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The grammar of art

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Nature reviews an exhibition based on a cognitive scientists’ study of dancers:

As with any scientific project, Kirsh began studying Random Dance by characterizing the different phenomena he saw “like a botanist”, he says. “I go out with six or seven high-definition video cameras, I put them around the studio floor and collect everything from the moment he introduces a dancer to the premiere weeks later.” He and a trained team of students then deciphered the different techniques for instruction and practice that they saw in the videos, in much the same way that primatologists characterize behaviour.

One phenomenon that caught Kirsh’s attention was ‘marking’, in which dancers in rehearsal elaborate only the basics of a dance movement. “It’s a lower-energy version; they won’t stretch as far; they won’t have the emotional force in it. It’s a way to avoid injury and because you can’t dance for five hours after two hours of exercises warming up,” Kirsh says.

But as he discovered when conducting a controlled experiment, there is more to it. He showed dancers a new routine, gave them time to learn the moves, and divided them into three groups to practise again. One group performed the full movements, a second marked them, and a third lay down and imagined themselves performing the dance. To Kirsh’s surprise, the dancers who marked the routine executed it most faithfully later. “Nobody predicted this,” he says. “This is the hint at a theory of practising, and now it’s open to study this much more carefully to understand how people focus on aspects of what they’re practising.” The experiment, he feels, is evidence of physical activity influencing thought.

On the basis of his work with Random Dance, Kirsh has published research papers on interaction design, McGregor’s creative process and a phenomenon that he calls distributed memory, in which dancers remember dozens of complicated movements through physical cues from other dancers. McGregor, too, has gained from their collaboration. When he instructs dancers and other young choreographers, he now uses terms that Kirsh devised, such as ‘sonifications’ — sounds that choreographers make to guide how a dancer shapes a move, such as “yah ooh ehh”. Kirsh notes, “Now that the term has been named, the phenomenon is clear.”

This reminded me of the studies by the pioneering Indian computer scientist R. Narasimhan on oral notations in Indian tradition: of the art of Kollam, and of tabla bols. I had heard a detailed exposition by him on the syntax of bols in a colloquium in the mid 1980s. The only surviving printed record seems to be in a booklet called Characterizing Literacy: A Study of Western and Indian Literacy Experiences by R. Narasimhan, published by Sage. His discussion of the usage of bols by players of the tabla seem to be equivalent to the notion of “sonification”, and predates it by a few decades.


Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

October 15, 2013 at 7:04 pm

Let’s go look at music tonight

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Nature reports a study just published by Chia-Jung Tsay in PNAS:

He is sometimes called the first rock star. He would whip his long hair around as he played, beads of sweat flying into the audience, and women would swoon or throw their clothes on to the stage. This is not Mick Jagger or Jimmy Page, but Franz Liszt, the nineteenth-century Hungarian pianist whose theatrical recitals made the composer Robert Schumann say that “a great deal of poetry would be lost” had Liszt played behind a screen.

But who cares about the histrionics — it’s the music that matters, right? Not according to the latest study, which shows that people’s judgements about the quality of a musical performance are influenced more by what they see than by what they hear.

The participants [in the study] were presented with recordings of the three finalists in each of ten prestigious international competitions, and were asked to guess the winner. With just sound, or sound and video, novices and experts both guessed right at about the same level as chance (33% of the time), or a little less. But with silent video alone, the success rate for both was about 46–53%. The experts did no better than the novices.

However, there are limits to how much what you see can override what you hear. That might happen for competition finals, where all performers are comparably excellent, but previous studies of the role of visual information in musical assessment have shown that trained musicians have no problem distinguishing between good and significantly poorer performances.

Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

August 28, 2013 at 5:35 am

Ravi Shankar: 1920-2012

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Pandit Ravi Shankar’s death was reported by media around the world. Zee News noted:

Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan accompanied by Kishen Maharaj and Ashutosh Bhattacharya. The person playing the Tanpura behind and in between them is Nikhil Bannerjee. The photo was taken in the mid-sixties in Varanasi.

