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The great tambura/tanpura scam

Miscellaneous topics on Carnatic music
uday_shankar
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The great tambura/tanpura scam

Post by uday_shankar » 17 Jun 2017, 17:20

I am cutting a pasting verbatim a facebook rant of mine :).

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The tambura, or tanpura, as it is known in Hindustani music, is a beautiful and mysterious instrument. It is hard to find a good one with a good bridge that tunes up wholesomely. Being able to tune it up "wholesomely" is truly an art, the art of maximizing consonance and may be impossible on all tamburas at all times. At the very least, it needs to be tuned up and used regularly to get a sense of its idiosyncracies, and hence its serviceability for a concert. Randomly picking up a tambura and tuning it up for a concert is not a great idea although it could work on occasion by fluke.
And now on to the sham - I was once at a concert of the great sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar and his daughter Anoushka. It was a great concert marred by one small(or huge depending on your perspective) exercise in sham. There were four tanpura players lining up the the periphery of the stage, all beautifully clad eye candies, pretend-strumming their instruments. Pretend-strumming, that's the key. Not a whiff of sound escaped those 4 sets of strings for the entire two hours ! I didn't even see the maestro or his daughter tune up any one of them and from where I sat I could not make out if they were even strung.
To keep a single randomly picked up tanpura in tune throughout a concert is a Herculian task, keeping four of them in tune in themselves and with one another, uhhhh... keeping the four tamburas in tune with the many strings of the two sitarists and the tabla player on stage hahahahahahaha !. Needless to say, their primary and only source of shruti on stage was a little Saarang electronic tanpura, with it's own microphone. All was well, and the benighted, ecletic crowd in Pittsburgh was none the wiser as to the inner workings of sound from the stage.
People who have had the good fortune to attend a Dagar brothers concert know the care they take to tune up just two tamburas and constantly keep a focus on their state of tunedness.
Sitarists like Vilayat Khan and Shahid Parvez recognize the difficulty of keeping a sitar, with it's own chikari, tarab, etc., in tune with an external tanpura and hence don't have one. It's just sitar and tabla and everything is perfect and mutually in tune.
This to put it in context - tuning standards of Indian classical music, with its just intonations, pure consonances, sympathetic strings, etc. is an order of magnitude more complex than an army of strings in a symphony orchestra using a standard A440 to get their E-A-D-G's quicly in order (with that familiar medley of sound that gave old Ludwig an idea of how to begin his great choral symphony!) and proceeding to play equally tempered harmonies and key modulations.
More recently, I saw a high quality recording of a gifted young Carnatic vocalist, blissfully strumming the strings of an out of tune tambura, and singing along. I suspect this is less a case of sham and more a case of general unfamiliarity with real tamburas. Also maybe the overall apathy in Carnatic music towards tuning in general.
Carnatic musicians might as well stop using real tamburas. Unless one has the commitment of a Dagar brothers, it's pointless. The system does not demand it, artists don't have the time or commitment to worry about tuning or more importantly, stay worried abut tuning throughout the concert.

Sachi_R
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Re: The great tambura/tanpura scam

Post by Sachi_R » 17 Jun 2017, 17:53

Uday,
Thank you.
Please do advise privately and directly that musician (whoever it was) in that recording what was wrong with the tambura tuning.

shankarank
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Re: The great tambura/tanpura scam

Post by shankarank » 17 Jun 2017, 18:02

A musician down south, is ranting and raving that the music is not about Bhakti but about SRngAra (beauty as he calls it), definitely mis-translating the first one as religious feelings , and probably mis-translating the second one as show business! ;)

uday_shankar
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Re: The great tambura/tanpura scam

Post by uday_shankar » 17 Jun 2017, 19:39

I was just told by someone on FB that there was concert without mridangam but 4 tamburas...I suppose it was the TMK-RKSK thing at Raga Sudha last week...my response was:

"...what does it matter... Radel or iTanpura is the only real determinant of shruti..."

shankarank
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Re: The great tambura/tanpura scam

Post by shankarank » 17 Jun 2017, 22:08

You are not even considering the sense of the word Sruti - which is that which is heard - which means a sAdhaka who hears it as a daily routine will be able to tell pretty quickly when his/her tambura misbehaves - because his/her developed inner sense will wake up to it when things go wrong. That sense invariably will speak into his music as well! For sure!

