Today is a great day. I finally followed through with something useful 🙂 !!

My first iPhone App  Xanagram is available on the Apple App Store for $1.99. It is a Crossword Jumble game, which I hope that many of you would find exciting and engaging.

An exciting word game!

The game works as follows: You are presented with a puzzle containing two scrambled words. You solve the puzzle by unscrambling the words and the game presents the next puzzle. Puzzles get harder (longer words) or easier depending on how you do. You can reveal the meaning or select letters to help you solve the puzzle.

Please check out for more information or click here to take you to the App Store. Let me know if you like it!

Update:  There is now a free version Xanagram Lite for those that want to give the game a spin before deciding whether to spend the $1.99 for the full version. The Lite version uses a smaller dictionary.


A post after a long time (yes, this has become a recurring theme 🙂 ).

In this one, I return to taking of the liberty of requesting you, the reader (if you are still around) to lend your ears for a few minutes and listen to my “attempt” at using carnatic music concepts in western music.

Without much ado, here it is:

(You can also download the audio file from here.)

Note: As before a good pair of headphones with good dynamic range and high volume may provide the best effect – no tinny PC speakers!

I hope you can guess the raga. It has a very strong melodic flavor which is defined in its scale i.e. arohana/avarohana itself.  I do believe that in this piece, although it takes a while to build up, that flavor should stand out fairly well, particularly in the second solo which has very recognizable phrases and progressions.

I am actually excited and satisfied with this one on a few counts:

  • Created on the iPad! Most of my previous attempts were created pretty much in entirety with Garageband on the Mac (except for the one on using that amazing iPhone app Bebot). However, this one was created entirely on the iPad using an excellent full-featured sequencer app called iSequence!! For $14.95, this can create some amazing music, with many number great sounds/instruments already part of the package, and extra ones you can buy for $1.99 each. This piece was created fully using the default set of sounds. Not all the default sounds are great but some are awesome.
    • The clever reader may have noticed a cheap attempt  to “entice” one to listen to earlier attempts by bring them into the topic and providing hyperlinks. But that clear reader is still requested to indulge the blog writer ;-).
  • I have always loved this raga because of the emotion and energy it carries.  It is one of the few ragas which I think would be a fantastic fit for a symphonic orchestral piece with high energy. I think this is one area where some of the intense carnatic ragas (with strong melancholy or pathos) can be used to terrific effect. My aim was for a  rock(ish) piece that had the same kind of vibe. I am satisfied that I came up with something that does reflect my thoughts on this raga in a western fit. I like the energy it carries.
  • One of the “features” that iSequence has is a glissando mode which is implemented very well as a smooth slide without too many digital artifacts that we may encounter in many software synthesizers (or atleast the inexpensive ones I have tried). I have used it in this piece albeit still trying to make it as western – but I think this mode has good potential for a more carnatic melody.

I hope you liked the piece. If you do, please provide your thoughts in a comment below.

After a long break, here is the 12th in the series (click here for the 11th one). It is an alapana in another rare, old and attractive raga. Can you also guess the artist?

Audio courtesy: Sangeethapriya

A hint: Your instincts may not be right 😉

Click here for the answer.

This is a Part 2 of a post that tries to highlight some of the rhythmic wizardry employed by Carnatic musicians during kalpanaswaras.1 Click here for Part 1.

Note on terminology – matra and akshara: It has been mentioned that Carnatic Music suffers from ambiguous and thus confusing use of terminology because there is no consistent adoption of standards. I have used akshara to indicate outer division of tala cycle (so 8 aksharas per Adi tala cycle), and matra to indicate sub-division within that. This is used by many, but some authoritative experts would deem this as incorrect, and what I refer to mAtra here i.e. the inner division should be akshara. At least, for the purposes of this article, I continue to use akshara for outer division, and matra for inner division.

