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Abhishek Raghuram at Kalakshetra, Chennai

Venue: Rukmini Arangam, Kalakshetra, Chennai
Organizer: Kalakshetra and Asthika Samajam, Thiruvanmiyur

Vocal: Abhishek Raghuram
Violin: Mysore Srikanth
Mrudangam: Anantha R. Krishnan

List of songs:

1) unnai anRi (varNam) – kalyANi (A)
2) sAmikki sari – kEdAragauLa (S)
3) jaya jaya padmanAbha – sarasAngI (S)
4) dEvi brOva – cintAmaNi (AS)
5) mAnamulEdA – hamIrkalyANi (ANST)
6) rENukAdEvi – kannaDabangALA (A)
7) rAgam tAnam pallavi – rudrapriyA – kanDa tripuTa (2 kaLai)
pallavi wordings: “dEvatE paradEvatE amba paradEvatE, anAdi shivasahitE”
eDuppu: 2 counts; arudi 14 counts
8) kalyANa gOpAlam – sindhubhairavi (O)
9) iTu sAhasamulu – saindhavi
10) tillAnA – khamas
11) nI nAma rUpa mulaku (mangaLam) – saurAshTram

(Key: O=raga outline, A=raga alapana, t=tAnam, N=neraval, S=kalpana swaram, T=taniavartanam)

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Not so sound

Here is part 5 of the series I am writing on the science behind music in “Saamagaana – The First Melody“, a monthly magazine on Indian Classical Music. The intent is to help readers understand a bit more about the science behind music and musical instruments and to enhance their appreciation of the same.

This is from the August 2015 issue of the magazine

Not so sound

Howling, feedback and echoes tell musicians that all’s not sound in the auditorium. RAMKUMAR R explains all about mics and monitors on stage, padding on walls, earpieces and other things music

Why are the walls of an auditorium usually panelled with cork-like material?

Reflection of sound from the walls of an auditorium can cause echoes and undue prolongation of sound. One of the most effective ways to prevent this is by padding or panelling the walls of the auditorium with materials like cork. These absorb sound effectively and prevent echoes and unwanted reverberations.

Why are loudspeakers placed on stage in concerts even though there is no audience on stage?

The loudspeakers on stage, also known as stage monitors, are meant for the performing artistes. When a group of musicians perform on stage, especially on different instruments, it might be difficult for them to hear themselves distinctly from the other musicians around them. Hearing oneself clearly helps a musician feel the good music (s)he produces. Hearing co-artistes clearly gives comfort that the team is performing well as a whole. Stage monitors help achieve this and are thus supposed to help musicians give their best.

I sometimes hear a howling sound coming from the audio system. What is this sound and how does it get produced when no one seems to be actually howling on stage?
This is called feedback. It is caused when sound from a loudspeaker enters a microphone and gets amplified back to the loudspeaker again. It can occur, for example, if the monitors on stage are closer to the microphone and angled towards it. This creates a loop with amplification happening over and over and as a result, produces a howling sound.

How can feedback be avoided?
A few simple ways to avoid feedback are to position the loudspeakers as far away from the microphones as possible, to angle the speakers away from the microphones (and to angle the microphones away from the speakers), to place the microphones as close to the sources of music as possible and to keep the sound levels from the speaker to the lowest levels required.

I have seen some musicians perform with a earpiece or even a pair of earpieces. What would they use them for?
They could be using them to hear the pitch better. Or, most likely, they could be using them to hear the monitor mixes, instead of using loudspeakers on stage. With this kind of in-ear monitoring, the sound can go directly where it is needed, instead of getting spilled all over the stage from the stage monitors and sometimes even getting undesirably spilled into the audience area as well. One drawback of this, though, is that musicians with a pair of earpieces can get aurally disconnected from their surroundings and isolated from their audience.

(R Ramkumar is a mridangam artiste and a senior management professional. He blogs at https://ramsabode.wordpress.com and can be reached at rramkr@gmail.com)

(Image courtesy: Saamagaana – The First Melody)

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Palakkad Sreeram, Shertalai Sivakumar and Anantha R. Krishnan for Musiri Chamber Concerts

Venue: Musiri House, Mylapore, Chennai
Organizer: Musiri Chamber Concerts

Vocal: Palakkad Sreeram
Violin: Shertalai Sivakumar
Mrudangam: Anantha R. Krishnan

The multi-talented Palakkad Sreeram switched effortlessly between vocal, keyboard  and flute. He sang and played so well! Shertalai Sivakumar was very good on the violin. Anantha R. Krishnan was a class apart!

