Music


(What now seems like a) Long time ago, I used to blog about my favorite ragas. In terms of effort taken to write one, it all started small, but soon got big, perhaps too big that I am unfortunately unable to get myself to do another one. However, creating such posts were enjoyable, and none more enjoyable than the one I did on rItigauLa. Per site-stats, it is one of my most popular posts, and that is not surprising because it is a wildly popular raga, be it in carnatic music, or in film music.

Now, if rItigauLa were a girl, she would no doubt be beauty personified. She would perhaps be one of those high-class ladies, the definition of grace, decked in the finest formal attire, glittering jewelry, and with a way about her that tugs, then squeezes your heart into an ache at her every dancing movement. Whenever and wherever she arrives, she would make every head turn and take notice, and she would takes their breath away.

Of course, then a certain (twisted, iconoclastic) mind starts wandering and wonders if she were instead decked in leather, or some bold, western attire, would she carry the same aura? Would she still weave that magic which easily entraps so many and makes them spell bound? Would, could rItigauLa “rock the house”?

Well what do you think?

(Now you know why I was trying to wax poetic in a completely looney way 😉 – It was all just stage-prep)

As with my earlier experiments, the whole thing is synthesized – i.e. not a single “live” note. The lead melody is “played” by a “synthesizer” that I am currently developing and still tinkering with. I can program gamakas into it (in a fairly precise but also painfully laborious way), and it can synthesize them in a way that does not sound “too artificial” (i.e. avoids the “mickey-mouse” effects). It still has ways to go, and it can probably never be the real deal, but for now, it fits some of my needs well.

( Clarification: Not a single “live” note is probably misleading. While the melody (including gamakas) is indeed generated by a computer program, the underlying sound samples are from a real instrument (guitar) rather than them also being synthesized from scratch. This is the reason why it sounds more like a real guitar in spite of it being synthesized. )

Let me know what you think. In any case, be at peace by savoring the real rItigauLa of tyAgarAja and other great composers. If you still like this one, it could be a guilty-pleasure 😉

A few weeks ago I had posted how much I was impressed by Bebot, an iPhone app, which gives you so much more for just $2 (albeit running on a $300 device ;-)). I had mentioned that the fact that the entire touch screen is one “continuos” playing surface very much like the Haaken continuum makes it a potential candidate for producing carnatic music gamakas in a way that could surpass most keyboards (even with portamento control).

At that time I had admitted that my initial attempts at producing carnatic music on it were (expectedly) unsuccessful. After all playing any music on a new instrument is a challenge – and that too carnatic music, which I would argue is the ultimate challenge for the player and a continuum like instrument. On top of that, with the iPhone you have an extremely limited playing surface in terms of real estate – a problem that should be largely alleviated by the iPad.

A week or so after that post, I had labored long enough to be able to produce something that could be called to resemble carnatic music ;-), and that is the subject of this entry.. Of course in the spirit of true experimentation, I have mixed a “different background” than the standard tampura drone of Carnatic Music. Hope you like it, and hope you can guess the raga in spite of any mistake(s) (there is certainly one suspicious phrase)

Note: There was post editing and post processing (i.e. to add effects etc. some of which also to change the timbre slightly) was done with GarageBand.

I actually like the way the background brings new hues into the melody – hues that are completely unexpected for this raga but yet strangely compatible. This was a revelation to me, in spite of the fact that this concept is not new at all (e.g. pretty much standard fare in Indian Films , and also is Anil Srinivasan does). By revelation I mean that I did not at all foresee the end result when I was adding the background music to a melody that until then the familiar, standard carnatic (barring flaws ;-)) feel.

The addition of background to me makes the whole piece become multi-layered – it certainly enhances the melody.

Oh by the way, here is a video demo by A.R. Rahman playing a semi-classical piece on the Haken Continuum on the Haken Website:

Playing the Bebot is sort of like that – except you have a very small playing surface 🙂

So someone suggested this iPhone app called Bebot, a $2 bucks synthesizer, which has the same “potential” as the $3000-$5000 Haken continuum!  The thing which intrigued me (and similar carnatic music fans) is that it can generate pitches not boxed in set western keys, but all the intervening pitches, and thus making it potentially amenable to the gamakas of carnatic music. What intrigued me more was that it was only two bucks 🙂 ! It certainly is the best iPhone app I have .

Long story short – no, i could not produce Carnatic music in it – it probably requires very very expert hands, and possibly a larger screen in order to achieve the required fine control  (yes, the poorly named iPad would be one).  It is technically possible to do some simple tunes with gamakas but requires a lot of perseverance and effort.  But it can do, is let you create some really cool and interesting music just goofing around, and can keep young and old occupied.  Mucho, mucho impressive for just 2 freaking bucks!

The touch interface of iPhone (and my iPod Touch) is superbly suited for this kind of a musical instrument.  You move your finger left to right and pitch increases, you move up and down and the timbre changes and thus by just making arbitrary patterns one can create very interesting music.  You can add echo, overdrive effects to. And, I love the fact that you could set up various scales, and of course within an hour I had set up many of the Carnatic based scales – and when played with classic western sounds, one can produce very spacey kind of music.

Here is a sample I generated which uses 5 scales of Carnatic ragas. I have termed it a “roguamalika” – yes rogue form of ragas strewn together 😉 !

Obviously it sounds wild and haphazard, as there was really not much thought into producing it, and is a result of mostly haphazard patterns with my finger on the touch screen!!!! Can you guess the 5 ragas? Select the text below for the answer:

  1. Amrtavarshini (S G3 M2 P N3 S or   C E F# G B ),
  2. mOhanam ( S R2 G P D2 S or   the major pentatonic)
  3. HamsanAdam ( S R2 M2 P N3 S or  C D F# G B )
  4. AbhOgi  ( S R2 G2 M1 D2 S or  C D Eb F A )
  5. (old) udayacandrikA or SrOTaswani ( S G2 M1 P N3 S or C Eb F G B )

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