In part 1, I discussed a sarvalaghu style kalpanaswara rendition by Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer (SSI) and contrasted that with a “more complicated” example from T. N. Seshagopalan (TNS), the latter being one that would be labelled to involve “kanakku” implying rhythmic complexity. We saw that in that example, TNS was weaving a melody with a 5-based rhythmic pattern in the context of a song that up to that point had a 4-based rhythm (and although not shown eventually it all goes  back to 4-based pattern leading to the conclusion of the piece).

In this part, I elaborate on a more sophisticated form of rhythmic wizardy. Listen to this sample from Tanjore S. Kalyanaraman (TSK). It again starts with the violin playing a standard 4-based tune (i.e. like sarvalaghu style). However, pay particular attention to what follows (from 0:20 onwards):

What is happening here? Again, we can see a melody that appears to have a complex rhythm in comparison to the initial (violin) part. Here is the notation:

As you can see just like with TNS’ case, TSK has also switched to a 5-based pattern (swaras above are basically grouped in 5 mAtras), but there is a difference.

In TNS’ case, the duration of a matra (same as shortest swara/pause in this case) in the 5-based pattern was still the same as the duration of the 4-based pattern.  So although the performers keeping tala would stick to the original 4-matras per akshara spacing for tala-keeping, in this localized part the rhythm of the melody is no longer in sync with the inherent beat of the tala keeping (and that is part of the challenge of executing it). It is now 5/4th of that beat (i.e. 5/4 * 4-matras = 5-matras). Does it mean that the tempo has changed? I am not 100% sure but I think not. Atleast there is no perceivable shift in pace. There is definitely a perceivable shift in rhythmic dynamics, the “gait” changed from a 4-based one to a 5-based one during that sample.

Now, in TSK’s case, he has also switched the gait of the melody to a 5-based one but he keeps the akshara duration same but shrinks the matra duration so that five instead of four now fit in an akshara!  So for example, if say you had a 8 second tala cycle for Adi, and thus this is divided into 8 parts, i.e eight 1-second aksharas. If each of those are divided into 4 (equal of course) matras, then each matra is 250 milliseconds. Now, instead if you want to divide that 1-second into 5 (equal) matras with the same, then each matra would be  200 millseconds. Thus the shortest unit (swara or pause) in the notation above is 200 milliseconds, as opposed to 250 milliseconds in the preceding violin part.  So does this mean that the tempo has increased? Perhaps it is not apparent here – but will be so soon 🙂

The above is technically is in khanDa gati as per carnatic music i.e. the term for the gait where the akshara of tala is divided into 5 matras. Note that in a strict rhythmic point of view, the TNS’ sample is also in khaNDa gati since it is a 5-based rhythm.

Taking it to next level

Now in this particular rendition, Shri Kalyanaraman does not stop with this. Later, he turns it on with the following:

Now what is this – some of you may wonder!

He is basically taking the switching of gait by “shrinking” the matra duration to the next level, by doing it for 3, 4, 5 and 6 matras – all within one iteration of kalpanaswaras!  Note that here, initially the rendition is in a 3-based rhythmic gait i.e. tisra gati. TSK actually switches to it after the khanda-gati section shown in the first sample, and I have skipped that part. This 3-based tisra gati gait should be apparent from the mridangam beat at the start (123 123 i.e. ta-ki-Ta ta-ki-Ta). When TSK starts the swaras he first does tiSra gati (3 matras for the same original akshara duration), then catusra (4  matras), then khaNDa (5 matras), and then tiSra but in double speed (6 matras).

Do you perceive a shift in tempo in the above sample – an increase from the start to the end? It may seem so even though if you kept tala the beat that is there in the tala keeping will not change – since the akshara duration does not change!  Why there is a perceived tempo shift may be because the matras, and thus the swaras are  getting shorter and shorter, and in effect accelerating the tempo. We all can naturally “double” the tempo say go from 2 to 4 to 8 and that is no big deal. The interesting part here is that TSK is doing it in more gradual but precise terms.  From the initial 3-based one, he increases by 4/3 (133%), then 5/4 (125%) of that, then 6/5 (112.5%) of that.

