Monday, October 7, 2013

Sitar Mehbooba Hai Kiski? [AHJK 1]

We have always felt that the tradition of critiquing in Hindustani is superficial, person-centric or individual bound- ad hominem- and therefore, immature...yet to come of age....strong words, ehh...? Missus by and large agrees with this assessment of ours. By way of criticism Gunijan will normally say…So and So vs. the Other, or vice versa, he, he…! For instance, as we recalled on an earlier occasion, HT’s much-archived music critic Raghava R. Menon, the Kumarji aficionado, while reviewing a musical innovation by Pt. BSJ condescendingly remarked that the latter had at last taken a leaf out of Kumar’s book….whew…Something like that. In his book on Kumar Gandharva, Menon saysIt was like a meteor that he passed across the Indian sky and cut in his wake the body of Hindustani classical music into two neat halves; one half before Kumar Gandharva and one half after him, a kind of a B.C. and an A.D. in Indian music.” That, even to a Kumar enthusiast like YT, is a grosss exaggeration, hero-worship, plain and simple. Unless someone does critiquing on basis of tools we discuss below, we can't claim that we are putting our heart and soul into the appreciation of our music..

Of course there are researchers who have made a break from the past, and have turned the gaze of new technologies on the subject of Indian Classical. Our own efforts, and those of Senior have been chronicled ha, ha..,in these columns from time to time. Recall the post where Senior analyses a taan from Vad jawu kunala sharana ga by Ashabai Khadilkar, presenting it in a visual that is, graphic, form. Witness also the fear expressed half-seriously by the writer that our music, being amenable to reduction in mathematical formats, could face extinction, if the mechanisation of music carried forward excessively (our Southern brethren A.R.Rahman and Ilayaraja were arraigned). We have also highlighted the efforts of the Kiwi researcher Gregory Booth in studying Indian Classical and Film Music.

The sort of threadbare study we are looking at has been carried on by the NCPA working with scholars of University of Amsterdam since early 1980s. Working on their project called AUTRIM (Automated Transcription for Indian Music), these dedicated musicologists have adapted a Dutch freeware called the PRAAT (Phonetic Research and Analysis Tool, which also means 'talk' in Dutch) into an instrument that automatically converts a recital into a beautiful moving graph. You can read swaras off the moving tracks, interpret taans etc. Let us take a statement 'in Bhimpalasi there is an andolan on flat ni' . The software will report the track location where this andolan can be heard in a recital and seen graphically.

Some of the eminent artistes who have lent their voices to the project are Pta. Ashwini Bhide, Pta. Veena Sahasrabuddhe, Pt. Uday Bhawalkar and Pt. Jayateerth Mevundi. Recently we witnessed Jabbar Patel's movie on Kumar Gandharva 'Hans Akela', in which one sees grandson Bhuvanesh Komkali analysing a Kumar bandish with the PRAAT. It's not clear whether or how the voice graphic can be seen as distinct from that of accompanying instruments?

Then there have been inquiries into certain features of Indian Classical from the point of view of the ubiquitous ‘consumer’. Look at the following line from the excellent paper “Audio Metadata Extraction: The Case for Hindustani Classical Music” by Preeti Rao of IIT, Mumbai (Proc. Of SPCOM 2012, IISc, Bangalore).

“To make the desired music easily accessible to the consumer, it is important to have meaningful and robust descriptions of music that are amenable to search.”

‘Metadata’ is simply the data or information or dimensions like a frequency value which are not tangible in the music. Thus the raga and the tala is not metadata, as it is mentioned on the CD jacket, whereas the graphical sketch of a taan which is extracted through a technique, is metadata.

These young researchers themselves are either artistes, or have deeper knowledge, which can come, say, by marrying to someone like Missus, ha, ha, ha…Preeti Rao’s paper contains many insights. See for example the following lines:

“In Western music, with its emphasis on discrete pitches and absolute tuning and relatively limited forms of ornamentation, the continuous pitch contour corresponds closely to a sequence of stable notes….The musical score in symbolic notation is thus a near equivalent of the melodic contour and music retrieval tasks can operate at the level of symbolic string matching. In Indian classical music, on the other hand, symbolic notation proves inadequate to deal with tuning variations and complex ornamentation that are fundamentally linked to raga characteristics. Being an oral tradition, this aspect has not seriously hampered music education. However for the music retrieval task, there is a need for more complete data representations to be derived from the continuous pitch contour.”

