An exemplary fusion

Print edition : June 20, 1998

Nadanubhava - The Horizons of Carnatic Music authored by S. Sowmya and K.N. Shashikiran, CD-ROM, an interactive multimedia guide to Carnatic music, 1998, Rs. 2,175.

CARNATIC classical music is one of the singular systems of world music as its every genre is a unique musical experience. It is the ultimate in soulful expression, a receptacle of aesthetics and devotion and a strong bond between the past, the present and the future. It is an art form that transcends the confining parameters of language, religion, caste or creed. Its resilience and appeal are such that it is well acknowledged as one of the most sophisticated and sublime of global musical disciplines.

S. Sowmya, an accomplished Carnatic musician, has had the benefit of musical training from two distinguished musicians, S. Ramanathan and T. Muktha. She is a popular performing artist who is creditably equipped with the theoretical aspects of Carnatic music. A post-graduate in Chemistry from the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, Sowmya is currently doing a post-graduate degree in music. She is the life and guiding spirit of this splendid effort.

K.N. Shashikiran, a prominent Carnatic vocalist of the contemporary generation, belongs to a proud musical lineage. His artistic capabilities are being honed by the senior vidwan, Calcutta K.S. Krishnamurthi. He is a scholar in the University of Madras, pursuing his doctoral research on "Teaching Methodology in Carnatic Music". He is credited with being the brain behind Nadanubhava.

This CD-ROM is explored through a sequence of systematic chapterisation in a specially designed interactive format. Audio-visual elements and commentaries in simple English complement the section on Carnatic music as an ancient art form. This chapter deals with the probable factual origins of Carnatic music based on various schools of thought prevalent across the eras; the gradual evolution of Carnatic music and its noteworthiness among various systems; the historical, mythological and cultural aspects of this art since Vedic times; in-depth analyses of music concepts, illustrious music scholars and their significant contributions. It is emphasised that tradition plays an important role in Carnatic music, and that regions, languages, occasions and dress codes have their own norms which have been handed down by custom.

The basic components of Carnatic music such as melody (sruti), rhythm (laya), and prosody (lyrics) with relevance to their various attributes are explained meticulously. Voice culture, a systematic approach to presentation and voice techniques in Carnatic music as well as other music systems are discussed in some detail. Various types of musical instruments such as string, wind and percussion and information on their construction, tuning, posture and role in a concert are brought to the fore. The mode of presentation through audio, video and graphics compels attention.

The commentary on progressive musical forms such as Sarali Varisai, Janta Varisai, Dhatu Varisai, Alankaram, Geetham, Swarjathi, Varnam, Kriti, Tillana and so on is informative and rewarding. The structure of rhythmic forms as in different talas, the range of languages, and renowned composers and their contributions are presented clearly. The user gets a clear concept of 'Manodharma Sangeetham' with audio exemplification.

The vital components of a successful concert are elaborately examined. Ideal acoustics, the concert format, creativity and innovation within the traditional framework and, finally, the cohesive participation of the main artists, both vocal and instrumental, and their supporting accompanists, make for a successful concert.

A comparative study of Carnatic music with the Western and Hindustani systems based on regions, music scales, time theory, systems of learning, musical forms, modes of performance and difference in notation is a splendid and unusual feature of this production. The association of Carnatic music with other Indian art forms and sciences such as sculpture, painting, theatrical art, the folk arts, dance, physics, mathematics, psychology, philosophy, spiritualism and music therapy is drawn out.

THE section on Music Marvels is designed to be more accessible than the rest of the content. It portrays the many splendours of Carnatic music. Self-educational musical exercises in raga, swara and melakarta are bound to be helpful. Interesting quiz programmes are designed to widen the layperson's knowledge. A special interactive concert is featured to enable a user to listen selectively to any one of the audio tracks among vocal, violin, mridangam and thambura, or alter their weight and role in the concert. This has been developed for the first time in the multimedia format.

The Artist Gallery presents more than 500 twentieth century stalwarts of Carnatic music, both vocalists and instrumentalists. An elaborate A to Z glossary of key musical terms and immaculate diction and definitions, historical milestones, a raga index of over 200 ragas with audio illustrations, an A to Z catalogue of more than 500 compositions with details, a compilation of 40 prominent composers ranging from the seventh century to the present, a focus on the prosodic beauty in selected musical masterpieces and the 72 Melakarta Chart, graphically presented with audio and Western notation are parts of a deepgoing and comprehensive exercise.

The handy reference list of leading musical institutions, musical instruments, musicologists, voice culture experts, critics, teachers, reference books, sabhas and music stores will be welcomed by music lovers.

The other salient features of this CD-ROM are audio and video illustrations and an on-line glossary to help the user comprehend the technicalities of music. The navigation system and the self-explanatory icons make for accessibility and easy use.

This is the first CD-ROM with an Intel approved logo; it is optimised for MMX technology and the Pentium II processor. This is an exemplary fusion of the traditional and the contemporary, the conventional and the unconventional. It is a fitting tribute to India's rich cultural heritage and also commemorates the 50th year of Indian Independence. Extensive research, an analytical approach, adherence to demanding levels of accuracy and objectivity in documentation have made for outstanding quality.

Credits are given to R. Sridhar, technical adviser, P.C. Ramakrishna, English commentator, S. Rajam, who offers fine graphic illustrations, and the D.B.S. Multimedia (Pvt) Ltd. for design and development of multimedia.

This contribution by Sowmya and Shashikiran cannot be overpraised; it combines diligence, extraordinary exploration and commitment with inspiration and an intuitive recognition of the exceptional quality of Carnatic music. We recommend this CD-ROM to every music lover in India and abroad.

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