Here is the swara notations for that part.

Note: The dashes (-) indicate musical phrasing separation. Also the notation for tisra-mEl kalam may not be 100% accurate in that it may not be starting on an akshara as illustrated above (see below). Nevertheless the duration of 6 of those swaras is the same as an 5 for khaNDa, 4 for catusra etc.

From the notation we can see the following:

  • In the first part, which is in tiSra gati i.e a 3-based rhythm, and we have three swaras per akshara – G D P  for first,  G R G for second.
  • For the second part in catusra gati (4-based) we have four swaras per akshara: D R’ S’ D for first, P S’ D P for second.
  • For  the third part in khaNDa gati (5-based), we have five swaras per akshara – D R’ S’ D P for first, and G P D S’ P for second.
  • For the fourth part, we are in tiSra gati again but double the speed of the first part and thus 6 swaras per akshara: D R’ , S’ D P  for first and D S’ , D P G for second.

Here is another way to look at the above. A video that illustrates that TSK is indeed fitting more swaras within the same duration (may be more illustrative to view in full screen):

Note: The blue lines correspond to the akshara boundaries. I have marked the individual matras in the audio waveform at some places using numbers 1, 2, 3 etc. Note also that per this, the 6-based rhythm actually starts “before” the akshara boundary – at least that is how it appears.

Continuing the above rendition, what follows is the violinist response for above i.e. doing 3-based, then 4-based, 5-based and then 6-based.  Then you have TSK doing an iteration where the above is done in reverse (i.e  6 to 5 to 4 to 3 and then 2 also) along with the violist response (which does not strictly follow it):

I leave it as an exercise to the reader to map the swaras TSK singing to notation 🙂

There is more!

But wait! There is more! Some of you may wonder – hey how come he left out miSra gati i.e. the 7-based one in that progression. He does that immediately afterward 🙂 :

Note that the 7 is used predominantly as a 2+2+1+1+1  (e.g: d,d,pdp) pattern.

Why all this? Granularity of Time

So what is it that TSK is exhibiting here?  I am always intrigued by gati switches but recently I looked more into the implications, and  am now even more impressed.

As I mention above, the overall akshara duration (the blue lines in that vide sample) is practically constant and in this case, it is about 600 milliseconds i.e. a little more than 1/2 a second. Given this, the shortest note in that second sample above (with the gati switches of 3,4,5 and 6)  is one that takes 1/6th of an akshara duration, and is thus 100ms. The next shortest note is 1/5th i.e. 120ms. So the artist is aiming to show a mastery of timing via 2 notes that differ in length by about 20ms i.e. 1/50th of a second! Once you consider in the miSra gati i.e. 7-based one, we now have same 600ms duration split into 7, and so each note is roughly it is about 86ms. Now the difference between this and last 1/6th one is 14ms, an even finer resolution!

Of course,  if you measure at the micro-level you will see some jitter around this target time resolution as  humans are not robots. But isn’t this impressive nevertheless? Isn’t the above concept of dividing a certain beat interval into different even and odd parts pretty interesting and also quite complex? This is why many people think carnatic music has one of the most sophisticated and demanding rhythmic framework.

Of course there are many different ways of exhibiting ones’ talent (vidvat) in kalpanaswaras – many more techniques, many of them I don’t even know about! The above is just a sample – a sample I find very intriguing. I hope you enjoyed understanding the innards of the above techniques as much as I did!

A Note on the demands on the Accompanying Artists

First of all, I apologize that I do not know the accompanying artists in the above samples.