List of songs:

I missed the first two songs
* entani vina vinturA – UrmikA (OS)
* bhuvinidAsuDanE – shrIranjani (AS)
* talli ninnu nera – kalyANi (ANST)
* rAma kathA sudhA – madhuvanti (A)
* entamuddO – bindumAlini  (O)
* bhaja bhaja mAnasa – sindhubhairavi  (A)
* bhajarE yadunAtham – pIlu (O)
* tum bin mOrE – varamu
* bhAgyada lakSmi – madhyamAvati (O)

(Key: O=raga outline, A=raga alapana, t=tAnam, N=neraval, S=kalpana swaram, T=taniavartanam)

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The how and why of microphones

Here is part 4 of the series I am writing on the science behind music in “Saamagaana – The First Melody“, a monthly magazine on Indian Classical Music. The intent is to help readers understand a bit more about the science behind music and musical instruments and to enhance their appreciation of the same.

This is from the July 2015 issue of the magazine

The How and Why of Microphones

How is it that I am able to hear a vocalist loud and clear in an auditorium, even though I am seated far away from him?

When the vocalist sings, he produces sound waves. These flow into the microphone in front of him. A thin material called the diaphragm vibrates inside the microphone when struck by these sound waves. These vibrations are then converted into electrical current which is boosted using an amplifier and passed on to the loudspeakers present in the auditorium. The loudspeakers do the opposite of what the microphone does. They convert this boosted electrical current back into boosted sound and it is this sound that you hear loud and clear at your seat in the auditorium.

I went to a concert of the violinist A. Kanyakumari and couldn’t see any microphone in front of her. How then does her violin sound then get amplified?

Microphones come in different varieties. A. Kanyakumari usually uses a contact (pickup) microphone which is placed on the upper part of her violin, instead of having a microphone placed in front of her. You can identify this microphone if you notice her violin carefully in the next concert of hers that you attend. Contact microphones sense vibrations/sound waves through contact with the body of the violin.

In the concert I attended last week, the vocalist moved away from the microphone at times and couldn’t be heard well. Why? I have attended other concerts of hers where I could hear her well even if she moved away.

The vocalist may not have used an omnidirectional microphone in this particular concert. While an omnidirectional one can pick up sound equally from any direction, a unidirectional microphone picks up sound predominantly from one direction and a bidirectional one picks up sound from two opposite directions. If the vocalist did not use an omnidirectional microphone, she might have at times moved away from the direction(s) from which it can pick up sound. The microphone could not have properly picked up what she was singing at these times and hence she may not have been heard well.

I see the artists on stage sometimes signaling to the guy manning the audio equipment to increase the volume further. How does he accomplish this?

The equipment he has in front of him allows him to control the amplification of the sounds that come from each of the microphones on stage. Depending on which performer is sounding lower and/or is requesting for a higher volume, he can boost the sound coming from that performer’s microphone and make it sound louder through the loudspeakers in the auditorium.

(R Ramkumar is a mridangam artiste and a senior management professional. He blogs at https://ramsabode.wordpress.com and can be reached at rramkr@gmail.com)

(Image courtesy: Saamagaana – The First Melody)

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Strings Attached

Here is part 3 of the series I am writing on the science behind music in “Saamagaana – The First Melody“, a monthly magazine on Indian Classical Music. The intent is to help readers understand a bit more about the science behind music and musical instruments and to enhance their appreciation of the same.

This is from the June 2015 issue of the magazine. Please contact the magazine for subscriptions.

Strings Attached

Rosin, bow, the wooden body: R Ramkumar explains what makes for the melodious notes of the violin

I see only 4 strings on a violin. How is it then that a violinist is able to produce so many notes?

When a string is pressed against the fingerboard of the violin, it is held tight between the place where it is pressed and the bridge. Depending on where the string is pressed, the length from there to the bridge changes. This change in the length of the vibrating string as the fingerboard is pressed at different places produces different notes.

What is the violin bow made of?

The bow usually has hair from a horse’s tail (that comprise the white bottom part of the bow) held taut using a stick (the upper part and the corners).

I sometimes see violinists rubbing the bow against some material. What is it?

The material is called rosin. It is a resin that is collected from pine trees and dried. It makes the horse hair on the bow slightly sticky.

Why is the bow required? Why can’t a violinist just pluck the strings like a guitarist?

If a violinist plucks a violin string while pressing it down at some point along the fingerboard to produce a note, his soft fingertip will quickly absorb the vibration resulting in a dull, heavy sound (called pizzicato) rather than a clear note.