But given the logistical/economic /living conditions of everything ( not just musician and the music world) we outsourced that underlying sense to the electronic oscillators. That is fine.. nothing is lost. if.... read the following!

What about laya? Will metronome ever work? I know it may help for training. But I don't think most percussionists will get one kORvai correct. Even that requires a Sadhaka ( like UKS with ear phones) to demonstrate the possibility. And that is post facto - after a lifetime sAdhakam.

And is it really the accuracy of speed that matters?. Is kAlapramANam just the constancy of physical speed? We hear from Arun Prakash in a Lecture demonstration that people should do justice to the kAlapramANam that they start with. Does anybody maintain that? If it happens naturally due to sAdhaka that is one thing. But can we force it?. After all this however, we don't even pay attention to local sense of layam ( when singing one line - the first line of kriti for example) - we are worried about global accuracy. I don't think those are the right criteria.

Einstein prefers local symmetry - not global!
Last edited by shankarank on 17 Jun 2017, 23:13, edited 3 times in total.

shankarank
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Re: The great tambura/tanpura scam

Post by shankarank » 17 Jun 2017, 22:36

shankarank wrote:
17 Jun 2017, 22:08
And is it really the accuracy of speed that matters?. Is kAlapramANam just the constancy of physical speed? We hear from Arun Prakash in a Lecture demonstration that people should do justice to the kAlapramANam that they start with. Does anybody maintain that? If it happens naturally due to sAdhaka that is one thing. But can we force it?
If this becomes the obsessive focus of musicians , they will be indulging in constant adjustments and self correction between themselves and the music loses its tautness resulting in sagging ( toyvu)! All sense of focus and ruchi on the part of the listeners are lost! Any higher kAla transition will involve a speed up that is natural and musicians should strive to keep it transparent to the listener!

It is sometimes remarkable that once the kOrvai finishes how great musicians have the sense to come back atleast closer to the original kAlapramaNam and end the song!
Last edited by shankarank on 17 Jun 2017, 22:56, edited 2 times in total.

shankarank
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Re: The great tambura/tanpura scam

Post by shankarank » 17 Jun 2017, 22:42

shankarank wrote:
17 Jun 2017, 22:08
we outsourced that underlying sense to the electronic oscillators. That is fine.. nothing is lost. if.... read the following!
The electronic Sruti could probably be used as a reference point on the stage - given the logistical limitations of current times - at a volume level that is audible to the musicians on stage.

And tambura for real dissemination through the sound system - if indeed the musician believes that the original sound of the Sruti from tambura is valuable and different! But the musician must have cultivated that sense to themselves and have that conviction, for the former to make real impact!

The musician must know their tambura! Do we pay them enough to do that? - I think we don't. Ideally they should be able to live a middle class standard at a minimum with two concerts in a month - one is even better!

shankarank
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Re: The great tambura/tanpura scam

Post by shankarank » 17 Jun 2017, 23:24

shankarank wrote:
17 Jun 2017, 18:02
The music is not about Bhakti but about SRngAra (beauty as he calls it), definitely mis-translating the first one as religious feelings , and probably mis-translating the second one as show business! ;)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JcCYuvZ4bvA&t=511s

- My commentary on it: Once the musicians carried the sense of Bhakti ( to their entire practice) and listeners had the sense of rasa bhAva ( including SrngAra) .

Now it is the reverse. Musicians indulge in show business ( whether it is dynamic ( like the movie screen) or static ( like museum) - chala/achala , or jangama/stAvara) - and sometimes the listeners have a preconceived notion of their Bhakti - derived from what is now a transactional religious sense!

And an entire discourse is being constructed and proceeding based on these observed anomalies!

uday_shankar
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Re: The great tambura/tanpura scam

Post by uday_shankar » 18 Jun 2017, 14:10

shankarank,
Whoa !!!!! :) :) :)

shankarank
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Re: The great tambura/tanpura scam

Post by shankarank » 19 Jun 2017, 03:43

Wait there is more to be stated. With Pandit Ravishankar all of this just falls into place :!:

As VVS ( of Cleveland) stated in his speech at Arkay, Indian Music is Hindustani Music is Sitar is Ravishankar!