One should also note that all of the above is pretty much done on the fly. TSK may not have come prepared as to whether he is going to do these things that day for that song. Most often these are a product of on-the-moment inspiration and hence it is improvisatory. Thus one can imagine that the challenge on the accompanying players is quite incredible. Both the violinist and the mrdangist have to immediately perceive the underlying rhythm pattern the vocalist is weaving with all its complexities. The mrdangist has to immediate follow along as soon as possible for best effect (you can see in the mix-gati sample, he catches on very quickly). The violinist has to be able to produce a response that captures all the essential details (pattern, gait, as well as swaras being dwelved upon) – it of course need not and probably shouldn’t be a exact copy. But it has to be “in the same spirit”.  I am always amazed how quickly adaptive they are although in cases like this where they are accompanying a supremely talented musician like TSK, they are often stretched to their limits and it may show i.e where things aren’t fully synchronized all the time (you can see a bit of this in the miSra gati sample)



  1. kalpanaswaras: For the uninitiated, this is an improvisatory section of a carnatic music piece where in the artist weaves melodic patterns consisting of the Indian solfa syllables adhering to the grammar of the raga of the piece.

A short detour before the 2nd of part of Kanakku vs. Sarvalaghu in Carnatic Music. But this one is related to it.

When I was analyzing that “rhythmically complex” piece by T.N. Seshagopalan featured in that post, I was trying various different ways of confirming my analysis that the rhythm of that piece was a 5-based one. As I had indicated in that post, I was having a hard time doing this since (a) I found the rhythm “non-intuitive” and complex and (b)  I always struggled with rhythmic aspects of carnatic music more compared with the melodic aspects (guessing ragas, figuring out swaras etc.).

One of the methods I tried was to use Garageband on the mac to recreate the tune, set to the same tempo as the original so that it syncs with it. This way, I can find out the correct “lengths” of each note which would confirm if it is a 5-based rhythm or really a unique use of 4-based rhythm or something else.

When doing so, pne time,  just for kicks, I assigned a distortion heavy electic guitar as the MIDI instrument to my recreation of the tune – and wow! I was stunned by the effect!!!  I thought This just rocks!!.  So one thing led to another and eventually to the end-result below.

A few heads ups that you should read before you listen to the piece.

  • I have used some “artistic liberties” here to present a “situation”. Someone (say me 😉 )  hears the original carnatic tune on a radio, the tune getting stuck in their head (this definitely happened to me), resulting in what follows. That is why at the start, you have the original carnatic snippet albeit with some “radio” disturbance, as well as some strange echoing i.e. the tune swimming all over someone’s head as they tossed in their sleep (no comment!).
  • A good headphones is the best way to get the full effect! And full, maximum volume is certainly mandatory!!
  • It is basically just one riff, one tune, repeated pretty much throughout but in different textures – carrying different energy level. And given that it is 4:30 long, it may seem like overkill, and probably is 😉 !!  But that is a reflection of how much the tune filled in my hand (that I just had to “get it out”!).
  • For those carnatic fans amongst you, the end tune has no resemblance to carnatic  because it was not intended to be so. I made no attempt to even try to introduce even a touch of it since I liked the rocking nature of the riff as such and just ran with it.

And oh-yes – “Five on Eight” is a play on words – can you see it?

Thanks to T. N. Seshagopalan and other artists for being the creative inspiration behind this.

And thanks to “vk” for being the guinea pig ;-)!!

Note: A post after a long time. Perhaps I am rusty as I had a real hard time penning this one. I had broach this subject (a deeper look into the rhythmic maze woven in kalpanaswaras) for a while, but I could not get my thoughts ordered correctly, and thus  it seemed quite hard to prevent it from getting out of hand and too expansive. Also, this is certainly an area where I am shaky at best, and so in spite of the effort I may have gone off the beam. Advance apologies if that turns out to be the case!

The term kaNakku in Tamil means calculation, and is used to refer to many things, the most common of which is a colloquial reference to the subject of math in general.