When the bow, made slightly sticky using the rosin, is drawn across a violin string, continuously excites it. The string sticks to the bow, gets pushed forward and slips back only to be again grabbed by the sticky bow to repeat this action hundreds of times each second. The string thus gets re-plucked so many times every second and produces a long singing note instead of the dull, heavy sound associated with a single pluck.

A guitar, on the other hand, has frets. When the string is pressed against the fingerboard, it is held tight between two hard objects–the nearest fret and the bridge and hence produces a clear note.

Why does the violin have a wooden body?

The vibrating violin strings can hardly make any sound on their own as they are too thin and can’t push too much of air about. However, when they are attached to the hollow wooden body, their vibration is passed on to the wooden panels of the body which try to vibrate at the same rate as the string. This creates more powerful ripples in the air pressure, thus making louder sound.

(R Ramkumar is a mridangam artiste and a senior management professional. He blogs at https://ramsabode.wordpress.com and can be reached at rramkr@gmail.com)

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(Image source: http://samuelcote.com/ref/violin/images/lrg-violin-partsnames-002.jpg)

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The sound of strings

Here is part 2 of the series I am writing on the science behind music in “Saamagaana – The First Melody“, a monthly magazine on Indian Classical Music. The intent is to help readers understand a bit more about the science behind music and musical instruments and to enhance their appreciation of the same.

This is from the May 2015 issue of the magazine. Please contact the magazine for subscriptions.

The Sound of Strings

Just like human beings, instruments too belong to families. Instruments in a particular family are similar to each other. Often made of the same types of materials, they resemble one another, and also sound similar. R RAMKUMAR presents the second in the series on the physics of sound and how our brain perceives music, voices and musical instruments

Why do some singers stick a finger in their ear or cup their ear while singing?

Humans, in general, are not designed to hear their own voices too loudly lest this drowns out any other sound they should be paying attention to, like that of an approaching train. Closing a ear, say, by sticking a finger in the ear, helps improve the feedback between the mouth and the brain and also partially blocks external sounds.
Thus singers can hear their own voices better and also monitor their pitch better. This is especially helpful in large concert halls where there is noise/echo and also when the singer is performing in a group.

Why are most musical instruments made of strings or shaped like columns?

Remember? A musical sound or note is made up of ripple patterns that repeat and join together in an organized way.

This can be made to happen easily if the vibrating object has a simple shape. A column or a rod is one of the simplest shapes possible and can vibrate in just the right way to produce musical notes. This is why most musical instruments either have columns of steel (for example, strings in a violin) or columns of air inside tubes (for example, flutes).

I peeped into the green room before the concert and saw the violinist change some of the strings. Why did he do that?

Strings are thin, long columns of steel or some other suitable material. New strings usually produce loud, clear notes. As the violinist keeps playing on them, they gradually get worn out and become an imperfect column shape. The notes that get produced from such strings would sound weaker and may start becoming vague in pitch. This might have been the reason why you saw the violinist replace the strings. The strings might have also broken and required replacement.

If it is the string that produces the sound, then why does a violin or a guitar have a wooden body?

Vibrating strings hardly make any noise on their own as they are too thin and don’t push too much of air about. When strings are attached to a hollow box like the body of a violin or a guitar, their vibration are passed on to the wooden panels of the body which try to vibrate at the same rate as the string. This creates more powerful ripples in the air pressure, thus making louder sound.

(R Ramkumar is a mridangam artist and a senior management professional. He blogs at https://ramsabode.wordpress.com and can be reached at rramkr@gmail.com)

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Concert with Mambalam Sisters for Dikshitar Akhandam

I played mrudangam for the concert of Mambalam Sisters at the Dikshitar Akhandam. Song list and other details are given below.

Venue: Dakshinamurthy Auditorium, PS High School, RK Mutt Road, Mylapore, Chennai
Organizer: Bharatiya Sangeetha Vaibhavam
Theme: Dikshitar Akhandam

Vocal: Mambalam Sisters (Vijayalakshmi and Chithra)
Violin: Dr. R. Hemalatha
Mrudangam: R. Ramkumar
Khanjira: K.S. Rangachari

List of songs:
1) shrI dakSiNAmUrtimIsham – phEnadyuti (S)
2) hariyuvatIm haimavatIm – dEshisimhAravam
3) parvatavardhanI pAhimAm – sAmA (AS)
4) shrI nIlOtpala nAyikE – nArIrItigauLa (AS)
5) cEta shrI bAlakrishnam – jujAvanti
6) pavanAtmajAm bhajarE – shankarAbharaNam (AST)
7) shrI bhArgavI bhadram – maNgaLakaishiki

(Key: O=raga outline, A=raga alapana, t=tAnam, N=neraval, S=kalpana swaram, T=taniavartanam)

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