Basically what she says is that representation of a raga in Western notation like this:

has limited utility, given the surfeit of alankars like meends and murkis in the Indian Melodies. To reach those, you need to do the sort of research Senior does. Preeti Rao has done a lot of work on those lines, some of which you’ll see in the paper. You’ll now appreciate the odds against which Pt. Bhatkhande or Pt. Ratanjankar worked in their efforts at documentation. Dr. Rao believes that since our music is transmitted to pupils by oral means, no one acutely felt the need for metadata extraction (till an army of listeners emerged, who rely on secondary media like CDs or computer files for access to the music, and whose resources only can be the guarantee of the survival of our music.)

We shall return later to some other interesting sidelights of Preeti Rao’s paper, but let’s briefly return to our starting point, namely critiquing of Indian Classical, which in turn will chukao the namak of Ustad Halim Jaffer Khan, or to put it in plain English, justify the title of this Post and the next.

The point is that if meaningful and enriching lessons are to be drawn from an exploration of Classical compositions, one must go behind the rhetoric. For instance the profession of ‘gayaki ang’ is what we called the rhetoric, but if you really want to hear the human side of Sitar, there is no one like Ustad Halim Jaffer Khan or Shahidbhai, who never made any hoo-haa about his exalted status. And mind you, this not to say that Halim is the greatest, though that is in the realm of possibility…

All songs are great, Ashok Razdan, the hero of our post Remembering Nobody  said,…All Sitar is Great,  we declare now, and no odious comparisons…but for a real appreciation of the art, it’s essential to step into the artiste’s persona, and to possess lot of curiosity, and imagination with a touch of madness. If Nikhilda specialises in producing yards and yards of silken sitar fabric, Pt. Ravi Shankar is the Creator, Ustad Halim Jaffer is the raconteur and poet of Sitar, par excellence, and Ustad Shahid Parvez, the reigning Narrative Authority. The jury is stillll out on the merits of Ustad Vilayat Khan…Imrat Khan is talking to the jury...

We must have heard a 1000 GB of Sitar since our ear ripened, and always wondered what that Beautiful Lady, the Sitar, wanted to say or utter or articulate, passing from the hand of one Ustad to the other Pandit. What she wanted to say ever since Amir Khusro fathered her, is contained in half a byte of music, in the first 30 seconds of the following Kirwani by Ustad Halim Jaffer Khan, do listen:

And what she says is this, make no mistake: sitar mehbooba hai to bas Ustad Halim Jaffer Khan ki ! Listen two minutes, and you'll know of the whole affair between the two...two minutes of sitar one can and must die for, he, he, he...saare deewan ek taraf, ye chhabees lamhe ek taraf..Uffff...the things he does to her, she reciprocates and surrenders abjectly...she's made for only one man, the rest are mere hangers on, wasting their time and the listeners' time...she's  a wafadar dulhan.... وفادار بیوی میں, hope Mir is asleep...

In the next despatch we discuss Ustad’s personality and his music from the Worm’s perspective, aspects like creation of sthayi like motifs which Preeti Rao cites as the hallmark of a khayal, the Jafferkhani baz…. To us a recital by the affable Ustad sometimes is like a ghazal from Mirza Ghalib and on another occasion, a well-crafted short-story, having a beginning and an ending, like this pictorial illustration they use for the genre.
Somerset Maugham was supposedly the greatest raconteur amongst modern English fiction writers, and this house believes Ustad Halim Jaffer Khan possesses the same felicity with the Sitar. Of course we always felt that Ravi Shankar was economical and played to-the-point, while Halimbhai loves playing a bit about the bush...and boy does IK loves thaaaat... 

More on Ustad Halim Jaffer Khan and the art of story-telling on the other side of the break..



After much research and introspection, we made the startling discovery that upon the face of this earth, only one woman can be likened to the Sitar (apart from Missus, that is):

 30 seconds..

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