In Carnatic Music also, it finds use albeit mainly by the tamil speaking cross section of the Carnatic Music populace. Here, like most unofficial, colloquial terms, it does not have a precise, specific meaning. I think it refers to “complexity”, in particular “rhythmic complexity” – an obviously nebulous reference. When used to describe the music of an artist,  it is used to describe the artistic expression of the musician’s kalpanaswaras. When someone says His/Her music has a lot of kaNakku, it means that during kalpanaswaras, the musician typically weaves seemingly complicated rhythmic patterns presumably involving elaborate calculations i.e. kaNakku. This may involve swaras/pauses of varied lengths, and also employing complex techniques like switches in gati/gait. This to most of us would seem complicated, and that is perhaps so because it is “non intuitive” in the sense that a steady, smooth flowing rhythm is not easily apparent in the constructed melodic patterns.

The other end of the spectrum to this type of kalpanaswaras is one which is referred by another nebulous term – sarvalaghu. I do not know what exactly the word means, or again, whether it has a precise meaning that every one agrees upon. At best, I can think we can describe it as weaving kalpanaswara patterns where a somewhat steady, smooth flowing rhythm natural rhythm is obvious to the listener. Of course, I realize that the phrase steady, smooth flowing rhythm is perhaps as nebulous as the term it is trying to shed light upon on 🙂 !

Hence, perhaps the difference would be better demonstrated via examples:

Here is an example of the sarvalaghu type of kalpanaswaras:

The musician here is Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer (SSI) who almost always did kalpanaswaras in this fashion, and he always does a superb job. In fact, this is the more common type of kalpanaswaras which almost all musicians follow. The great Madurai Mani Iyer who was famous for his kalpanaswara renditions excelled in sarvalaghu style. Today, for example, T.M. Krishna amongst the current day vocalists employs a style very similar to SSI above. In fact, even those who employ “kanakku” usually start (or end) with this type of kalpanaswaras.

Contrast the above with this by T.N. Seshagopalan (TNS), particularly the iteration starting with him:

The piece starts with the violinist’s response which is more or less a straightforward sarvalaghu type style – you can clearly make out swaras in groups of 4. However, compare that with TNS’s next iteration? Can you see that starting with it, the rhythm of the melody seems somewhat complicated? Of course the pattern is certainly catchy but to me, it seems it isn’t as “easy flowing” as the SSI sample.

But why is this so? .

Sarvalaghu style – a deeper look:
Tala, gati, and mAtra: The song that SSI is singing swaras to is mArubalka (Sriranjani, Thyagaraja), which is set to Adi Tala, in  catusra gati. What does this mean? This implies that the “beat” of the song, which has the same duration as an akshara of the tala (but need not align with it and hence is not necessarily synonymous with it) can be further divided into 2 or 4 or even 8 smaller units of time. This can be in theory be 16, 32 etc. in theory, but let us consider simpler cases.

If we assume that it is 4 divisions (most common),  then within the duration of a whole cycle of Adi tala (which has 8 aksharas)  you have 32 such time units as follows:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4

This smaller time division is called a mAtra or mAttirai (tamil).  So if a musician is singing swaras for one tala cycle  as above, and each swara‘s duration is equal to this smaller time unit, then he/she would be able to fit 32 swaras in a cycle of Adi tala. This is the typical way things are done in most Adi tala songs (in catusra gati).

Now in sarvalaghu singing,  for catusra gati, I believe that the swaras (and pauses) are almost always 1, 2, and 4 mAtras, (i.e. 1/4th 1/2, or 1-whole akshara durations), and you will also find them grouped such thatas per the tala “beats” (either on the “beat” or half-way in between). Not all swaras need be of same duration  (e.g. like srgm rgmd gmdn mdns), and thus it can be a mixture of these.  If you mostly have 1, 2, or 4 mAtras for swaras (and pauses), then you can see in general you will find that they align “to the beat”.

Here is the notations for the swaras the vocalist (SSI) sings in that piece:

Note that the swaras shown above are grouped in 4s (not necessarily aligned to tala), and a set of 4 have the same duration as the akshara, which is the span of the natural “beat of the song”. As you can see, the overwhelming # of swaras are 1/4th akshara in duration, and there are almost no pauses. This is typical of sarvalaghu type of swaras singing and it helps establish a riveting, easy to grasp rhythm.