So his Bhaktas are all in the audience ( with their concept of Bhakti = hero worship!) and he is the God! He now has the aesthetic sense to adorn the stage with whoever he thought it fit ;) rasO vai sah! :lol:

uday_shankar
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Re: The great tambura/tanpura scam

Post by uday_shankar » 19 Jun 2017, 09:15

Shankarank:

Some general, non-specific thoughts:

1) The use of electronic aids, whether metronome, iTambura, pitch tracker, etc... is probably a good thing for practice. I have mixed feelings about the use of recording as a learning aid... something my daughter does with great efficiency on her iPad. This is like the familiar concerns about using a calculator for arithmetic. I used to love using log tables, really fast.

2) The degeneration of performance - inability to tune a real tambura and keep it tuned, the inability to sing without a mike, the inability to play a plucked stringed instrument without making it completely electrical - are of immense concern.

3) Recorded music has another great evil - autotune. There are many youtube recordings of gifted children singing beautiful devotional songs, but with an artificial layer attached to it by evil adults, namely autotune. This can be discerned immediately by those who know 1) there's an artificial, electronic "steadiness" to kaarvais 2) weird "twangs" during transitions.

The day is not far off when autotune will become (has become ?) 100% realtime.

The coarsening of culture, disappearance of good traditions, etc... is as irrevocable as climate change.

shankarank
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Re: The great tambura/tanpura scam

Post by shankarank » 19 Jun 2017, 09:28

I am gratified to know that somebody is in the know of this :D

Sachi_R
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Re: The great tambura/tanpura scam

Post by Sachi_R » 19 Jun 2017, 10:00

inability to tune a real tambura and keep it tuned, the inability to sing without a mike, the inability to play a plucked stringed instrument without making it completely electrical - are of immense concern.
I agree 100%.

There are three major dilemmas surrounding the practice (as performers) and experience of Carnatic music (as we receive it as listeners) :
1. We are constantly demanding to be astonished by sheer, incredible, perfection & virtuosity. X At the same time, we want to experience the human, vulnerable, somewhat fallible side of the artiste.
2. We want to use technology to make things easier and faster. X We detest such short-cuts when someone else uses them.
3. We value name and fame and money. X We detest these things when flaunted by successful artistes. Especially when someone gets it too quickly.

I feel all this is because, over time, we have lost touch with the soul of art and now retain contact only with its presentation. This is the core issue for all performing arts, especially music.
If each listener can go back to the core experience of learning and absorbing music in its pure, innocent, raw state, then we begin to experience it more naturally, without these dilemmas. Then music will be an aesthetic, inner, experience and not an external, "show".
It is for me easier to forgive/accept imperfection than to accept make-believe feats aided by gadgets and "auto-tune".

Perhaps, Uday, you should do a series of video lessons on how to tune, play, and listen to the Tambura! Please do it.

Nick H
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Re: The great tambura/tanpura scam

Post by Nick H » 19 Jun 2017, 14:06

We are constantly demanding to be astonished by sheer, incredible, perfection & virtuosity
I don't know that we are. At least, not constantly. The wow factor is undeniable, of course. Take a certain violinist: I watched his performance open mouthed with astonishment at what this man could do with the same number of hands and strings as any other. I listened to his CD: some varnam played in (I think) fifteen speeds. Incredible! But good for what? Good for the tick list. Can be done: tick. Wow. Want to listen to it being done again? No, not particularly, thank you.

I have never, and probably never will, applauded an artist, young or old, for hitting the highest or lowest note and demonstrating that they can still control their lungs and sing it for several seconds. Virtuosity: tick. Respect that it took work and practice just to be able to do: tick. But musical satisfaction? Not often. Recently I saw an artist (no names, no thread distraction :) ) hit the low notes and sing something beautiful in that register. Virtuosity? Tick. Musical satisfaction? Enough to make the virtuosity, albeit noticed, irrelevant and secondary.

What I want, first and foremost, from music, is feeling. I believe that this applies to many of us, including those who also seek a high degree of intellectual satisfaction and those who appreciate the technical achievements.

