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Laya chatura – Kanjira Quartet in Chennai

Kanjira quartet magic today at the Parthasarathy Swami Sabha.

First B.S. Purushotham and Anirudh Athreya played a 88 count talam (kanDa triputa with the each beat of lagu substituted by tisra, catusra, kanDa, misra and sankIrNa and dhrutam in 2 kalais). They played all 5 nadais.

Then Shree Sundarkumar and K.V. Gopalakrishnan played kuraippu and mOrA kOrvai in the same 88 counts but in a tala where they put kanDa aTa with the 4 sashabda kriyA (sounding beats) replaced by tisra, kanDa, misra and sankIrNa. 

Then they together played a talam which had in one Avartanam kanDa ekam in 2 kaLai followed by catusra Ekam in 1 kaLai followed by tisra Ekam in 0.5 kaLai

All in all a rhythm ragaLai!

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T.M. Krishna for Naada Inbam

Vidwan Sethalapathi Balasubramanian remembrance day concert

Organizer: Naada Inbam
Venue: Ragasudha Hall, Mylapore, Chennai

Vocal: T.M. Krishna
Violin: R. Hemalatha
Mrudangam: T.K. Murthy and K. Parameswaran

List of songs:
1) sarasijanAbha (varNam) – kAmbOji
2) samugAnanilva – kOkilavarALi (OS)
3) dorakuNA – bilahari (ANS)
4) amba paradEvatE – rudrapriyA  (AS)
5) kANa kaN kODi – kAmbOji (AtST)
6) peTra tAi (viruttam) – varALi, hamsadhvani, kApi, sindhubhairavi
7) jAnakI patE – kharaharapriyA  (O)
8) bhaja gOvindam – rAgamAlikA

9) 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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Sanjay Subrahmanyan for Papanasam Sivan’s 125th birthday festival

Passionate singing to thunderous applause!

Venue: Sadguru Gnanananda Hall, Narada Gana Sabha, Chennai

Organizer: Papanasam Sivan Rasikar Sangam

Vocal: Sanjay Subrahmanyan
Vocal support: Swarna Rethas
Violin: S. Varadarajan
Mrudangam: Neyveli Venkatesh
Khanjira: C.S. Venkataramanan

List of songs:

1) nI inda mAyam (varNam) – dhanyAsi
2) gAnarasamuDan – bEgaDA (S)
3) kAkka unakku irakkam – kharaharapriyA
4) kApAli irukka – sAvEri (AS)
5) cidambaram ena – kalyANi (O)
6) pAdamalar tuNayE – harikAmbOji  (ANST)
7) attaruNam – bhairavi  (O)
8) karpagAmbikai – behAg (O)
9) tiruvaLar mayilayil – khamAs
10) engum niraindirukkum – kurinji
11) karpagamE – madhyamAvati

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Sounds, Spaces and Singing

Here is part 6 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 September 2015 issue of the magazine

Sounds, spaces and singing

Confined spaces give one a feeling of being surrounded by music, but step out into the outdoors and what you hear changes, writes R RAMKUMAR

I went to a violin concert in the morning in a park. The volume seemed a lot lower than in a chamber concert by the same artiste a week back. Why?

Let us assume that the level of sound amplification was similar in both cases.
A chamber concert mostly happens in a room or in a small hall. Sound from the loudspeakers or from the violin directly travels to your ears. In addition, the sound that doesn’t come to your ears directly gets reflected from the walls, the ceiling, the floor, etc., and also reaches you from all directions. The violin thus sounds louder and you also get a feeling of being surrounded by music.

In an open space, like that in a park, you get the sound that reaches you directly and probably the sound that gets reflected from the floor. The rest of the sound dissipates in the open space. Thus the volume seems a lot lower.

Doesn’t a large auditorium also have a lot of space like a park? Why then are the sounds loud enough in the former and not the latter?

An auditorium, however large it might be, is still different from a park in that it is a closed space. This means that even though the direct sound that reaches you in a large auditorium might be a small percentage, the rest of the sound gets reflected from the walls, from the seats around you and from other surfaces and at least some percentage of it comes back to your ears. How the surfaces in the auditorium reflect this sound determines how the auditorium sounds.

In an acoustically well-designed auditorium, great care is taken that this “indirect sound” is handled properly. The loudspeakers in such auditoria generate a direct sound that is comfortably loud. This direct sound is complemented with early reflections which reinforce the direct sound and help us hear the same better. Our hearing system treats them as part of the same sound, thus the reinforcing action.

Late reflections (for example, echoes) are distinguishable from direct sound and, as their name suggests, arrive late after getting reflected from a surface farther away. Good auditoriums are designed to either absorb these or disperse these into quieter reflections that do not interfere with the understanding of what is being performed.

Does this reflection of sound in the auditorium also affect the performers?

Yes. It definitely could. Let us take echo as an example. It usually happens from the back wall of the auditorium. Since the performers on stage are usually the farthest from the back wall, the echo for the performers would be the most delayed. Echoes affect the perception of timing in what is being performed. The performers can get affected if the echoes are delayed and strong enough.

Why does my singing usually sound better in my bathroom than in my living room?

The space in a bathroom is usually less than that in a living room. The surfaces are also usually covered by tiles and are hard. This means that the sound you create keeps bouncing off from the surfaces, reinforcing and lasting longer. Contrast that to your living room that may have a lot of furniture and curtains. These absorb sound and the sound dies away quickly. Thus your singing usually sounds better in the bathroom.

(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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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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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)