Legendary musician Pandit Ravi Shankar passed away in San Diego on Tuesday. He was 92. The musician was admitted to the Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla last Thursday after he complained of breathing difficulties.

He breathed his last at 4.30 p.m. Pacific time.

According to an official statement issued by The Ravi Shankar Foundation, the meastro
“suffered from upper-respiratory and heart issues over the past year and underwent heart-valve replacement surgery last Thursday. Though the surgery was successful, recovery proved too difficult for the 92-year-old musician.”

The sitar exponent, perhaps could be called India`s musical ambassador and was responsible for making Indian classical music popular in the West. He had collaborated with several international artists including George Harrison of ‘The Beatles’ which had garnered him fame and adulation all over the world.

NPR reported an unusual happening:

A tweet from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s official Twitter account said: “Prime Minister condoles the passing away of Pandit Ravishankar – A national treasure and global ambassador of India’s cultural heritage.”

Bloomberg has a very informative biography:

Ravi Shankar: mid '60s?

Rabindra Shankar Chowdhury was born on April 7, 1920, in the northern Indian city of Benares, also known as Varanasi. He was the youngest of seven sons born to Shyam Shankar Chowdhury and his wife Hemangini. Two of the sons died in childhood.

Shankar’s father, born in what is now Bangladesh, was a government official, a lawyer, an amateur musician. Before Ravi’s birth, Shyam Shankar left his wife to practice law in Kolkata and London.

Uday, the eldest son, moved to London to study art before Shankar was a year old. He then became a dancer and returned to India to form a troupe of dancers and musicians.

The ensemble settled in Paris in 1930 and Shankar moved there with his mother, who had agreed to accompany Uday. He had started playing the sitar and other instruments by then, and performed with the group as a dancer as well as a musician.

Shankar gave up dancing in 1938 to study the sitar with Ustad Allauddin Khan, a musician who had previously toured with the troupe. He began playing the instrument publicly in 1939 and stayed with Khan for six years.

Khan’s daughter, Annapurna, wed Shankar in 1941 through an arranged marriage. Their only child, a son named Shubhendra, was born the following year. Shubhendra, who became a sitarist and painter, died in 1992 of bronchial pneumonia.

After leaving Khan, Shankar spent four years in Bombay, now known as Mumbai. He toured, wrote music for films and dances and recorded for HMV India. He moved to Delhi in 1949 to become musical director at All-India Radio, a government-run network.

During his seven years at All-India, he gave his initial concerts in the Soviet Union. Within a year after leaving, he made solo debuts in Europe and the U.S. and recorded his first album, “Three Ragas,” for EMI Group Plc. His initial tour of Japan followed in 1958.

The discipline that Shankar brought to his playing didn’t extend to his personal life. He instead followed the lead of his father, who married an English woman without divorcing Shankar’s mother. The wedding was legal under Indian law at the time.

Ravi Shankar and George Harrison: lost in the '60s?

Annapurna separated from him in 1944 after he fell for Kamala Chakravarty, an Indian dancer who then entered into an arranged marriage with another man. Annapurna returned only to walk out again in 1956.

Shankar resumed seeing Chakravarty after her husband died in 1957. The sitarist maintained the relationship even after Annapurna came back a second time. He ended his marriage and moved in with Chakravarty in 1967. They were together until 1981, a year before he was legally divorced from Annapurna.

While living with Chakravarty, he started a 13-year relationship with Sue Jones, a U.S. concert producer and one- time dancer. He broke up with Jones in 1986. Their daughter, born Geetali Norah Jones Shankar, later became known by her middle names.

Shankar also began seeing Sukanya Rajan, who lived in London and accompanied him at a concert there in 1973. She gave birth to Anoushka while married to someone else, and didn’t get divorced until about six years later.

India’s government presented him with its highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna, in 1999. He won Sweden’s Polar Music Prize, a lifetime achievement award, the previous year.

Shankar summed up his musical philosophy with this comment, highlighted on his website: “The magic in music happens only when the artist serves it with love and joy — and the listener receives it with the same spirit.”