But... I can't deny the crowds who seem to flock to drama/virtuosity...

uday_shankar
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Re: The great tambura/tanpura scam

Post by uday_shankar » 19 Jun 2017, 14:21

Sachi_R wrote:
19 Jun 2017, 10:00
Perhaps, Uday, you should do a series of video lessons on how to tune, play, and listen to the Tambura! Please do it.
The technicality is not the main issue - it goes waaay deeper than that... how do you get somebody to worry and fuss about the tambura's state of tunedness ? I think Carnatic culture and rasikas are the main culprits ... if there's a "market" for musicians who worry about the state of tunedness of the tambura, which comes under the greater concern about sound/nada/aesthetics in general, all will be well. Otherwise, it is a meaningless exercise.

Technical difficulties exacerbate the problem - one of the great difficulties is finding a good tambura bridge, as I had stated earlier. The curvature of the bridge and it's filing continue to be a black art. This is a ridiculous situation that need not be - a typical Indian "tradition" if you will. With a view towards removing this variable from the equation, I created a new design for a tambura bridge- it is replicable with machine precision and completely removes the "black art" part of it - which I use very effectively as part of my chitravenu string box. To date, I have retofitted a couple of actual tamburas, including one used regularly by Ragavan Manian, a disciple of BMK.

Take a look ... I might have posted the demo earlier (it's actually a "selfie" !) :

https://youtu.be/UrsKHdC99fM

I will try to find a video of a Ragavan's tambura with this bridge and upload it.

Also attached is a technical presentation on the tambura bridge design that Ragavan Manian made on my behalf at some seminar at IISc.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9Akst ... sp=sharing

uday_shankar
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Re: The great tambura/tanpura scam

Post by uday_shankar » 19 Jun 2017, 14:52

And here it is... found the link to video with real tambura with retrofitted bridge:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9Akst ... sp=sharing

Poor Ragavan (that's me playing Ragavan's tambura in my Chennai office for first time after fitting the new bridge) got the first prototype with ugly bulky screws with standard metric threads... somewhat delicate to adjust. Since then I have managed to find small profile micro-threaded screws with a ball tip, most ideal for the application, from a source that manufactures parts for microscopes. Expensive but perfect. Also, can be adjusted with small Allen key head. Thread pitch is a fraction of standard metric thread, so very precise buzz can be created.

uday_shankar
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Re: The great tambura/tanpura scam

Post by uday_shankar » 19 Jun 2017, 15:20

shankarank wrote:
17 Jun 2017, 22:08
Einstein prefers local symmetry - not global!
Much as I love old Albert, I think he got carried away by the beauty of GTR and stopped thinking constructively and practically after that... I would look at quantum ground state being the superposition of all states..local and global symmetry.

srikant1987
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Re: The great tambura/tanpura scam

Post by srikant1987 » 19 Jun 2017, 15:42

uday_shankar wrote:Also maybe the overall apathy in Carnatic music towards tuning in general.

Carnatic musicians might as well stop using real tamburas.
I understand it is too much of a bother to have multiple tamburas in a concert. When we can amplify one tambura for it to be audible to all artistes and the audience, additional tamburas are more of a hindrance in requiring frequent retuning.

Electronic equivalents are a worthwhile approximation. Fussing over them is either finicky or a sham. Not everyone does fuss, really, and it's perhaps uncalled-for to make sweeping comments on Carnatic music. *

Vid RK Shriram Kumar usually employs a tambura (often without an electronic supplement), and I've seen him retuning it from time to time during his concerts. I've even seen him take the liberty to retune tamburas when he's an accompanist. Many singers leave it to him to tune the tambura in the beginning of the concert.

* All said and done, music has an important earthly, vitality-ist component to it. We need to "disturb" silence to get music.

shankarank
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Re: The great tambura/tanpura scam

Post by shankarank » 19 Jun 2017, 20:26

uday_shankar wrote:
19 Jun 2017, 15:20
shankarank wrote:
17 Jun 2017, 22:08
Einstein prefers local symmetry - not global!
Much as I love old Albert, I think he got carried away by the beauty of GTR ..
Reason why I phrased it as "Einstein Prefers.." not " Nature Prefers".. I was talking about good old Albert the artiste, or the aesthete, or a rasika , or the connoisseur of beauty! not the scientist :)

MaheshS
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Re: The great tambura/tanpura scam

Post by MaheshS » 19 Jun 2017, 20:53

uday_shankar wrote:
19 Jun 2017, 09:15

3) Recorded music has another great evil - autotune. There are many youtube recordings of gifted children singing beautiful devotional songs, but with an artificial layer attached to it by evil adults, namely autotune. This can be discerned immediately by those who know 1) there's an artificial, electronic "steadiness" to kaarvais 2) weird "twangs" during transitions.

