hai Rama yeh kya hua"- what a magical piece of music that was! And then came Ajay Pohankar's very classy "indipop" version which has a natural "instant appeal" factor to it. I'd been wanting to cover his version for a long time but somehow never got around to doing it. It's here now; finally. Thanks to Vijay Narayanan for the vocal-cut track. (I had to then play around with the track to reduce the pitch, so it probably isn't as good as it could've been).

Song: Payaliya Jhankaar
Artist: Ajay Pohankar
Album: Piya Bavari Again
Covered by: Sindhuja Bhakthavatsalam

PS: Hope you like the new look of this blog! :)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Feature on Sound Box

Thanks to Joseph Thomas (whom I'd like to refer to as the "father of Indian audioblogging" :) ), I along with a few other audiobloggers was featured in the March edition of the music trade magazine, Sound Box, in an article written by Jo on the Indian audioblogging culture. Here is a reproduction of it. Click on the images to enlarge.

Monday, January 17, 2011

My recording for Swaralahari

Here's the first of two parts of a recording I did for Swaralahari in October last year. With no experience before a camera, I was super duper nervous, to say the least- and it shows very well. I had decided against blogging about this, but then thought it should be here along with all my other musical endeavors- for the record. Hopefully there's a better next time!