Ravi Shankar’s network with world music is well known. HT recounts that history:

Ravi Shankar in a concert with his daughter Anoushka: Mumbai 2011?

India Today has an interesting gallery of photos of Ravi Shankar

Labeled “the godfather of world music” by George Harrison, Shankar helped millions of classical, jazz and rock lovers discover the centuries-old traditions of Indian music.

He also pioneered the concept of the rock benefit with the 1971 Concert For Bangladesh. To later generations, he was known as the estranged father of popular American singer Norah Jones.

As early as the 1950s, Shankar began collaborating with and teaching some of the greats of Western music, including violinist Yehudi Menuhin and jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. He played well-received shows in concert halls in Europe and the United States, but faced a constant struggle to bridge the musical gap between the West and the East.

Describing an early Shankar tour in 1957, Time magazine said “U.S. audiences were receptive but occasionally puzzled.”

His close relationship with Harrison, the Beatles lead guitarist, shot Shankar to global stardom in the 1960s.

The pair spent weeks together, starting the lessons at Harrison’s house in England and then moving to a houseboat in Kashmir and later to California.

Shankar’s popularity exploded, and he soon found himself playing on bills with some of the top rock musicians of the era. He played a four-hour set at the Monterey Pop Festival and the opening day of Woodstock.

In what Shankar later described as “one of the most moving and intense musical experiences of the century,” the pair organized two benefit concerts at Madison Square Garden that included Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and Ringo Starr.

The concert, which spawned an album and a film, raised millions of dollars for UNICEF and inspired other rock benefits.

He gave lessons to Coltrane, who named his son Ravi in Shankar’s honor, and became close friends with Menuhin, recording the acclaimed “West Meets East” album with him. He also collaborated with flutist Jean Pierre Rampal, composer Philip Glass and conductors Andre Previn and Zubin Mehta.

“Any player on any instrument with any ears would be deeply moved by Ravi Shankar. If you love music, it would be impossible not to be,” singer David Crosby, whose band The Byrds was inspired by Shankar’s music, said in the book “The Dawn of Indian Music in the West: Bhairavi.”

Despite his fame, numerous albums and decades of world tours, Shankar’s music remained a riddle to many Western ears.

Shankar was amused after he and colleague Ustad Ali Akbar Khan were greeted with admiring applause when they opened the Concert for Bangladesh by twanging their sitar and sarod for a minute and a half.

“If you like our tuning so much, I hope you will enjoy the playing more,” he told the confused crowd, and then launched into his set.

The Guardian’s obituary contains a very informative recounting of his many connections to world music:

Shankar gave his first concert in 1939, and in 1940 began playing recitals with Allauddin Khan’s son the sarodist Ali Akbar Khan on All India Radio. It was in Mumbai in the mid-40s that Shankar first made an impression. He wrote the music scores for two notable Indian films, Dharti ke Lal (Children of the Earth, 1946) and Neecha Nagar (The City Below, 1946), and composed for the Indian People’s Theatre Association. During 1946-47 he was involved with producing and composing music for a ballet titled The Discovery of India, which was based on Jawaharlal Nehru’s celebrated book of the same name. He later founded and became the musical director of All India Radio’s first National Orchestra and was sent on foreign cultural tours by the Indian government.

His energy was amazing. In between his arduous performing schedule, he composed the music for Satyajit Ray’s classic Apu Trilogy (the films were made over a period of four years from 1955-59). He also composed a concerto for the sitar (1971), performed by the LSO and conducted by André Previn, with Shankar playing the sitar.