The day is not far off when autotune will become (has become ?) 100% realtime.
Wow, I didn't know that they used auto-tune in Carnatic music. Would be good to know which saba's in Madras utilise this feature.

uday_shankar
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Re: The great tambura/tanpura scam

Post by uday_shankar » 19 Jun 2017, 22:05

MaheshS wrote:
19 Jun 2017, 20:53
Would be good to know which saba's in Madras utilise this feature.
What part of the phrase "recorded music" is unclear ?

uday_shankar
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Re: The great tambura/tanpura scam

Post by uday_shankar » 19 Jun 2017, 22:25

shankarank wrote:
19 Jun 2017, 20:26
Reason why I phrased it as "Einstein Prefers.." not " Nature Prefers"...
Agreed, although I have a vague discomfort to ascribe to nature any preference; it never ceases to amaze me that the models and mathematical constructs of cumulative human imagination should so well explain all the experimental data gathered from "nature" (and spectacularly not explain it in some cases). But in theory, it is conceivable that an entirely different set of laws/models could fit the same data. I suppose that's what string theorists are sort of trying to do - find an entirely alternative model. And then what happened to all that grandiose fuss about cellular automata created by that Wolfram guy... don't hear a whimper about it two decades after he claimed to be god.

MaheshS
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Re: The great tambura/tanpura scam

Post by MaheshS » 19 Jun 2017, 22:50

uday_shankar wrote:
19 Jun 2017, 22:05
MaheshS wrote:
19 Jun 2017, 20:53
Would be good to know which saba's in Madras utilise this feature.
What part of the phrase "recorded music" is unclear ?
Ahhh, my bad. Though from what I've read [i.e quick Googling] that it's possible for live performances as well. Maybe we will get to "hear" them in the not to distant future. Easwaro rakshatu!

uday_shankar
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Re: The great tambura/tanpura scam

Post by uday_shankar » 19 Jun 2017, 23:35

srikant1987 wrote:
19 Jun 2017, 15:42
Electronic equivalents are a worthwhile approximation
On the contrary electronic shruti boxes, especially the newer ones like iTanpura are extremely accurate and don't drift for the life of the universe. Nothing "approximate" about them. So that's not the reason why it's not a great idea to use them. But if we consider the real tambura another real instrument with it's own timber and life and musical value, then it's obvious why its disappearance from the stage should be mourned. As an analog, may I suggest that instead of a pianist, we can have a midi software drive the piano and play a beethoven sonata. No player required.

Earlier, shankarank wondered about the meaning of "kalapramanam" in the context of the artificial accuracy of the metronome. It is a valid speculation. Steadiness of kalapramanam is no more a mechanical thing than the purity of shruti. That's why I emphasized the usefulness of these gadgets strictly in the context of practice, and there they are immensely useful, almost a must. But a musical performance is much more. Or at least we should demand much more from a performance.

Check this wonderful recording of Alathur Srinivasa Iyer, paying special attention to the opening when doordarshan is running the "kadddanavaariki" captions in Tamil... one can hear the tambura fill the room. It is played by the late Shri Vairamangalam Lakshminarayan. This is the ideal male voice Thanjavur tambura and I like it much more than the Meeraj ones.

https://youtu.be/Bg2rCuObeYo

In the Concerts thread, there's a recording of Shri TNK, all of 90 years old, tuning up two tamburas in a recent SPIC-MACAY concert. That's a poignant reminder of a great musical culture that's disappearing. Certainly, RKSK's commitment to using a real tambura is a refreshing exception.

MaheshS
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Re: The great tambura/tanpura scam

Post by MaheshS » 20 Jun 2017, 00:05

Hands down the best rendition of the krithi. Simply outstanding.

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