“Kanakku” style: In the case of that T.N. Seshagopalan piece, as we will see, the swaras do not follow this style. In fact, it took me quite a bit of analysis and very very careful listening to arrive at the correct rhythmic pattern being used here (a reflection of my weakness w.r.t laya 🙂 ). Here is the notation for the first iteration that TNS sings:

Again swaras are grouped in 4 which span an akshara. The blue [ ] markers are used to group the swaras as per the musical pattern. Just from the look of the above, it should be clear that the piece is more complex in its composition that the previous case. If you look at it carefully, you can see that TNS is weaving a 5-count (i.e. khaNDa) based melodic pattern within the catusra gati framework (i.e. where the mAtras are spaced apart in groups of 4).  The base melodic pattern is 10 mAtras i.e. 2 and 1/2 aksharas long, and is mostly made up of 5 swaras divided as 1, 1 (pause), 2, 1, 5  (e.g m , d , m g , , , ,  and m , d ,  m d , , , , ). There is one case in the middle where I think he intentionally or unintentionally leaves a pattern as 9 mAtras, but stretches the following one to 11 mAtras, and thus maintain the 20 mAtra count for two successive patterns. But in general it is a 10-mAtra pattern. Although, I have not analyzed all iterations it seems the violinist’s response to this iteration, and the entire next iteration is based on such a pattern.

As I mention above, it took quite a bit of effort for me to arrive at the pattern, and be reasonably sure it is indeed the case! Let us say I am still not 100% sure! I actually I had to slow down the song a lot for me to be able to count the mAtras for the swaras and thus determine that it is a khaNDa pattern.

What was interesting is that I got the rhythmic sense of the pattern quite easily registered in my brain, could relate to it well, and even able to reproduce it from memory almost immediately. However to find out how many mAtras it took etc. was still a difficult challenge. Even now, I have to sing it extremely slowly to correctly count the 5-akshara swara as well as the 1+1(pause)+2+1 pattern right :-).

So given that, some of you may also be wondering if this is really correct. So I present another way to look at this – a “video” that demonstrates that the notation above is correct. Note however that the tempo slowed down by about 30% so that each mAtra is stretched out to be long enough to be more discernible to the eye:

In that video, I have placed markers at regular intervals spanning the duration of a mAtra. Then I placed labels for the swara pattern for the first iteration. As you can see the swara pattern matches the audio (mostly – there is some jitter  as humans are not robots). Of course it might seem silly to do this but I also think that this is a nice instructional method for illustrating laya aspects. What do you think?

In any case, why is this piece “more complex” and “less intuitive”  (at least to me)? Based on above, I am thinking that perhaps the odd numbered 5-mAtra long pause-laden swara is something “atypical” that my mind does not grasp easily as compared to a 2-mAtra or 4-mAtra swara (which is ubiquitous).  This is especially so when done within a catusra gati song which till that point had laid out the more ubiquitous 4-based i.e. ta-ka-dhi-mi rhythm clearly (this is why I chose to start the sample with the violinist’s portion).  On top of that we have 10-base pattern for an entire iteration, done within a catusra gati which  seems atypical.

So I wonder if this is perhaps the reason why the rhythm while attractive has a complicated feel to it. When musicians employ “kANakku” it is typical for them to employ notes and pauses like these of “atypical” length. When we listen, we do know something complicated is going on, but perhaps most of us are not able to tell why.

Only when you peer inside you see the sophistication involved, and you begin to understand why many feel that Carnatic Music has one of the most sophisticated rhythmic components amongst all music systems of the world!

But you ain’t seen nothing yet !!!
Carnatic Musicians go even further in terms of rhythmic sophistication. I will post about this with one mind-boggling kalpanaswara performance from a genius of a musician in the next part

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 🙂