In the early 60s Shankar made his first study of jazz and Indian classical music in Improvisations. He went on to teach Indian music to John Coltrane and Don Ellis. His piece Rich á La Rakha was composed for Buddy Rich and Alla Rakha. Then, in 1966, he met George Harrison and Paul McCartney at a friend’s house in London. A few days later, he gave George his first sitar lesson at the Beatle’s home in Surrey. Later that year, George and his wife, Pattie, went to India and the guitarist underwent an intensive period of sitar tuition. From this partnership came Shankar Family & Friends (1974)

Shankar also created a musical partnership with Yehudi Menuhin. They had met in 1951 when Menuhin was visiting India, though Shankar vividly recalled having seen the violinist at rehearsals when they were boys in Paris in the 30s. The men played for each other and became friends. In 1967, they played for the UN general assembly at a human rights day celebration. They also recorded three albums together, the first of which won a Grammy award.

While he brought Indian music to a new generation around the world, in India his commitment to classical music was questioned by those who did not approve of his many experiments. However, he toured India in the last two years. I heard him for the last time in 2011 in Mumbai’s famous Shanmukhananda hall, where his music got him a standing ovation. Taking his bow then, he said it was probably his last concert in Mumbai. It was.

Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

December 12, 2012 at 5:41 am

Jazz meets qawwali

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

January 13, 2012 at 7:07 pm

Jagjit Singh

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TOI reports:

Renowned ghazal singer Jagjit Singh, 70, passed away at 8 am in Lilavati Hospital on Monday morning.

He was admitted to the Lilavati Hospital on September 23 after he suffered brain haemorrhage in suburban Bandra where a life-saving surgery was performed on him.

He is survived by his wife Chitra Singh.

IBNLive has a proper obit:

Born on February 8, 1941, ‘the ghazal king’ was a singer, composer, activist and entrepreneur. The 70-year old was admitted in Mumbai’s Lilavati hospital after he suffered brain h[a]emorrhage last month. He underwent two surgeries and was on life support.

He has sung in several languages including Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi and Nepali. Jagjit Singh entered the music circuit at a time which was primarily dominated by Pakistani ghazal singers, and Indian singers were considered relatively lesser authentic than their Pakistani counterparts.

Unlike other ghazal singers, Singh did not hesitate in lending his voice for films. His silky voice ruled during early 80’s in films like Prem Geet, Saath Saath and Arth. However, his major work is spread over more than 60 filmy and non filmy albums.

Jagjit Singh was also known for modern approach and infusion of technology in the traditional art of ghazal singing. Singh was the first Indian music director to use the technique of multi-track recording for his album ‘Beyond Time’.

Recipient of Padma Bhushan award, Jagjit Singh was the man behind making the ghazal genre available and understandable to all. Prior to Singh, ghazal singing was considered as an elite art, which was difficult for the common mass to understand due to high class Urdu and Persian.

Jagjit Singh broke this myth by coming up with songs such as ‘Kaagaz ki kashti’, ‘Chaak jigar ke’, ‘Kal chadhanvi ki raat thi’, and ‘Shaam se aankh me name si hai’. He mixed the words of legends like Ghalib, Qateel Shifai, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Nida Fazli and Sudarshan Faakir with melodious indigenous tunes and achieved a state where nothing came in between him and his listeners.

Later when television started showcasing music videos, he was among one of the prominent members of the music fraternity to avail the facility. He again came up with brilliant albums such as ‘Face to Face’, ‘Marasim’, ‘Aaeena’, and ‘Dil Kahin Hosh Kahin’.

Zee News adds some new snippets of information:

Padma Bhushan Jagjit Singh was regarded as one of the greatest singers India has ever produced. He belonged to the Agra Gharana of Indian classical music.

Jagjit Singh gained acclaim together with his wife in the 1970s and 1980s, as the first ever successful duo act (husband-wife) in the history of recorded Indian music.

Remembering his contribution, noted classical vocalist Pandit Jasraj said, “I have lost a beautiful friend. His contribution was immense. After Begum Akhtar he was the one who revived Ghazals.”

Singer Asha Bhosle said, “If am feeling very sad…Chitra is very lonely now.”

Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

October 10, 2011 at 5:26 am

Das Racist

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

September 30, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Chinese pop chart toppers

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Interesting how American they sound. The only thing common with India is that the videos seem to have 50-year-olds pretending to be in their 20’s.

Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

January 29, 2011 at 4:41 am

Posted in China, music

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